Tuesday 10 May 2022

Family resemblances revisited

 I'm taking one of those rare things: an sick day where I am not trying to do a bunch of stuff other than be sick. I'm fine, and only moderately uncomfortable, but I don't have the energy for much other than reading blogs. In addition to others, I sometimes read my own blogs.  And today I found this entry, from July 2015, when AJ, only child at the time, was 9 months old.

Family Resemblances

It's a short blog, and the main point is: although my friends and family saw all sorts of resemblances in baby AJ to me and Mr. Turtle and to others, I didn't see any resemblances, and I didn't think it was important.

What was important? 

".....what matters most to me is that I have a child who is her own individual, and becomes more that unique individual every day."

A lot of people seemed to like and agree with the sentiments I expressed in that blog. Which is fine. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Our feelings say something about where we are in life, and the lenses through which we see the world, and that is an interesting thing to try to understand. 

But nearly 7 years later, I no longer feel the same way. In fact, I would say the phase of "it only matters that she is an individual!" was quite short-lived.

Of course, it's great to be an individual. But it's not the only thing that matters.

What changed my mind? Probably the turning point  was my dad's death, just a few months later. In July of 2015 I had no idea he was ill, though the cancer was discovered only weeks after I wrote that blog. Today, I see a strong resemblance in AJ to my dad, and even more so to his sister, my Auntie R. It is meaningful, and it's something I frequently point out to her and to others. I also tell AJ that she, myself and her great-aunt all love to dance. We share that bond across generations. In addition, AJ took sailing camp last year, loved it, and wants to continue sailing. I make sure to tell her that this is something she shares with her Grandpa, though sadly she does not have a conscious memory of him.

As for Dani, right now I see a strong resemblance to Mr. Turtle's side of the family, especially his Auntie O. This aunt and her husband had lived in a different city for a long time. Recently, they moved back, and shortly after they returned, Auntie O invited me to go to the theatre with her. We agreed to meet in the lobby. When I got there, I spotted her immediately. She said: "I wasn't sure if you would recognize me!" I replied, "Actually it was easy: I see your face every day at home!"

I also see something of my mom in Dani. And in one of AJ's photographs when she was 3, I see the smile of my mother's eldest sister, who died at age 11, before my mother was born. It is uncanny, yet comforting. If sometimes ghosts walk with/in us, they are friendly ones.

I don't expect or want AJ and Dani to be clones, physically or in their personalities. There's a reason that humans don't (should never) reproduce by cloning. Each generation has to adapt to a different reality than their parents experienced (however they came by those parents), and each person is uniquely precious and irreplaceable. But, if we simplified this matter to two narratives:

1) I am an individual who  married and individual and who created two more individuals.


2) Myself and my children are part of a story that began long before us, and is unfurling in a manner that is sacred, mysterious, and revelatory. We experience our uniqueness, sometimes our solitude, but our lives do not "belong to us" in the sense that we are blank slates. 

Without a doubt, #2 is the narrative I now live by.

How does it influence my decisions?

Yes, I pay attention to the individual characteristics of my children. Do I nudge them towards activities and interests that connect them to their family and ancestry? Yes, I do. When time is precious, will I prioritize the traditions and activities that give them a coherent narrative across generations? Yes, absolutely. And furthermore, I see their longing for this coherency.

"You can have/be anything you want!" is a seductive message. And in a time of plenty (well, for now) it's still a somewhat true message. But only somewhat. I am not just a bundle of individual desires and idiosyncrasies, and I will do my best to teach/show my children that they aren't either. Of course, to do so I go up against a lot of powerful forces who would love for them to only see themselves as bundles of desires, because desire is marketable.

What do I want most of all? Multiplicity with unity, rather than fragmentation. The tree that grows in the shade of the forest, and reaches toward the sun.


  1. Fascinating perspective. I kind of love the idea of ghosts (friendly ones) living in/around us. I waffle between "I'm my OWN person!" and "I hold traits of people who came before me." The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. Your last line is gorgeous.

    1. Yes, me too. I've always been very aware of my individuality. (Or weirdness, whatever). But with time and experience I see other perspectives too, and I try to integrate them because I need life to make sense, somehow.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting!!