Have you ever tried to figure out why you are the way you are? Yes, DNA definitely has something to do with it. Your parents influence you, to some degree. Where you live, how you live, with whom you live certainly all have an effect. Life, itself, is a factor.
But there are some characteristics each of us has, the ones we think are unique to us, that sometimes make me wonder.
In recent posts I’ve talked about myself a lot. My feelings about feminism. My moral code. My standards. My approach to friendship and love and work and life. And there seems to be a common thread that runs through all of it.
I have strong convictions. I stand up for what I believe in, regardless of the consequences. I am an independent thinker; and doer. I am not easily influenced by the opinions of others. Even as a young child I was determined to live my life, as I have seen fit — not someone else’s version of my life. I don’t give up. I’m tenacious. And somewhat stubborn, too, if I’m going to be completely honest.
Maybe you’re beginning to think I sound like a royal pain. Maybe I am.
Then again, I think I’m very lucky to have ended up this way. Or did luck really have anything to do with it?
As an only child, I could have been in serious trouble. In most families, where there are several children, parents don’t have time to spend every minute focussed on just one little darling. The larger the family, the more the kids are left to their own devices. They learn to fend for themselves at a young age. They fall, they get hurt, they get up right away and start playing again, often without so much as a bandaid to protect the scrapes. They make their own snacks; and sometimes even their own lunches. So what if they get more peanut butter on the counter than on the bread? The older siblings help take care of the younger ones.
In my case it was just me. My mother did have a tendency toward being a tad over-protective. But from the time I was a toddler, I fought it all the way. Where the hell did that come from? That need to do my own thing. To be my own person. To make my own mistakes. My own choices. To fall down and pick myself up again. To venture forth. To take hurdles and challenges in my stride. To develop a survival instinct.
Whether it was picking out my own clothes (at 2 years old), going to the park or the mall with friends, or moving into my first apartment I fought (metaphorically) for the right to make my own decisions. Knowing full well I’d have to live with the consequences. And to my parents’ credit, both of them, they let me do it. Hard as it may have been for them, sometimes.
Actually, they encouraged me to think for myself.
What I’m trying to figure out is, where did my independent streak come from?
Well, I think I know. I talked about an expression of my maternal grandmother’s in a story I posted about feminism last week. This was a woman who was sent, as a young girl herself, with some younger siblings, on a boat from Russia to New York. They weren’t on a Regent cruise. Theirs wasn’t an easy journey. Or an easy transition, once they arrived at their destination. Or, for that matter, an easy life even once they were settled and the entire family was finally together.
So I’m sure some of my resolve comes from her. But thinking about her made me think about more of my family. Both sides. My roots, in other words.
This same grandmother was one of nine children. Four boys and five girls. I loved them all, but I adored my grandmother and her sisters. They were strong. Opinionated. Feisty. Colourful. Interesting. Smart. Liberal. Liberated. Open-minded. Unshockable. Tons of fun. And well ahead of their time.
Two ran businesses, when most women didn’t even work. One made jewelry and I don’t mean she strung beads together. She had a polishing wheel in her living room. She was serious. She also raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, by making and selling chocolates. One ran a busy household, raised three kids, travelled extensively and still managed to find time to help those in need. Both family and strangers. And my grandmother? She ran the family. She was the matriarch. It was her everyone always turned to. For advice, for guidance, for counselling, for a shoulder to cry on, for moral support, for help, for anything. She saw many a person through one crisis or another.
Her children, all girls, took after her as well. I’ve talked about my mother often in my blogs. So you know what she was like. Her twin sister remained strong throughout many tragedies. She was widowed when she was only 32. She was left with a 13 month old daughter, who died at 24. Despite it all, she loved life and always found something to be happy about and grateful for. My other aunt, my mother’s kid sister, went back to school, got her BA, then her Masters, and became a social worker long after she was married and had children.
Tough, determined women. All of them.
My father’s side was also chock full of independent women. His grandmother was widowed, with three children, while still in her twenties. She and her husband owned a farm, which she continued to run, by herself, after he died. My grandmother, his mother, was also widowed at a relatively young age. She also brought up three kids and was in business. Her daughter, my aunt, was also left with young children to support.
With my family tree, I think it would have been surprising if I hadn’t turned out the way I have.