Monday, October 27, 2014

"Where Did We Come From?"

I recently went to the girls’ school and got to chat with their teachers a bit. My younger daughter’s teacher said that periodically my daughter will claim, “I’m Ukrainian; I can’t remember that!” Her teacher wanted to know why Ukrainians can’t remember things. I nearly fell over laughing and pointed out my daughter is only PART Ukrainian, so that’s a BS excuse (and Ukrainians aren’t known for memory isssues, so really it’s a double BS excuse). The truth is only her father is Ukrainian. I’m something else entirely. And even her Ukrainian father considers himself to be a mix of things. To keep things simple, we call ourselves American and Ukrainian, but if we move beyond where we were born, then things get more complicated. So how do we define what we are and why does it matter?

Both my husband and I have traced our families back many generations, and we are both very proud of our family histories. We love the mix we have. On both sides we have people who were adventurous, crossing borders, marrying into new traditions, learning new languages, and taking on challenges that make anything I’ve ever faced seem like nothing. Our mixed up family trees make answering the question, “what are you?” a little complicated and long winded sometimes, but it makes parenting so much richer. As long as people accept the answer of “American and Ukrainian” or “well, mostly Irish-Polish-American and Ukrainian” then we’re fine. At home, the girls get the full stories, though.

My father’s family has been in what is now the US since the early 1700s and originally came from Wales, however almost every generation has married an immigrant. What can I say? We like accents. The stories of my ancestors on my father’s side are wonderful for inspiring the girls when they find themselves uncomfortable in new situations. I remind them of my great-grandmother who came to America from Poland as a young teen, without her parents, riding on top of her trunk in steerage because she was too poor to afford a real ticket, and started a new life in a new county and had to learn a new language. And she did it. We have stories of my great-grandfather who traveled from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Lviv, Ukraine, to St. Petersburg, Russia, to Poland before moving to America and settling in Chicago. Or my grandmother who went back to Poland so she could receive the best music education studying piano in Warsaw just before World War II. The girls ancestors through my father were brave, going where they needed to go to have the best lives they could. Fear didn’t hold them back. That’s a pretty nice lesson for the girls. Plus, they picked up great food traditions along the way. I mean, is there any better food in the world than Polish food? Seriously. It’s the best.

My grandmother on my mother's side.
My mother’s family is proud Chicago-Irish. I have come to the conclusion there is nothing stronger than a Chicago-Irish woman. My grandmother, mother, and aunts are the iron women who could bend Wonder Woman in half. I have never doubted their awesomeness, and they set a very high bar of excellence and inner strength. My mom’s family began coming to America in the 1850s from Ireland and continued to come in waves until just before 1900 including one young man who stepped off the boat and right into the Union army during the Civil War. They were all poor and mostly illiterate according to census records until my grand-parents’ generation. The census records are depressing. They show that often as many as three quarters of each generation would die before reaching their teenage years. While the women were burying their babies, the men were literally building Chicago. Growing up, I used to love walking around the city with my mom who would proudly say, “my family built that bridge.” My mom’s family survived because they worked hard. They didn’t give up. When the girls want to quit because they think a task is too difficult, I remind them of their Chicago-Irish blood. If their ancestors had given up, people wouldn’t be able to cross the Chicago River. The McLennons didn’t give up, and the girls won’t either.

On Saturdays, the girls go to Ukrainian school to learn Ukrainian and celebrate their father’s side. Part of it. He reminds them his grandfather identified as Polish (again, EXCELLENT food traditions) and tells them the more complex stories of his family. Yes, he was born and raised in Ukraine, but his Ukrainian family history is just as rich as my American family history. He has heroes whose stories culminated with him being born in Kyiv which are the things of legends. They lived through countless wars and famines, slept in cemeteries, and spoke more than one language. When he tells them he is Ukrainian, that is just the first sentence in a long book.

Looking back at our families and where we have come from makes our lives so much richer. It gives us a plethora of stories to tell our girls at bedtime. We can draw from more than just our own experiences to teach them and inspire them. I am proud to be more than just one thing, and I am so happy I continued my family tradition of marrying a hot immigrant with an adorable accent. I hope our girls remember these stories and continue to tell them. And eat Polish food. Because it is good. And that can't be said enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"This year I want to be . . . "

I love Halloween. It isn’t my most favorite holiday, and I haven’t always loved it, but it is fun and has become a bigger highlight of the year since the girls came along. As they get older, Halloween gets better. I don’t get excited about the pumpkin picking or the trick-or-tricking, although I do like those things a bit. I don’t go overboard decorating, although our home has bats and skulls year round, so this should be the easiest holiday for us. And I’m not a big candy person, although I do have a sweet tooth. It’s the costumes I love. They don’t even have to be elaborate. I just love seeing my girls get excited about dressing up as someone or something else. For that moment, there are no limits. Whatever they want to be, they can be, and they are so happy. I love it. It’s better than the chocolate I steal from their buckets when they aren’t looking.

I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, and I’m a pretty crafty person, but I’m also a realist. When I was working full-time, I bought the girls’ costumes. Did I feel bad about that? HECK NO! They looked frickin’ adorable as an elephant and hot dog or as a dinosaur and kitten! And I didn’t have time to sew or craft. I barely had time to shop. I hate when parents feel they have to make a costume for it to be special or great or whatever. Not everyone can or wants to, and that’s totally fine. 
Cutest dino EVER!
Can you honestly look at this dinosaur and tell me she isn’t fantastic or that she is less loved because I ran to the store a few days before Halloween and bought her that costume? She wanted to be a girl dinosaur, and that’s what she was and she rocked it, store bought or not. The important thing is that my girls get their moment to express themselves and to be on the outside what they feel on the inside, without anyone thinking they are totally insane. OK, so people still think they are a little nuts some years (like this one), but not as nuts as they would seem if they showed up to school any other day dressed this way (which she did do....that picture wasn't actually taken on Halloween). So relax parents who buy costumes, and don’t let Pinterest fool you into thinking sewing is easy for everyone or that Halloween costumes MUST be handmade or totally unique or anything other than what your kid says he or she wants to be.

That being said, I do have time to sew the girls’ costumes, and sewing is easy-ish for me, so I have made the girls costumes the last few years. That’s a good thing because their requests have gotten . . . odder. I have been asked to make a cuttlefish, TARDIS, Tribble, and purple macaw among other things. Yeah . . . I don’t think Old Navy sells cuttlefish costumes. 

This year the girls – thankfully! – wanted simple costumes which were part homemade, part Etsy bought.  My older daughter really wanted to be Leslie Knope of Parks of Recreation, aka “grown-up Sofi!” My younger daughter wanted to be a TARDIS princess. She loved her TARDIS costume, but wanted something swishier and easier to walk in this year plus she had seen a really cool TARDIS hat on Etsy and wanted an excuse for me to buy it for her. So, without further blathering, here are the girls showing on the outside how they feel inside this year:

The inspiration.
Leslie Knope: blazer and blouse were just in her closet already, SUPER scented waffle necklace from Tiny Hands, badge from Uncle Jack’sDesign, and Lil Sebastian made by me and stuffed by my daughter.

TARDIS princess: black shirt and tights already in her closet, AMAZING hat from Hat and Mouse, skirt and cape designed by my daughter and made by me using fabric from Spoonflower (cape fabric HERE, skirt fabric HERE).

quote from here

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ukrainian Enough?

Sure fire way to piss me off is to start talking about whether or not my kids are Ukrainian enough. I hate that. I hate the whole idea of measuring someone’s ethnicity in general, but this particular term really irks me. For one thing, it is usually applied in an inconsistent way. Usually the person who is telling me – the non-Ukrainian parent – what is or is not Ukrainian enough is wrong herself and is basing her ideas about Ukrainian-ness on her experience growing up in the diaspora. Example: “REAL Ukrainians don’t put ketchup on holubtsi.” This is a pretty undisputed fact within the diaspora, however in modern Ukraine ketchup is common and is put on a lot of foods including sometimes holubtsi. I've witnessed it first hand and don't understand why it is a big deal to say it happens. The problem for me with the “Ukrainian enough” statement is two pronged. First, I don’t want anyone narrowly defining my kids. Second, their criteria are outdated and inaccurate to begin with.

Learning through experience, walking around
Chernivtsi, Ukraine with her dad's cousin and friend.
What do we do instead of throwing varenyky at people who say stuff like that to us? We hug our daughters and make a big fuss about how wonderful MY side of the family is. We on my side aren’t Ukrainian at all, but we’re still pretty dang fantastic. Then my husband teaches them how to speak and read Ukrainian. Disney princesses speak Ukrainian, too (we get our movies from Ukraine). We decorate our home with a mix of the different cultures – Ukrainian, Polish, Irish, and anything else we like. And most importantly we take the girls physically to Ukraine. The REAL Ukraine. The best way for them to know what real Ukrainians do and do not do is for them to go there and spend time just hanging out with Ukrainians. I’m not going to tell my girls that Ukrainians don’t eat ketchup because I know they do. Ukrainians are modern people who like foods that taste yummy. They also watch tv and drive cars and wear tennis shoes. They aren’t all named Tanya and Taras. They give their kids names they like which are sometimes traditional Slavic names and sometimes they aren’t. They listen to rap music and pop music and sometimes traditional folk music. They don’t all drink horilka or wear head scarves. They are a variety of religions with a variety of political view points. Some like the west and some like the east and some don’t have an opinion (just like Americans!). Not everyone owns an embroidered shirt, and there are people in Adidas who love their country even more than the most embroidered, blue-and-yellow-ed, flower wreathed person you can find. Learning the old traditions is great, but it doesn't define being Ukrainian any more than apple pie and baseball define being American.

That is what we want our girls to know and understand. Being proud of Ukraine and being proud of America don’t mean fitting in one tiny cubby. Both are great countries with many wonderful traditions, and both are dynamic countries which are growing and changing with the times. The people are adapting and eating ketchup in both places, and that’s fine. As long as they don’t get it on their hot dogs. That’s just not Chicagoan enough. ;)

a mix - Irish shepherd's pie with Ukrainian insignia and curry seasoning

Thursday, October 9, 2014

“Are you having fun, Mom? Are the people being nice?”

I love when the tables turn and my girls pat my hand and ask me how my day was. They are so fascinated that I have a life sometimes. Since we moved states, that table turning has been spinning so much we have equalized a bit which is nice. It gives me some credibility when I tell them to get out there and make friends if they see that I have to do the same. For them, getting out there means school and sports. For me, it means chatting with the other parents at their schools and sports. And volunteering.

I was raised to see volunteering as something we just do. Like eating or sleeping or brushing our teeth. If I can help, I should simply because that is the decent human thing to do. All of the grown-ups I knew, whether they were working full-time jobs or not, whether they got recognition for their service or not, simply volunteered when they could. It was never a big deal, never about pressure or for show. As a mom, though, I see that not everyone else views it that way. And it is a bit of a crazy world.

When I was a working mom, I felt a TON of pressure to volunteer more. I felt I had to prove I was still an involved parent. Who I thought I had to prove this to, I’m not sure. Maybe the random haters who would talk loudly at the other tables in the lunch room about “the trouble with parents these days is that they work too much and leave their kids to be raised by strangers” (even though it was my father who was doing the bulk of the daycare, so I really should have shrugged that off)? Maybe it was the other parents at the preschool who would brag about knowing all the teachers on a first name basis (even though my mom was a teacher there so technically I knew them all, too, and should have shrugged that one off as well)? Who knows. But I felt like I had to be doing more. Which was dumb. All I had to be doing was loving my kids and taking care of them. Screw what the other parents thought about me.

As a SAHM, I know I could feel pressure to out perform the other SAHMs, but I’m not going to. I’ve grown-up a bit. Sure, I still care what people think of me. I just don’t let it totally rule me (and never totally did . . . I did say no to a lot of volunteering even as a working mom – I just felt bad about it then and don’t feel bad about it now). I am meeting new groups of moms these days and keep getting the same advice: don’t over-volunteer. Great advice. But my mom already gave me that advice many years ago which is why even when I did feel pressured to do so, I didn’t give in. My mom said pick one or two areas to volunteer in and stick to those. Being helpful means not being exhausted or resentful. It means not burning the candle at both ends. 
my mom's advice, but in Ron Swanson's words (from here)
And when I feel I have too much on my plate or my health is bad or my back hurts too much, IT IS OK TO SAY NO. Taking care of my health and my family comes first. If I don’t do that, then someone else would have to. I smile at the moms who tell me not to over-volunteer, then listen to them tell me how over-involved they are. I know they are talking more to themselves than to me. They don’t know me, so they don’t know that I will certainly NOT be leading a garden club ever nor will I ever take over as treasurer of anything simply because I feel like I ought to. I don’t think I owe it to the working mothers to “pick up their slack” by volunteering twice as much (that just insults working mothers who I really don’t think need extra insults). I don’t think I need to have something scheduled for every day. I don’t think it is my duty to put in community service hours because I am not bringing in a paycheck. Nope.
my NO gets used plenty
I volunteer when an opportunity comes up that I think fits me. Something I think I can do well. Like teaching catechism classes. Or working at the book fair. Or being a hall monitor. And recently I have been volunteering to meet new people and make new friends here in our new state.  If they are going to use my volunteerism as a yardstick, however, for my goodness as a mom, I’ll pass. I think we should all be old enough now to stop judging each other like that and just be moms together, regardless of how many volunteer hours we’re logging. Can’t we just focus on what really matters? Who’s bringing the coffee to the next meeting?!?!?!