I found this picture online last month, unlocking an old family mystery. The man standing in back is my great, great grandfather – you can tell just by looking at him. His forehead and ears have reappeared in my family for five generations.
His name is Charles Spink and he kind of fell off the family tree back in 1889, after his wife died giving birth to triplets. Charles gave his surviving children to their aunts and disappeared into the wilds of the Dakota Territory, taking the family tales with him. Over a hundred years later, a little internet digging turned up a fascinating cast of ancestral characters: statesmen, Revolutionary War heroes, and even a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Freaky resemblances and new ancestors aside, what I find most fascinating are the women sitting beside Charles. Perhaps it’s because they embody even more mystery; specifics of their lives aren’t floating around the Internet. On the right is my great, great, great grandmother. To the left is her mother.
That makes her my grandmother seven generations back.
I wish I could mind meld with her. Seriously. I want to know everything – her hopes, dreams, details of her day-to-day. I want to know if she thought about her granddaughters to come. Does her spirit marvel at our lives as educators, artists and lawyers? Certainly she couldn’t imagine the kind of freedom we enjoy– the freedom to explore the world on our own terms and become, well, ourselves.
It seems like a fairly new notion that women can freely create their own lives. Women’s movements of the past won the fairer sex the right to vote and work in male arenas. But, the expectation still remained that those who wanted to participate in life outside of the home, would still follow gender-specific paths.
Sharon Nesbit-Davis is an arts administrator, mime and writer living in northern Illinois. She grew up in the baby boom era and noticed her creative spirit early in life. But, her mother wasn’t so sure that was a trail worth exploring. “She encouraged me to be a secretary or a nurse until I got married and had kids,” Sharon recalls. “I wrote stories and she wrote nasty notes on them.”
It seems women throughout the United States are now learning how to stitch together their own handmade lives, using their own unique gifts and talents as the material. (See: OWN, Martha Stewarts Whole Living, and the blogosphere). At the same time, mothers of the X and Y generations are discovering how to assist their children to do the same.
See Her as a Lovely Work in Progress. “Discovering one’s gifts and potential is like a flowering tree coming into bloom,” says mother Eriko Kojima, “The trunk and limbs, the roots, have to develop nice and strong, and in the end the tree is full of beauty and fragrance.“
Eriko sets spiritual parameters for her seven year old, to help strengthen those roots. “I pray that she will have a loving heart,” writes Eriko, and that she will not only “understand her own great capabilities” but also contribute them to society.
Discover the World Again, Through Her Eyes. Juliet in Chicago says play is the way for her seven year old. “I try to be tolerant of her obsessions,” she writes, “be they art, fairy tales, Strawberry Shortcake, fashion design or whatever it may be today. I know if she can delve into them she will find her particular gifts in life.”
In Emily’s Minnesota home, even ho-hum activities become springboards for discovery. Her daughters are 12 and 15. “Every time we go to a movie, or go to the doctor, or dentist or whatever,” she writes, “if they ask me questions about it, we do some research together.”
Invite Other Family Members to Participate. Liz is raising pre-school aged girls in a Chicago suburb. So far, she and her husband have discovered more about their daughters’ temperaments than their aspirations. But, these days, their five year old talks a lot about playing the violin. Buying an instrument and lessons seemed a little daunting on their family’s tight budget. So, they set up a violin fund that family members and friends can contribute to on special occasions.
Learn from Your Own Mom. For better or worse she can provide a roadmap for your parenting style, even if she charted paths you’d rather avoid. But, Laura, a new mom in Minneapolis, can’t wait to employ the same loving approaches her parents took. At 15, she told them she wanted to be in a rock band. Her mother showed so much support, Laura says, she “even got tendinitis from helping me lift my super-heavy amp.”
By her senior year of high school, Laura performed in venues she couldn’t get into without a chaperone. “I felt that they listened to what I wanted to do,” Laura writes of both parents, “and did everything in their power to support me, even though it meant considerable discomfort (late nights, loud clubs, loud practices) and probably worrying (that they never told me about).”
Laura went on to self-produce four albums focused on the empowerment of women, love and spirituality. Now she coaches young professionals to live their dreams.
The Bahá’í Writings suggest that we as human beings have yet to discover just how awesome we are:
The heights which, through the most gracious favor of God, mortal man can attain, in this Day, are as yet unrevealed to his sight.