Our choices deeply impact our children’s lives
What and who makes us who we are? Genes, people, environment?
I was going through my documents and found my daughter’s personal statement for her application for college.
We were living in San Francisco. I remember the sad sound of a foghorn in the harbour late at night, the steep hills and the clinking of cable cars amid the beautiful Victorian houses.
Maria was trying so hard and wrote numerous essays in her applications with standard sets of facts in different variations: “I am Russian and have excellent grades. I love reading and science and playing soccer.”
Then she would read it aloud, and I would listen. And I would repeat, “It’s fine, but I don’t see you, the real you. It could be any immigrant girl with good grades.”
This time was completely different. Maria was very serious when she started reading her new essay to me.
“Punished for being educated and successful, my ancestors were sent to Siberia shortly after the Revolution in 1917. The new government confiscated the things that it could — property, money and family relics — but it never had the power to take away their hope, dignity, and determination.
“It was hard for them to rebuild their lives but, however damaged, my ancestors courageously overcame all the obstacles and established their name as one of the most intelligent, educated and kind families in my city — Irkutsk.
“After regaining their status, they made sure that the community would benefit as well. I was born in this family with history that predestined my future: I was to be hopeful, determined, never lose my dignity and work hard no matter how bad the situation is.
“Four years ago, my mom decided to come to the United States to pursue her goals and brought me with her. Yet again, our family was starting over, but this time it was by choice. Because I was far away from the rest of my family, the pressure from the outside world diminished; now I could only call upon my own aspirations.”
She stopped reading because she saw me crying. I was so emotional because I had no idea what a profound impact the dramatic story of our family had on her.
My great-grandmother and great-grandfather were ordered out of their fine house with just two suitcases and forced onto a train bound for frozen Siberia, an unknown land more than 6,000 miles away from the warm and beautiful Black Sea coast where they lived.
The dramatic events which rocked the whole country after the Bolshevik Revolution were played out in our family. The new, cruel rule — take everything from the rich and give it to the poor — wasn’t enough. The Communists also punished people who were educated and openly disagreed with their politics.
This story was carefully preserved and passed on from generation to generation in our family. I believe that, subconsciously, we drew our strength, courage and bravery to start new adventures and not be afraid of failure from this incredible story.
I did not even imagine that bringing my daughter to a new country would have a similar impact on her. We were starting all over in a foreign land with just two suitcases. She knew she had only the strength of her character and her skills. She would have to be strong and keep going no matter what, if she was to have a better life.
Her last words were these: “Within me, there are always going to be those fundamental traits: understanding and kindness with others; in a sense, those chemical elements that were passed on to me through my heritage, and that I developed in Russia.
“Added to those are now the ‘elements’ of America: appreciation of individuality, land of opportunity and a mixing bowl. The bonds and interactions of my elements inside are both exciting and frightening.
“I never quite know what will become after the reactions are finished, but I believe that the whole is always greater than its parts. I’ve lived in many places and will travel to more yet. I can start from the bottom many more times and will always find the strength and people who can help me to climb to the top. My passion makes it all worthwhile — my passion for learning, my passion for reading, and my passion for sharing. Whatever the next step might be, I am ready.”
Maria received a full scholarship to Yale University.
Whatever we do, the life we live deeply affects our children, their children and those that follow, today, tomorrow and even after 100 years.
Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com</i>
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