In third grade, we were charged with decorating the hallway outside our classroom with a mural of the solar system. Girls all but yanked each others’ braided pigtails for a chance to place Saturn. For whatever reason Saturn just seemed to be the sassy planet; she even wore a ring. Uranus was popular amongst the boys for obvious reasons; they took pleasure in emphasizing anus in the same way they delighted in adding "it" after a teacher would "Shhh" the room.
In fourth grade, we were tasked with creating our family tree, complete with dates, names, and photos. We even learned the difference between a second cousin and a first cousin, twice removed. Which seems pretty advanced, given that they ask such questions on the LSAT. I’m guessing I enjoyed this project most because it was, after all, about me. I was the sun.
Yesterday, my offspring were sent home with a request to bring in a family photo. They’d be discussing different types of families, and each child would have a chance to speak about his family members. And this is when my inner fourth grader waved her arm in the air, adding an "Oooh, ooh, pick me." It wasn’t enough that I simply print a photo of our nuclear family, with maybe three or four more photos of grandparents, and an aunt of two. No. My inner fourth grader needed to have her say.
Euripides, my grandfather, with his mother Iris (with whom I’ve had many a cafeteria afternoon)
It’s not that I want my children to ever feel compelled to go above and beyond what’s asked of them, and it’s not a question of praise, of wanting to do things better than anyone else. It’s, quite simply, about passion. I couldn’t just print out a damn photo, could I? No. Why not? Because I’m not built that way!
Instead, I thought, "I know! I’ll do a quick family tree for them, adding pictures of the relatives they know. I’m sure there’s some online program that lets you upload photos and print your family tree." A day later, my family tree has grown to 140 people and counting. It’s lead to my speaking with my mother-in-law for over an hour, reconnecting with cousins asking for details, stalking family on Facebook for their photos, and finally learning, "From which part of Greece, exactly, are we?" (Answer: Macedonia, aka Northern Greece). And it’s addictive. I don’t know why, but it is.
I’ve never been interested in this before and wonder if it’s a new fascination because I’m a mother, or because I’m aging. When my grandfather Sam was alive, he liked to go on and on and on and on about the family, hauling out the fat photo album.
"Now wait a while," he’d say, straining his eyes, examining the backs of photos for names. Nah, I have no idea who this one is." Then he’d talk about the way family used to be. Family used to be Sundays. It was extended and collaborative, with Sunday suppers and dining room table extensions. I want so much to have that.
Maybe that’s what it’s about for me. Finding a way to bring family back into my life, even if it’s only information. Even if it’s only learning meet cute stories of how my great grandparents came to marry. It kind of makes me want to change Lucas’s last name to Klein, just to keep our branch of the Klein family name alive.
Iris + Euripides (aka Big Yiya + Papoo)
Why, though, do you think so many people are interested in their ancestry? Is it vanity run amok (I want to see what my parents looked like as infants, as children, when they were my age)? Do people want to discover wills and money? For a sense of importance, to say you’re related to this famous philanthropist? Aside from medical history information, why do we want so much to know our own roots? What do we believe we’ll learn about who we are, at our core, by learning about our great grandfather’s profession or origin of birth?
My reason: it’s to feel like I’m a part of something bigger, connected to a universe of lives, with their own orbits, spheres of activity and interests. It makes me feel unconditionally accepted on some level, even by cousins I haven’t seen since I was thirteen. Because as we all know: you can pick your friends, you can pick your crack, but you can’t pick your family.