Hello everyone. Welcome back to my Thursday Reflection series in which I am reflecting on happiness, balance, well-being, and being your best self! Please read and weigh in.
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This year marked a big milestone for my family. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Over 50 years ago, as a young woman, my mother Fleur ventured across the Atlantic as a Pan American stewardess. In New York City, she met Jerry. They met, married, and had four children (I was the 3rd), and as they say the rest is history.
Fleur has created her life in the United States. She had a career, raised her family, and has formed lifelong friendships in this great country of ours. But her Swedish roots remain essential to her. In the U.S., she has many Swedish friends. She bakes delicious Swedish desserts, and decorates her home in a Swedish style, especially at Christmas. And she tells a lot of stories about her Swedish family, which fill her with pride.
This summer along with my Dad, my Mom came to Sweden to an area from which many of my relatives hailed, inviting us kids to come along with our own kids. Her hope? To reconnect with her family and places she held dear as a child, and to offer her own children and grandchildren a glimpse into our family’s history.
Although I am fully American, I grew up spending a lot of time in Sweden and have roots here too. I remember my grandmother serving my sister and I hot cocoa in big painted, golden cups with her speciality, toasted tea cakes. I remember the candy stores, filled with amazing Swedish chocolate. I remember clogs, Abba, Swedish pancakes, Swedish meatballs, and all the many other delicacies. Most of all, I remember happy times with my cousins, playing outside until late in the evening on long summer nights in the green meadows and pastures of rural Sweden.
Being back here in Sweden this week, I’m thinking a lot about roots and what they mean. I’m also thinking about culture and why it matters to much.
What are roots? We think of roots as something that supports us, as roots do a tree, nourishing us and holding us up strong. If we reflect on our roots, we feel a sense of where we come from and what has come to define family values for us. Even if we’ve gone off to create our own independent lives, rediscovering our roots, including to places we held dear as a child, taps into a part of ourselves that we might not otherwise think about, especially during our busy lives as parents.
Roots might be brought to life by a visit to a place, by a special family dish, by a type of music or a mere song, or by a group of people.
Roots are related to our cultural heritage, which to me references a shared versus a particular experience. Culture might be tangible and found in a bar of chocolate, strawberries, or crusty, hard bread, or intangible, found in the way people sit down to share a meal, board a train (always having bought the ticket) without a peep, or meander along country roads decorated with wildflowers on old bicycles.
In a big city like New York that is filled with so many cultures, so many noises, so many foods, so many sorts of people, it’s hard not to feel lost. Walking down the street, no one around knows who you are or where you come from. When I meet someone Swedish and share stories about Sweden, I feel connected, united by a common experience. I think this holds true for children too. If they know their family hails from a certain place and they can start to form their cultural identity, they will have a greater sense of who they are. They will feel special, as all children should. I know that growing up as a child, I felt special and important to say that my Mother and family were Swedish. I still do.
In our busy lives as parents of young kids, it’s easy to fall out of touch with your roots, with your culture. If you feel out of touch with your roots, try in small ways to get back in touch. Make a phone call, put on a old song your family used to sing, dig up one of your mama’s dusty recipes and try it out with your kids. Bring your roots into your children’s lives by continuing your family’s traditions. Introducing your children to your culture heritage will spark a sense of unity, of commonality, between you and your children. It’s also a great way to open your children towards a greater understanding of other cultures, and to encourage them to appreciate the cross cultural differences among us and what makes us special.
I’ll look back on this week and remember my daughters with my parents, swimming in the cold water, eating meatballs, laughing over chocolate, gazing at the meadows, and even exploring several majestic castles. Tonight we had dinner overlooking the Baltic, each of us covered with a warm blanket at the end of July. That’s Sweden for you. It’s beautiful, unique and special and now a place that unites us as a family again in new and fun ways. We’ve made some new memories here and in the process, kept my Mother’s roots and our culture alive. For that, I am truly grateful.
Love, Melissa xo