Sometimes? Life Is Hard To Define…

“There are all kinds of courage,’ said Dumbledore, smiling. ‘It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter And the Philosopher’s Stone”

This is a tough post to write. But, I think it is important.

I have thought recently about many battles that I have lost lately.

My beautiful, lovely, unique daughter told me today that the reason she cut her hair is because one of the many originators of classic ballet that I showed her, a woman I thought was easy to relate to, was Coco Chanel. Her heroine. The original creator of the angled bob. (And frankly, a lot of fashion we all adore.)

It would be easy for me to say: “Yes! Embrace that fashion icon!”

Whilst it is true that my own ancestors derive from Miles Standish, that original WASP, my husband’s ancestors do NOT. My husband went to the inner-most roads of rural Poland to track down his heritage. And he found the village where his great-uncle and many cousins were slaughtered. My college boyfriend, a beloved friend in the end, was named for one of the very worst towns associated with the Holocaust. And he deeply regretted that. And so, it greatly pains me to say this.

But the truth is:

My children are the great, great grandnieces and nephews of Holocaust survivors.

And I will never, ever forget. No matter how beguiling my daughter’s fashion role model is. No matter how WASP-y people tell me my son looks. They are the product of much suffering.

I will never forget.

And I hope: they won’t either.

I don’t really know what to say other than: differences matter. But not that much.

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8 Comments

Filed under Fear

8 responses to “Sometimes? Life Is Hard To Define…

  1. OK, I had to do some Googling b/c somehow I had missed Chanel’s Nazi background. I understand how mixed your feelings must be on your daughter’s adoration of her. Will you address it with her?

  2. It’s interesting to me that you filed this under “Fear”… I might put it under something like “Strength” or “Bravery”. It is amazing to me all these things that must be faced as a parent. I’m definitely unsure of how I would handle such a situation and am curious to hear what you do.

  3. So I commented to you on Twitter today about this, and I have a post brewing now that you have inspired, but I have to say it again– as a non-Jew, the history I have taken on as the parent of children who have an Eastern European Jewish legacy is staggering at times. My children also have ancestors who were lost in the Holocaust, although the exact names and lineage is a bit fuzzy now that M’s father has passed away, taking most of the history with him (I have a few of FIL’s cousins on my FB who I can ask as well). I looked at Chicken on Saturday morning while getting the girls ready for their Hebrew naming ceremony at our temple and had a moment of “wow” where it was such a huge and daunting… I don’t know the right word. Burden? Not a negative burden, but a historical one, I guess. It’s a big thing to have in one’s blood and I’m going to have to figure out how to help them understand it, someday.

  4. Mel

    It’s so interesting to hear from someone who came into that heritage sideways rather than being born with it (meaning, you vs. your kids). I think of Coco Chanel in the same way I think of Knut Hamsun in regards to writing. How do you teach modern literature without talking about Knut Hamsun AND how do you celebrate the work of Knut Hamsun knowing his history?

  5. I drive a Jetta. My husband? An old BMW 300 series wagon. I’ll just leave that there.

    That said, I think it’s entirely possible to frame a conversation about a person’s life – and all its ugliness and unpleasantness – in the times in which they lived. To teach your daughter the value of the Shehechiyanu (always one of my favorite prayers) about living and being alive in THIS moment, right now in history. Chanel’s Nazi sympathies aside, we have no idea what life was like in WWII Europe. I don’t say this as a Holocaust apologist: far from it. But the fact of the matter is, these are histories that are for the most part, told TO us rather than lived BY us.

    This moment then, for your daughter, becomes a pathway to the stories of the survivors. She and you may never have known just what life might have been like for Ms. CoCo Chanel, but you and she can certainly retell the stories of those family members who did survive that time and know that time in history, that Shehechiyanu, through their eyes instead.

  6. Both my husband’s parents’ families had moved out of Europe before WWII, but it’s still such a huge part of his cultural identity and history. Every time we visit a city that has one, he wants to go to the Holocaust museum, and I. just. can’t. It hurts my heart too much, and I’m not even distantly related to anyone who was involved. I like how Mel put it as coming in sideways, but my children won’t have a choice. They’ll be born into it, just like yours.

  7. Have I told you that my paternal grandmother told my dad when he was 50 or so that she was Jewish? He was raised Catholic, away from her family of origin, and had no idea his heritage. For most of my life, neither did my sisters and me.

    So this post is of interest to me. I don’t know how I’d handle that with my kids. There have been times that I tell the kids I won’t listen to a certain singer they like — Chris Brown comes to mind — because I don’t want to also support that person’s beliefs and behaviors.

    That would be much harder for me to do if I actually LIKED Chris Brown’s music.

  8. This is a brave thing to talk about as a parent … and I know that if you have anything to do with it, your children will know exactly who they are, and how celebrating icons is complicated.

    This was beautifully done, BTW.

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