What’s genetics got to do with it?
Motherhood is, in the end, one of the most tangible ways to leave your mark on the world. Your children represent parts of you regardless of whether they carry on your political and ideological beliefs. Your children represent you whether or not they are genetically tied to you.
Since starting this blog I’ve spent more time than ever thinking about someone I have never met. Walking around Brooklyn, I try to imagine a woman who was my age when she lived here with a young daughter and her husband away at war. Even though she has always been a mysterious presence to me I can’t help but look for how I am connected to her and how I might resemble her. But I don’t want to get caught up in the notion that my family, or its legacy, is important just because of my biological connection to the people in it.
I always felt lucky, growing up, to have four living grandparents. There was my mother’s father, John, who shouted “Don’t come back with any holes in your body,” when I was seven and walking out the door to go get my ears pierced. Of course, this caused me to anxiously turn to my mom and ask if he knew what I was about to do. There was my maternal grandmother, Joan, who was straightforward and loving; laughing at my one pathetic attempt to embroider and miraculously not hurting my feelings. (She was also exceptionally good at “The Price Is Right.”) Then there was Alex. But I can’t talk about motherhood without introducing Sophie, Alex’s second wife, and the woman that I grew up knowing as my paternal grandmother.
Sophie, the last of my grandparents who is still alive, doesn’t posses quite the same sharpness of her younger years. She is without a smidgen of doubt my grandmother. The term step-mother doesn’t get a lot of use in the family and its “evil” connotations have no place here. She was a teacher, having earned a PhD is childhood education. When she joined the family she had a son named David, too. (Yup, that’s how my dad and his brother came to share the same name). A notoriously bad cook, we relied on my grandfather’s culinary skill for our weekly Sunday dinners in New Jersey.
While this blog may have grown out of an attempt to understand Sylvia, it is also about understanding a heritage that has little to do with genetics. My family, like so many families, is a network of people that is not constrained by biology.
Without replacing Sylvia, Sophie became another mother to the family and has helped me understand that above all, family is about inclusion – not exclusion.
After all, it was Sophie who saved the letters that Alex and Sylvia wrote to each other so that they could be passed on. It is Sophie’s handwriting on the box of letters that says “For David and Adrienne.” That’s motherhood.