I have always been interested in history. I remember, at the tender age of five, declaring to my mother that I was going to be an archaeologist when I grew up; being, at that time, enthralled with The Mysteries of Whatever Lost Continent Was in Vogue (it was totally a thing, I promise). I even recall proclaiming to my Prep class that I wasn’t interested in paleontology, and wouldn’t even consider dinosaurs (I was a derisive five-year-old), because what I was interested in was people; and I can genuinely say that I have been, remain and, I suspect, ever will be endlessly fascinated by them.
One of the things I enjoy most about working in psychology is that I often get the opportunity to take people through their family tree. Now, this might sound a little odd, but the more I work with people, the more I see that the patterns of behaviour and belief systems we learn from our family when we are small, are not only usually pervasive into adulthood, but in fact, can oftentimes be traced into ancestry!
I love the light that dawns in people’s eyes when they can suddenly see that they “came from somewhere”, that there is sense in their struggle and, in some cases, that by looking at their family history, they gain a context in which they are not broken, wrong, at fault, or not good enough… Simply, that they learned an idea or a dysfunctional behaviour because it was all their parents knew to teach them, and all their grandparents knew to teach their parents, and so on. That it was just passed down the line to them and, like an unwanted heirloom, they don’t necessarily have to keep it. I often refer to this moment as “the beginning of freedom”.
That said, it’s not only behaviours and ideas that can be generational, but talents, personalities, quirks and attitudes too! My friend, and our esteemed Bea editor, Keris, recently shared her eldest son’s remarks about a field full of dandelions, declaring that he was “the perfect kid for a writer”. I often think about the ties between parents, children and the ways in which they are bound, and suspect that it is no coincidence that a broad imagination, a wicked sense of humour, or a whimsical outlook are passed down through our blood ties. I often wonder whether it’s actually written into our genes.
Very recently, one of my dearest friends – a self-proclaimed “product of a relatively traditional two-kid family”, who is intrigued by my unconventional clan – was asking about my seven siblings. I was inspired to write a paragraph about each of them, and then threw in my parents and the two ring-ins (spouses) that make up we twelve.
Now, I am well aware that my family is very musical, but it wasn’t until I was describing each person that I was struck by just how artistically gifted they all are. This turned up in enormously different, but related ways: from producing music in a studio, to designing and coding video games; to music composition, recording and performance; to visual artistry, painting, drawing, crafting, training and writing. Even our ring-ins are teachers (which takes a lot of creativity!), photographers, wood artisans, and Builders of Most Excellent Lego Creations.
And then, I decided to reflect on generations further back, and realised that my family is chock full of musicians, artists, artisans, writers, circus and stage performers, crack shots, trail blazers, and even a few enterprising convicts; and I thought how utterly brilliant and fabulous it was, that I am a product of all these people. People I have never met who, nonetheless, have passed their ideas, talents, and turns of phrase down the line.
And it struck me how very important it is for us to know who we are in the context of our family. Love them or loathe them, we are part of their great jumble of life, and until we know where we come from, and connect with the triumphs and tragedies of our context, I don’t know that we can truly be all that we are meant to be.
And then, what really blew me away was to discover my great-great-great-great-great grandmother shared my recently discovered passion – and, indeed, my wishful future career – for millinery.
I’ll take it.