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February 18, 2006 - Saturday, 1:44 p.m.

My Background - for Self-Assessment Assignment

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in March of 1960. My parents graduated from college in the spring of 1959, my father from NDSU in Fargo, ND with a degree in Electrical Engineering and my mother from UM in Moorhead, MN with a four year teaching degree. I was the first born child of what would become 5 daughters. In 1965 we moved to Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities, that is where I grew up. I had a wonderful childhood. We lived in a small cape cod in a quiet small community with the Mississippi River flowing behind the houses that were across the street. The winters were spent going to school, playing in the snow and ice skating as much as conceivably possible. The summers were spent swimming, riding my bike, and visiting my grandma on the farm in western North Dakota. By the time I was 5 years old, I had three younger sisters. Therefore I always seemed old to my mother. By the age of 3 she was already teaching me how to use measuring cups and letting me help when she cooked. [Years later when my son was 3, my mother would comment to me that she couldn’t believe, in retrospect, that she’d expected me to do so many things at that age.]

My parents became Bahá’ís when I was 4 years old and within that context I was raised and participated in communities that valued people irrespective of age, gender or race. The people that flowed in and out of my life were diverse, yet my opinion was always valued. Growing up my mother and father, seemed to work hard not to teach us in a gender oriented way. We had toys that boys played with as well as girls. They taught us values and were examples themselves. They made us believe that we could do anything.

I spent a lot of my time following my father around. An engineer by trade, he spent a lot of his free time, working on cars and our house. He was always building or fixing something, so much so that I identify the smell of sawdust strongly with him. We always wanted to help, and for as long as I could remember (by the age of 10) there had always been that 4x4 board that was about 2 feet long, with literally 100’s of nails in it. Whenever we wanted to help he gave us a hand full of nails and a hammer and we worked at putting the nails into that block of wood. He told us that once we could hammer them in without bending them we could help. In particular I enjoyed watching him build things, fix the cars and do wiring. At 10 he gave me a blow torch to help him removed the old paint off the clap board of our house. Ten is a pretty young kid to let use a blow torch!! I recall sitting on the peak of house watching him shingle the roof at the same age. As I got older I was expected to learn how to change a tire, my oil and outside chores like hauling firewood to the house, as well as clean my room and help around the house. My father gave me a lot of good advice about how to decide on my degree in college. However, I didn’t listen like I should have (he’d suggested I work in the industry I picked), and I ended up shifting from a degree that in later life I would come to find would have been perfect for me (and I would have figured it out when I could have done something about it if I’d listened to him).

My mother is a wonderful person that I have worked to be like most of my life. She is kind and a wonderful listener. She taught us things that ‘girls’ should know (like cooking and taking care of our home). She was always the arbiter of any disagreement I had with my sisters or other kids in the neighborhood. We’d always go to her for the ‘right answer’; she always gave it and we all (including the neighbor kids) always went by her final word on almost any topic. She has a fascination with history, and she always found out the history of any place that she lived. I believed that she knew everything, and even still I believe it, especially in the context of understanding people in our lives. She was our source of information as we raised our kids and struggled to teach them what we could. She is always there for the people in her life (as is my father). You can count on them always!!

Unlike many teenagers, I never rebelled against my parents. They always trusted me and I worked to keep that trust. (Actually none of us five girls rebelled.) When I was twenty-two years old, I found that I was pregnant and I was living in San Antonio at the time. I called them the day I found out. They immediately got in their car and came to talk to me and help me figure things out. I expected to be chastised for the mistake, I expected to see disappoint in me in their eyes. It was a little scary to tell them, yet they were the only people I could think of to talk to. They arrived and I received one of the greatest gifts I can recall ever receiving. They didn’t chastise me, they weren’t mad and if they were disappointed they didn’t show it. They just wanted to help me figure out where to go from there. Did I want to move home and finish school? Did I want to get married? They helped me figure out the best course and they supported me in my decisions. They simply loved me, mistakes and all. This single event probably had the greatest impact in my life. From that moment on the world would never again be black and white, right or wrong. It showed me that love and understanding could get you through even the darkest moments in life.

I ended up married to my son’s father, Gary, about six months before he was born. We went on to have two more sons in the next four years of our marriage. Our marriage was amicable for the most part. In my mind marriage was forever, that was the examples in my life. I worked hard to make our marriage last, yet we were very different people with different priorities in life. We continued to move in different directions until we divorced after 10 years of marriage. When he moved out my boys were 4, 6 and 8. By the time the divorce was final my oldest son was nearly 10. Our divorce has continued to be amicable. Neither of us ever found call or reason to speak badly of the other. Their dad was always around and my boys were allowed to love us both, we never made them choose between us. I always wanted them to have their father and through the years they have each created a relationship with him (though they always lived with me).

My boys never rebelled against me, and for that I am grateful. They all struggled with school and the school environment (THAT was a struggle for me). Though they all loved learning and were really very smart, they didn’t like school very well. My oldest son, Justin, eventually got his GED at nearly 19 and has proceeded on into college after spending almost a year in China (in 2001-2002). My second oldest, Philip graduated with his senior class at 17 ½ and went on to college as well. My youngest, Curtis spent a couple years in an alternative high school, which he really enjoyed over the conventional school, but also got his GED at 18. He also plans to go to college in the next year. Justin married at 22 to a woman, Moon, which he met while living in China. Currently all three of my boys and Moon live with me. We get along very well. We all work and most of us are currently enrolled in school. Even the boys’ father, after years of moving in and out of jobs, started back to college a couple years ago, and is almost done with his undergraduate degree.

My relationship with my sisters is important to me as well. They are my best and most loved peer group. We are forever and strongly linked to each other. In many ways we are four sisters who have raised 12 children. I love my nieces and nephews as my own. As sisters and friends, we will always be there for each other. It is one of the greatest comforts in my life.

My legacy is my children, what they accomplish in their lives, the families they create, and how they live and love. They are the greatest single accomplishment in my life. Beyond that I would like to be remembered for my kindness, and unshakable quality as a friend, mother, daughter and sister. I would like to have positively touched the lives of the people that have touched my life. If I was able to some how lift their load, the burdens of life, if even for a few moments, I have succeeded in my desire. I don’t expect the world in general to remember me, but within my family and small sphere of influence, I expect and desire to be remembered.

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