As an immigrant in America I have spent most of my life stuck in between two cultures.
The harder I tried to conform to American culture the more I lost touch with my Polish roots. The same goes for the flip side. And so, I have been playing tug of war for most of my life never truly finding solitude in where I fit in.
As a little girl on many summer vacations, at my grandmother's house in Poland, children would flock to me and ask, "Is the grass green in America? Is it? Is it? Is the sky blue?" I was different and therefore sometimes excluded. I was the girl that spoke in broken Polish and did not understand many references.
Upon arriving back to America after my vacations, friends would approach me on the first day and ask, "Poland? You went to Poland? Why did you go there...." I was different and again sometimes excluded. I was the girl that ate liver pate for lunch and had parents that spoke broken English with a heavy accent.
It did not take much for me to become a bit confused as to where I fit in and I started to question my heritage as a self conscious adolescent. There even came a time when I started to deny it, in desperate attempts to fit in.
In grade school, I would hide under my desk on Saturday mornings in Polish school as the American children playing soccer outside would come inside for a bathroom break. I did not want to be recognized. Even up until college, filled with pure bread Irish Catholics, I continued to deny where I was born. It allowed me fit in temporarily but I also felt a huge part of myself gone.
My parents had the brilliant foresight to push me through the Polish Scouting Association in Chicago. Yes. I was a "girl scout" even in college. I would secretly slip on my uniform and spend the weekend with people just like me. Polish-Americans who identified with their people, loved the food, respected the culture, and admired Poland. The best days of my adolescent life were those in high school when I guided my pack of a dozen girls through Polish song and dance on camping trips.
Because during those times, I was completely true with myself. I was me.
And this is what I want for my children.
I want my legacies to be true to themselves. I want them to be at peace with themselves and their heritage. They too are Polish-American children. And they have much to be proud of. I want them to realize on their own, that Poland is a beautiful place with an incredible history. I want them to be proud.
This was easy to do this summer, as they are quite young and unexposed to the world outside of our immediate family. Naturally they feel accepted and in return they accept their heritage.
"This is JUST LIKE Paris!" Lola squealed when we strolled through the streets of Gdansk. I looked up at the iron balcony overflowing with beautiful flowers and said, "Yes. Yes it is!"
"Mama... this ice cream taste so much better than the ones in Cleveland." Jay admitted after having our 35th cone in three days. "Yes. You are right, it is much better!" I agreed.
And. Through the eyes of my children I saw my country again. I sat in the same sand box I used to play in as a five year old girl and watched my children play amongst Polish children. I chatted with mothers in my native tongue about potty training, picky eaters, and child development while sitting in front of the apartment complex that my parents brought my sister home from the hospital to.
"You lived here?" Jay asked me over and over again. "YOU played right here?"
Ice Cream & Piwo pit stop at a cafe in Gdansk. Everyone was happy.
That apartment in Gdansk according to Jay is "our second home." Our names are stenciled on the front door. "We can come back anytime. Right Mama? This is our second home."
"Yes. Poland is our second home." And through the eyes of my children I finally realized that I fit perfectly in both worlds. "We will be back." I proudly confirmed.
I thank my children for helping me find my place in this world and I dream that their acceptance is ongoing and that it will grow into immense pride for our "second home."