As January 1 came and went and the Chinese New Year approaches, I struggle with the whole “New Year, New Me” idea. At this point in my life, I don’t see how I can reinvent myself, either physically or emotionally. Appearance wise, I have been thin and not-so-thin. I have had straight hair, curly hair, long hair, short hair, brown hair, red hair (with dyed eyebrows to match) blonde hair, and for my 50th birthday trip to Vegas…pink hair. If I was in one of those spy thriller movies where the female character has to drastically change her look, I would have to practically shave my head to do something I haven’t already done.
But change isn’t just about looks, is it? There is all of that emotional growth one gains upon stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. And step outside is what I did most of the last decade. I started with my martial arts journey from watching my kids at karate to training in kickboxing, karate, jiu jitsu, boxing and a little Krav Maga thrown in for good measure. I honestly did surprise myself and a few sparring partners to find out I am a natural “brawler” as my Golden Gloves boxing coach told me (one of my proudest moments).
I also explored my more soulful side with yoga and my more expressive side with zumba. I ziplined over treetops and ran through obstacles and crawled Army-style under barbed wire through mud pits for fun. In short, I tested my boundaries and was exhilarated each time I passed one.
For most of my 40s, each year produced an ever more daring “new me.”
That change all came to a crashing halt when both of my parents passed away as I was turning 50. The air left my balloon and I was left feeling suddenly much older than my true age. I lost my fighting spirit and turned to my husband and children for love and healing. I spent more time reading and thinking about faith and love and what the rest of my life might look like. I also spent hours looking through boxes and more boxes of photos from my parents’ lives. I became curious about family roots in a way that I think only people feeling bereft of family truly do. I submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com and my results gave me a new little spark in life.
I am part Czechoslovakian! For some reason, this changed my internal view of myself. For not only do we want to project a “new me” to the world, we want to feel new inside, which gets harder as we get older. My family lore had led me to believe I was 50% Irish, 25% Polish, and 25% Lithuanian so I always knew I had roots in Eastern Europe. Despite this knowledge, I related more to my mother’s Irish ancestry. Aside from a few ethnic dishes, including the stuffed cabbage dish of halupkies, most of my self-indication was Irish. My mother sang Toora Toora Looral to me as a child and I, in turn, sang the Irish lullaby to my own babies. I also grew up around my mother’s five siblings who epitomized Irish good looks and charm. I remember meeting great aunts and second cousins on my mother’s side of the family, which I got to know better than my father’s side.
So I was surprised that according to Ancestry, my Eastern European background is 51% of my DNA with 40% coming from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Census information would have me believe that both my paternal grandparents’ families were from Czechoslovakia, which was never mentioned once to me.
It may simply be the result of shifting borders in Eastern Europe but the fact that my grandfather was listed as being born in Czechoslovakia makes me want to learn more about my neglected Eastern European heritage. Sometimes, the best way to feel new is to explore the old.