There is so much to say about the women in my family.
This past weekend, my mom and I took care of my niece, Shiloh, while my sister (Miriam) and her husband (Steven) stole away (rather unwillingly) for a few well-deserved days of rest and play in Colorado. Though Darren has been here running errands, grocery shopping, warming up bottles, playing with Shiloh, his strong, many times silent, peaceful presence like a boon of grace – this has been a weekend of womanhood, of motherhood, of intense, joyful, aching, sometimes exhausting femininity. It’s been a weekend of plenty. Laughter. Food. Sleep cravings. Tears. More laughter. Treks in nature. Everything an ordeal. Everything enchanting.
The women in my family know how to carry their bodies.
I have watched my sister as every movement of her body since motherhood is suspended between precision and complete abandon, as if the only language her body has known is that of caring for a child. Her hands are so quick to hold, to catch, to sustain. They are kind and firm. Always capable. Her body fights through its aches, its fatigue, its murmurations, to always give.
My niece is hunger, and need, and beauty, so small and self-contained. I am in awe as I watch her. What her body knows. Her implicit trust of my sister. The way she knows the body is there to nourish, to warm, to safeguard. As if she remembers the hard and polished shell that protected her growing, pearlescent flesh.
My mother and I adjust to her, and she to us. I watch my mother as she remembers this parole of motherhood. How what I’ve never known comes to me with clarity and I yield. My own body bends to meet hers when she cries, to cradle her joy, to crawl on the floor and play games with her. I am never bored, I don’t feel exhaustion till much later when her own small body has grown quiet and heavy with sleep.
I think about how my mother is so much more than a mother. I remember the stories, my mother rocking me to sleep, a wisp of a woman, 22 years old, her engineering textbooks balanced in her lap. She is a student, later a graduate student, a mother, a wife. She has a successful career as a mechanical engineer. She navigates a man’s world with dexterity and strength. If she cries, or feels weak, it is only in the privacy of our home, maybe late at night, maybe to my father. As a child, I only knew her as strong, as vital, as a woman who could do it all. Who did it all, and under the harsh conditions of Communist Romania.
I learned my strength from her, she from my grandmother. My grandmother, ever optimistic, incredibly beautiful, erudite far beyond the average woman of her time. She went to college at a time where the prescribed path for women was marriage and children. She loved living things, woods, and orchards, she knew hundreds of bird calls. She became a cultivation expert, her research centered on what trees could be planted in arid areas to change the soil composition, to offer the local populations sustenance. She understood the combinations of alleles and genes that give trees the best survival chances; she understood hybridization.
She was a storyteller, a writer. She married later in life, had children later. She endured religious persecution. She never stopped learning. Even in her seventies and eighties, after being transplanted from her own country, here in the U.S., she studied English, took computer classes, worked successfully for a couple of decades. She later learned Spanish so she could befriend some of her neighbors. Her last couple of years when she lived with my parents, I remember an astronomy book on her bedside table, our conversation turning towards constellations, rotation, distance. She knew the name of so many stars.
It is in the genes of the women in my family to love beauty, to search for it as an end in itself.
We do it in different ways, insular and shared: my mother in nature, my sister in the faces of the women she counsels. I find it books, in language, in the voices and gestures of those I love. We have all endured hardships, lessened with each generation perhaps, but this spirit of survival, transformed by faith, by knowledge, by connection and community, breathes through each of us.
It is morning now. As I end this post, I have officially begun my spring break. I’ve just come back to these words after holding Shiloh for her morning nap. I should have put her back in her crib, but those minutes of her sweet breath against my shoulder, her chubby hands grasping my arm with incredible strength for such a small child, they are unlike anything.
I think of all the lives that whisper in her. The glimpses I see, my grandmother’s, my mother’s expressions, so much of my sister, maybe a little of me. I think of the beauty and strength that lives in her, how one day soon she will language her thoughts, and astonish us with the joy of it all.
A recipe from my great-grandmother, passed to my grandmother, passed to my mother, passed to Miriam and myself:
Homemade Chocolate (Fudge)
1.5 sticks unsalted butter
1.5 cups of water
2 cups dark cocoa powder (adjust to taste)
4.5 cups powdered milk
2 cups of raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp rum extract (optional)
2 cups of toasted, chopped hazelnuts
Heat the water in a small pot on medium heat, and when it is warmed all the way through (10 minutes), add the sugar and stir until it is completed melted. Add the stick and a half of butter until it melts and incorporates well into the mixture. Bring to a gentle simmer for five minutes. Turn the heat off, add the rum and vanilla, and let the mixture cool until it is bearable to the skin. Insert finger to test.
Add the cocoa powder in half-cup increments and stir with a spatula until well incorporated and smooth. Add the powdered milk in half-cup increments as well, again until it is smooth and well-incorporated. The mixture should be thick and cake-like. Add the hazelnuts.
Grease a 9×12 glass dish and pour the mixture in. Smooth with a moistened knife, and let it cool in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours. Cut to desired size and enjoy.
*The cacao and powdered milk can be adjusted to taste for a milkier or a darker chocolate. This recipe makes a very dark luscious chocolate that isn’t too sweet.