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A new family legacy
Perhaps my great tragedy in life is that I am not my parents. Here's how I've come to terms with it. - photo by Tiffany Gee Lewis
This past week we gathered to celebrate my parents 40th wedding anniversary.

In true family fashion, we gave tribute with a night of song, dancing, poetry and spontaneous recollection.

At the end of the evening, one of my kids leaned over and said, Our family isnt as fun as your family was. In essence, he was saying, Your childhood was better than my childhood.

I laughed, but I had to agree.

If youve been reading my column for long, you know I write a lot about my mom and dad. I was blessed with remarkable parents. They are, in many ways, larger-than-life: outgoing, funny, insightful, interested in travel and literature and cultures and religions. Theyve housed complete strangers and turned them into lifelong friends. They know the name of the mailman. They take donuts to the cafeteria workers at the hospital. This week, we tallied up the litany of charities my dad donates to. It numbered more than 30.

Perhaps my great tragedy in life is that I am not my parents. I dont have my moms boundless energy or my dads eternal optimism.

As my five siblings and I sang in six-part harmony for my parents, I felt a wave of sadness. As much as Ive tried to replicate my own childhood, my son is right. It is not the same.

Moreover, my children are different than me. They dont embrace performing. They would rather play board games.

I think they should enjoy hiking through a forest of pine trees. They think they should improve their understanding of the Linux operating system.

As a young mother, I had this vision of four boys jamming bluegrass-style on piano, violin, banjo and guitar. I now suspect they will burn their instruments the moment they head to college.

My family is not my parents' family.

I can get terribly depressed about this, or I can reframe my outlook entirely. Creating a family is an opportunity to learn from the past and hopefully improve upon it. My mom, the first college graduate in her family, made education the center of all we did. Ive continued that legacy, and because of what she gave us, I have access to even more resources for my own kids.

Exact replication isnt always a gift. I recognize that many children have less-than-ideal childhoods. Starting a family gives people a chance to break the cycle of abuse, neglect, poverty and stress. You dont have to be your mom or your dad.

My goal as a parent is to take the good from my own childhood, fuse it with the examples of in-laws and others I admire, and create a new set of traditions and memories. It also means getting out of the way and allowing my boys to become their own people, not created in my image.

The reality is, my kids have a pretty great life. They have the stories and memories of my past, plus their own. They stand on the shoulders of mighty ancestry. Thirty years from now, when their childhood has been distilled into song and dance, or more likely, hologram and 3-D slide show, theyll look back with the same amount of nostalgia and fondness.

And theyll think about how they can create and improve upon the very same thing.
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