Discovering Maternal Lineage Through Matryoshka Dolls

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“Mommy, where did I come from?”

By the time Booh asked me this question, she was four and I had been preparing for a couple of years by collecting Russian nesting dolls. I had been picking them up at tag sales and white elephant sales and they’ve become one of my favorite tools for addressing this simple yet complex question. I start with the big doll, her Great Great Grandmother, open her up and pull out her Great Grandmother, open her up and pull out her Grandmother, open her up and pull out her mother, open her up and pull out, well, her. It has proven to be an effective illustration.

“The name [Matryoshka] wasn’t chosen by accident… Matryona (lovingly Matryosha, Matryoshenka) was a very popular and common Russian name for a woman. Also, the word was derived from the Latin “mater” (mother) which was perfectly suited for the toy. “* The first time I demonstrated the concept of maternal lineage to my daughter she stared at the dolls, the little gears turning inside her head… “How did I get in there?” I then did it backwards, replacing the dolls, working back in lineage: this is you, you came from me, I came from Gram, and so on. It was the backwards method that got her engine going and put the concept of lineage into form, and gave me some more time to figure out how to answer THAT question.

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