17 March 2011

Irish/Italian/Dutch/German/English/Polish Eyes Are Smiling

Today is St. Patrick's Day. When I was young, my holiday morning began with a glass of green milk, served in shamrock mugs, and it ended with corned beef and boiled potatoes. My mother is not of Irish descent (she's mostly Dutch), but my father came from two Irish parents. This makes me fifty percent Irish, and fifty percent hodgepodge.

My mother enjoyed celebrating our Irish heritage, and her commitment can be summed up by her children's names: Erin, Megan, Sean, and Kate. Some of those were second choices. "Mavourneen" was considered for my sister Erin, and I was almost "Siobhan." Someone in the family convinced Ma that Siobhan would never, ever get pronounced correctly. That was proven true, back in the day, when folks struggled simply with "Megan."

I don't think I look especially Irish. My sister Erin seems to have inherited most of my father's genes, which seems appropriate, she being named after the homeland, and all. My childrens' genetic disposition is similarly lopsided.  Of the five, four have blue eyes and some version of blonde hair. Only one, Boy Three, has dark hair and eyes. And he looks exactly like the Captain. When he was nine, we found a picture of the Captain at the same age, and held it up to Three's face. The similarity was striking, and a little disconcerting.

The Captain's heritage is fifty percent Italian, and fifty percent eastern European hodgepodge. He is like a chameleon; when he stands next to his mother, he looks completely Italian. When he's near his dad, he looks Polish. It's a fun party game we play.

All of this means that my children are like most of the others in the United States: a mixed bag. I think it's important to know the family tree, as best we can. It makes us feel connected to something greater than our wee selves. Family history places our life in context, and, by comparison,  makes us better appreciate the ease of our modern existence. But our hodgepodge combination has left me ambivalent about celebrating St. Patrick's Day. If your family history is represented by half the settled world, is it fair to celebrate just one corner of it?

We all know that St. Patrick's Day is no longer just a religious holiday. The Captain will spend most of his day avoiding enthusiastic, over-imbibers in New York City. Boy Five will review the success of the leprechaun trap that he built in school. I suppose I could muster the energy to bake something with green icing. But I think I'd rather spend the day talking about my father, Grandpa Leo, the missing link to their Irish heritage. That is a memory worth celebrating.


  1. Anonymous17.3.11

    Don't you just adore the beautiful blends we have created? Literally!
    Wonderful post, Siobahan.
    Oh and I was going to say, about yesterday's mention of "ranking" in the tribe, that my joke is, how I was always number six, out of five. Even the dog got a higher number than me. Sure, I was MOM and all, but still...

  2. FYI As a kid I wished my name was Siobhan. B/c I watched Ryan's Hope. True that.

    My fifth grade teacher loved all things Irish and insisted that I looked Irish (pale, dark hair, blue eyes). I adored her too much to argue but my family is Swiss, English and German. Or, as I like to phrase it, I am the proud descendant of bigamists and bootleggers.

    Today my kiddos will write about what they'd do if they caught a leprechaun. Then we'll draw names and make posters about why we are lucky to have each other. Each kiddo goes home with a picture of him/herself in a leprechaun hat and a list of reasons why we are lucky to have him/her in our class.

    Then they'll eat a bunch of sour patch kids and go kiddie psycho.

  3. My kids know they're half greek-- I guess my side of the family is more vocal about that, or maybe more vocal in general. But it struck me the other day when they didn't know what the other half was? They didn't know about the italian/german/english parts of them. We're all mutts at this point :)

  4. Your days sound quite nice. As a Manhattanite who works on 5th Avenue, St. Patrick's day is not my favorite day. It is loud and chaotic. It starts with yelling crowds and generally ends with drunken, ill teenagers. Still, New Yorkers love Ireland and the Irish and I am not exception. We wouldn't be the City we are without them.

    On a slightly different note, I walked into my local deli this morning and they had signs up for St. Patrick's Day and Corned Beef as the special. But they were all wearing orange ballcaps. For a minute I wondered if they were trying to make a statement. Does anyone else remember when people used to wear orange on St. Patrick's Day to signify their support of the Protestant dissenters?

  5. Ack. I tried commenting, but Firefox ate it. For some reason, Firefox won't let me comment on blogspot blogs. So now I am in Safari.

    June: I had a teacher go off on a rant about that in HS. I remember it was political, and that's about it.

    Megan: this is the first time I've read your blog, mea culpa. I love your voice! I look forward to reading more of your blog, and your novel, when you finish it!

  6. Happy St Patty's Day all. Like most sensible Manhattanites, I dread this day and do my best to stay out of midtown, which becomes the world's largest, noisiest teenage keg party. Given my choice, I'd choose coloring and leprechaun stories with Lora every single time! Although Sour Patch Kids are not my preference.

    @ Megan - Love the Five Failure today. I have to admit that a sandwich does not sound like a snack in my book either. This, of course, is why we have mothers. So we don't try to get the through a half-day of school on cupcakes and fruit juice!

  7. I'm half Irish and, growing up, that half was the more dominant by far. But we never really observed St. Pat's Day with much more than green shirts. We had boiled dinners pretty regularly (on Sundays, after church, with Irish music playing), so it wasn't really a special occasion thing. My green sweater is likely as celebratory as I'll get today.

  8. @Julie: Yes, those mutty children are a delight! The Captain is convinced he ranks last in our pack, but I know it's really the dog.

    @Lora: Oh, how I loved "Ryan's Hope." I think it was the first soap I watched. Mary, Siobhan, the bar, that ho Delia (not OUR Delia)- it was awesome. Even today, when I see the actors, I always say, "Oh, you're Mary from Ryan's Hope!"

    @chrysanthe: It is hard to keep track of it all.
    And, yes, the Greeks are louder.

    @June: I was conflicted about the wearin' o' the green for many years, because I was raised a Protestant. Then I learned my father had been Irish Catholic, so I could wear green to stay true to my roots. Soon thereafter, I realized the Irish are stupid and bullheaded for fighting amongst themselves.

    @Skye: Yay for outsmarting Firefox! I'm so happy you've joined us, to lend YOUR voice. Okay, I'll finish the novel.

    @Janet: Yes, it's not a fun day for "real" New Yorkers. However, I wouldn't mind seeing the parade again one day. I do love me some bagpipers.

    @Delia: I am embarrassed to say I didn't even have a green shirt for Four. Sent him in a Yankees Jeter jersey, because it's New York's team- therefore, Irish. (Sorry, Mets fans).

    Mary from "Ryan's Hope" played the mom to a bunch of Irish brothers in a short-lived series called "The Black Donnellys." The pilot was outstanding.

    Happy day, all!

  9. LOL Megan. Not one of my kids wore a green shirt. It was just me. (Also, my nephew has a t-shirt that says "Jeter sits when he pees." This here's Red Sox country. ;) Though, we usually go Celtics for St. Paddy's day.)

  10. Oh! And I could always tell the Ryan's Hope people, because they were the only ones who knew how to pronounce my name straight out of the gate. Thank you very much for your conviction that I'm not a ho.

    (Why, yes, I am taking over your comments.)

  11. @Megan - I adore bag pipes. But I don't really like parades. Maybe we should attend a concert or field demo sometime.

  12. Megan, imagine my teenaged delight when (actor Grant Show) RICK HYDE hot younger brother of Ryan's Hope cop character Bill Hyde was the lead in the original Melrose Place! He was totally my first crush. PS Was v. disappointed that, unlike Ryan Fanelli, I did not go away for a few months at age 6 and come back as a teen Yasmine Bleeth.

  13. I just googled "Irish Italian English Dutch Greman Polish Russian Austrian" because that is what my kids are. How funny that we have such a similar mix! Your blog is wonderful.

    1. I'm so happy you stumbled upon us! It was funny to find your comment almost exactly one year after I wrote this post. Time marches on, but blogs live for eternity! Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and your mutty brood-and I mean that in the most affectionate way!


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