My Mother’s Homeland This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     The heavy metal doors of the local high school had closed with a bang, signaling the much-anticipated arrival of summer vacation. Unfortunately, while all my friends were enjoying slumber parties and swimming pools, I was stuck in Finland, in my grandparents’ kitchen, being forced to eat deer meat. My strict grandmother could not fathom the concept of vegetarianism, and she stubbornly heaped large spoonfuls of the soggy brown mush onto my plate. When I shook my head and told her for the millionth time that I would not eat it, she grabbed my hand, pulled me to the front door, and pushed me outside. Her meaning was clear: I was not allowed back into the house until I showed some appreciation.
For the remainder of the summer, my situation did not change. Each morning I was expected to wake up at exactly seven o’clock, a time that seemed absurd to a teenager on vacation. Before I was given my breakfast, I had to watch with embarrassment as my mother, aunt, and grandmother went swimming in the lake ... naked. To my horror, I quickly learned that nudity was commonplace in Finland. My relatives scoffed at my refusal to shed my clothing and join them, but I was determined to stand my ground, even if I was viewed as an outsider. After everyone lay on the cracked wooden dock to dry themselves, we trooped back to the kitchen. My grandmother would then place a slab of rye bread on my plate and point to a dish of berries, which she apparently considered a treat. Despite the bland nature of this meal, I was relieved that at least this part of the day did not require heated arguments about the consumption of animal flesh.
Later, I related these unfortunate stories to my friends, determined to show them how extraordinarily awful my summer in Finland had been. Although they tried to convince me that I was lucky to experience such an adventure, I refused to admit their point of view. I hated the fact that my unusual heritage set me apart and defeated every teenager’s goal of being “normal.”
But when the next summer arrived, my attitude slowly began to change. When I told people I was spending my vacation in Finland, they responded with awe and jealousy. Many asked whether I could speak the language, and when I answered a proud “yes,” they were amazed. This helped me understand that this fact that I thought set me apart actually made me special.
The event that truly changed my mind about my mother’s homeland, however, happened at the local Finnish market. I watched as my mother, aunt, and grandmother all clustered around a stand full of ripe fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, the similarities between the three women struck me, and I realized how important Finland was to my mother. It occurred to me that she had given up her family and moved to a different continent simply to raise a family. As I tried to imagine seeing my loved ones only once a year, tears sprung to my eyes. Not only had my mother made sacrifices for me, she had also taught me a remarkable language and allowed me to experience a rich culture. As a child, this fact had escaped me, but now I realize that my mother had given me the gift of a unique heritage.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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beautifulspirit This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 26, 2012 at 8:54 am
I never knew that Finland's culture was like that. What you felt during your first visit was probably what any one would've felt in a different land. But I was glad to know that later you appreciated it more. Our heritage is so important---so many forget what it means. I enjoyed reading your article~
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