Where I’m From

When I first had a baby who was soft and snuggly, who smelled good and was dressed the way I liked in Baby Gap dresses I snagged from the consignment store for a steal, I felt sad for the mommies of bigger kids. I watched them, mostly at church, and I thought they were just so… homely. With horror show teeth growing on top of each other, forgetting to let the little ones fall out before the big ones came in. And mismatched clothes with tears in all the wrong places; a pocket attached but barely, a toe sticking out of a sock without a shoe. They were gangly and awkward and socially cringe-worthy. They smelled wonky and had funny hair. And, I suppose, I remembered myself at that age and felt retroactively embarrassed for myself. So I felt sorry for their mamas, and I suspected they longed for their kids to be little again, still sweet and small; still pretty; still perfect and unmarred by time and teeth.

Now I’m the mama of the gangly ones with the funny hair and wicked grins, and I still think they’re homely, only now I find them delightfully so, and I revel in the secret of the mamas of the bigs — the secret that these goofy kids are also pretty and perfect and unmarred. Both/And, friends, and becoming more Both/And every day. Both homely and stunning. Both wonky and wonderful. Both grimy and gorgeous. Both magic and mess. Like all of us, it turns out, made up of a mix and jumble. Human and divine. And I adore that they are mine.

Cai came home from school last week and declared he hates writing the Most of ALL. He’s in 4th grade and he hates writing. He hates drawing. He hates art. And he really, really, extra hates poetry. Poetry is horrible. And then he pulled a poem from his backpack and threw it on the kitchen table, on top of Something Sticky from days ago, and on top of bills and groceries and someone’s sock, and he left the room to play XBox with his brother while I read his poem and laughed because it starts silly… and then wept because there it was, all written out, who my kid is at this wonky, beautiful age, and where he’s really from, in truth.

Where I’m From
by Cai Woolsey

I am from computer.
From Twix candy bars and XBox.

I am from chaos.

I am from madness.
From helpful
And dirty.

I am from the willow that weeps
And the pear that is sweet.

I am from eating snow
And joyfulness from Beth and Greg.

I’m from loudness
And ruff housing.

From peace
And love.

I’m from kindness
And giving.
I’m from my Papa’s Marines
And from cheese and steak.

I’m from the hospital.
I am from my home.

I asked Cai’s teacher about the poetry unit they’ve been doing. The awful, horrible poetry unit he hates which produced this picture of who my kid is, at age 10, and his wisdom and awkward, awesome grace. She shared the template with me, based on Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon, and I decided to write my own, as well.

It made me nervous, to be honest, because, as is common for Third Culture Kids, I never quite know how to answer Where I’m From. Do I say where I was born? Where I was raised? Where I live now? Where my heart, which ebbs and flows like the ocean, from one coast to another, pulled by mysterious forces, is drawn? It’s… complicated… for kids like me. We tend to know Who We Are rather than Where We’re From, but nobody ever asks Who Are You? when you meet for the first time.

Still, I thought. Still, I’d like to try so I might see. You know? And I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I steal some lines from my son.

Where I’m From
by Me

I am from the wilderness.
The jungle.
The highlands.
The home.

I am from chaos.

From magic and mess.
From grace and grime.
From wonder in the wild of a life lived off course
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

I am from the water;
the ocean which is dark and light
and full of life and danger.

I am from hot toddies made by fierce and friendly women.
From ancient Irish enemies — Kerr and McDonough —
and their Scottish Murray foes,
turned friends, then lovers, then strangers, then friends again.

I am from dramatic sighs
and doing things a better way
and blowing up
and quieting down
and trying and succeeding
and trying and failing
and trying
to love each other well.

I’m from Stop Baiting Your Brother, Beth
Someday You’ll Be Best Friends,
and she was right; we are.

^^^I’m from telling my kids the same thing.^^^
From Brainwashing for a Better Tomorrow.

I am from Love made real who walks among us.
From Love which still turns the whole world upside down.

I’m from the Celts and the Gaels
and the Viking pirates who sailed the sea.
I am from the Wild, Wild West
and an Asian jungle,
and so I’m made of rice and whiskey
and freckles
and things that taste free.

I’m posting the template below, because I’d really love to see yours, too. Feel free to use it loosely, as I did, ’cause you know who needs more rules? NOT ME. 😉 :*

Sending love, wild friends,




Where I’m From Template:

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

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26 responses to “Where I’m From”

  1. I’m late to reading this, because I just recently discovered this awesome blog, but I tried this anyway because it was a great way for me to give my writing a jumpstart (which I have been putting off for a while.) Here’s what I came up with:

    — Where I’m From —

    I am from the back roads.
    From long, gravel driveways
    And stretching highways,
    And paths the dogs tread out in the yard.

    I am from paycheck-to-paycheck,
    Late fees and cutoff notices,
    Resourceful and Grateful and Blessed-To-Have.

    I am from Pappy’s cotton field and Mammy’s strawberry
    From wooden porch swings
    And snapping string beans in ice cream buckets.

    I am from Love You To The Dark Side Of The Moon… And Back.

    I am from blessings in the burden,
    progress in the pain,
    and miracles in the madness.

    I am from Never Give Up.

    I am from “You’re so smart; you have such potential.”
    From expectations and comparisons,
    And teaching my kids to do their best, not someone else’s.

    I am from losing my religion and finding Grace.
    I am from the substance of things hoped for and the
    evidence of things unseen.

    I am from Forgiveness is a choice,
    Love is an action,
    Commitment takes tenacity,
    And Family is a privilege, not a guarantee.

    I am from millions of second chances.

    I am from the echoes of Irish and Welsh ancestors
    Resounding in the spirits of strong, Southern women
    Who worked in fields and factories,
    Buried husbands and children,
    And still lifted hands to praise God,

    So I’m made of fried potatoes and cornbread in cast
    iron skillets,
    And hope.
    And God makes all things possible.

  2. I am from good books and cozy blankets.
    From fragrant honeysuckle, lawn tractors, tree stumps, and small hatchets.
    From backyard trampolines and cherry shoots and communing with quail.
    From farmland with a long dirt road, filled with strong winds and rays of sunlight on a angel-kissed face and gapped grin.

    I am from the peaceful and chaotic.
    The always striving and never feeling good enough.
    The messy and the masterpiece.
    The Jesus Feminism before it had such a name.
    The place where it smells of fruit and dust motes dance in the glare.

    I am from the mulberry tree, the variegated rose, the snowball bush.
    From the tree-swing filled with giggly little girls as we watch the birds steal the tomatoes from the garden.
    From grit, so much grit that it took to survive that first baby.
    From joy, which came with the second.

    I am from nut pudding and poppyseed chicken and generations of strong women.
    From mysterious, tangled roots, close lands, and distant shores.

    I am from the introverted and reclusive.
    Yet also from the curious and passionate.
    The collectors of collections. The makers of machines.
    From Young Lady!
    From Towanda, the Avenger, righter of wrongs.

    I am from God, from grace and strength and from striving to keep eyes wide open.
    Given hands ready to work and a heart hoping to serve.
    While learning through orphanhood that boundaries are vital.
    That setting myself on fire is not sustainable.
    From failing and rising again.

    I am from Amarillo, from yellow and canyons and unrelenting wind.
    From the Caprock and queso and spectacular sunsets.

    I am from F_____, from cows and farms and generations back times three.
    From dirt cake and cream cokes and hands held crossed and Blessed Be the Tie.

    I am from hardware,
    from nuts and bolts, and Sprayaway, and mop bucket rides, and the labelmaker.

    I am from English,
    from speaking in punctuation and diagramming at the dinner table.

    I am from computer science,
    from stomping boys and out-nerding the rest.

    I am from music,
    from being a piece in something amazing as the floor shakes under us,
    from where every breath is synchronized.

    I am from the stories of the answered prayers of my grandmother.
    From holding her hand as she did not remember who she was.
    From holding her feet as she died.

    I am from being the apple of my daddy’s eye.
    From trying to make him proud.
    From granting his last wishes.

    I am from being my mother’s best friend.
    From fighting to keep her.
    From letting her go.

    I am from melding it all together,
    from finally finding my priorities and following my spark,
    knowing I have to continually adjust as I go.

    I am from the panhandle.
    The stubborn.
    The wise.
    The faithful.
    The believing.
    The brave.
    The possibly slightly insane.
    The homesteaders.

  3. Where I’m From:
    I am from dirt, from Carmex lip balm, Bullfrog SPF50, city sights, wide open spaces and salty air.

    I am from the prairie of the North, the steaming summer of the South, and the big bright stars at night.

    I am from the crocus, tulips and daffodils, the Spanish moss and magnolias, and the Prickly pear,

    I am from board games, and Kringla and big hugs and saying “I Love You”, from Lenore and Wayne and Michael and the Johnson/Skogerbo/Trandem clans.

    I am from the brown eyes and the blue eyes that turn moon shape when they smile.

    From treat others as you want to be treated, everyday clothes and Sunday clothes, and little miss, people can see your underwear.

    I am from oppressive rules to seeing God in the details and believing he created me in his image even though that means I’ll never fit in.

    I’m from cold country and the sea as far back as the ancestral tree goes, with pickled herring and leftse and bland but good food.

    From the hot tempered, the logical, the kind, and the loud and obnoxious.

    I am from lake and ocean waves, seeing snow taller than my house, smelling the pines, enjoying the surprises of the mangrove, and getting axel deep in red mud.

  4. I love Where I’m From poems too! Kids always knock it out of the park. I think the specificity of the format frees them up , if that makes sense. I had a friend who used to pull one line from each kid’s poem to create a “Where We’re From” poem that she posted.

  5. I am from pottery that feels right in my hands, from comfy clothes on an uncomfortable body and seeing beauty through a lens.
    I am from the cozy blankets on the couch and cozier kittens on my lap.
    I am from the daffodils welcoming spring and the acorns crunching underfoot.
    I am from scrabble games, long legs, and longer naps; from hard-working Masons and McClains and Kings.
    I am from the lovers of food and family and frugal extravagances.
    From “you are your father’s daughter” and “who’s the oldest?”.
    I am from fitting the church, not the denomination. From varied backgrounds finding common ground. From friendships more like family.
    I’m from Scotch-Irish, German and English genes forever altered by the South, from sour cream pound cake and casseroles with cheez-its on top.
    From nurses, from readers and thinkers, from animal lovers and where did the day go.
    I am from archived scanned photos saved and shared, from blurry or over-exposed photos still holding memories and fresh camera cards excited for the day. I am from ordinary beauty and the once-in-a-lifetime extraordinary. I am from long memories cherished and dreams of the memories to come.

  6. I love this post. Thank you for sharing!

    I am from boots, from Coppertone and books.
    I am from the safe place
    I am from the ocean, the sand and the sweat
    I am from laughter and height, from Smith and Donahue and Delaney and Penaligon
    I am from the competition and the tenacity
    From fairytales and folk song, and do it yourself
    I am from kneeling, from rules, from ritual
    I’m from everywhere, stuffed shells and brownies
    From the motherless child, the strict firstborn, and the wayward wanderer
    I am from the healer and the gypsies, the warriors who served, the man with rough hands but a gentle heart, from the ocean tides that bring us together and then rip us apart again

  7. I had fun reading Cai’s and matching it up with the template to figure out which prompts led to which words. I don’t know if he used the same one but if so it looks like for family religion he put in “peace and love and kindness and giving”, which is pretty awesome. xoxoxoxo

  8. It is amazing how different these can be, even following the same general formula. I feel such a sense of self-identification in mine, and I imagine the rest of you do as well. I don’t think I could have written it that way as a child, because I didn’t truly know at that time what was unique to my own experience. Thanks for inspiring me to write for myself, Beth. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. (All non-English words are Finnish.)

    I am from paint;
    From books and songs.

    I am from the junction of woods and prairie,
    From storms and sun and snow.
    From unpredictability.

    I am from the coneflower, the oak tree.

    I am from home cooking,
    independence, curiosity and sensitivity.
    From Steve and Denise;
    From Lillian Marie.

    I am from small town preachers,
    Dairy farmers, world travelers, and painters.

    From don’t be such a heta-housut
    and you better suck in your lip before a bird lands on it.

    I am from subdued and earnest sermons.
    From old-fashioned hymns and home-made dresses.
    From going visiting and night-time blessings.

    From big families, and roly-poly babies;
    From cousins-for-friends.
    From loving aunties, and encouraging uncles.

    I’m from America and Finland,
    From sloppy joes and pannukakkua.
    Pot roast, and fruit soup. The eye of the puuroa.

    From cheeks scratched by parta rubs,
    From Grampa’s endless memories,
    and Michael’s tickle tortures.

    I am from lakeside saunas and music nights.
    From frog catching and star watching.
    From Astoria, the Iron Range, the Keweenaw.

  9. I am from color and light and sun. From darkness and cold.

    I am from the farm and the skyscrapers. I am from bumper-to-bumper cars and fields that stretch for miles with flowers blowing in the breeze.

    I am from the magnolia tree and the honeysuckle plant. The daisy and the orchid.

    I am from big meals and fighting, from Karen’s youth and Paul’s stubbornness and both giving back.

    I am from the hard working and emotional. From the laughter and the tears and the silence.

    From following your heart even if it means taking the road less traveled. From never taking no for an answer.

    I am from the wind and sea, the sand and the trees. I am from the birds in the air and the ants in the ground.

    I’m from near and far, the known and the unknown and the things I yearn still to see.

    From riding camels in Egypt, to staying in the same place forever, and the in between.

    I am from the basement and the garden. Egg noodles and onion rings and BBQ on the grill.

    I am from perseverance and faith and never giving up. I am from walking out and from coming back again and again.

    I am from hardship and struggle and support. I am from good times and bad. Love and sadness, anger and forgiveness.

    I am.

    • Thank you Beth. You put into words so much of what I feel and believe. I’m raising two third culture kids and there are many things I wonder about how they are growing up and if they are missing out or only benefiting. I’m going to ask my son to do his version of this poem tonight. Thank you!

  10. I am from yarn.
    From Cascade and Martin’s Lab.
    I am from the Wind Tunnel, fast, wild, and gentle.
    I am from Mint, and Pansy, twigs.
    The spice,the fragrance, and the dirt.
    I am from tartan and yelling.
    From Bettye, and Doris, and Gerald.
    I am from fighting,
    And the closets.
    From the if you can’t say something nice
    And the don’t say anything at all.
    I a, from the quiet,
    No the prayer, and the communion.
    I am from California and the highlands.
    The Chop Souy and the Potato.
    From the dockside dance competitions and the late night listening to Billy Graham on an aircraft carrier, somewhere in the Pacific.
    I am from the Canteen, the Mayflower, and the corn fields.

  11. Thanks for this wonderful and moving post. I have followed your blog for a long time, and tonight you inspired me to try my own poetry writing . Thankyou Beth.

  12. I am the oldest in my mothering group of friends. Maybe not in age, but definitely in the years of mothering (I have 6 kids- my oldest is 11, my youngest just turned 1). I’ve heard them more than once talk about “those unfortunate grade school years” of mismatched teeth, awkwardness, and dirt. I just smile a secret smile because they don’t yet know how much they don’t even know. Grade schoolers are such magical creatures, aren’t they? Not yet the tumult of teenagers and after the chaos of toddlers. I wouldn’t trade my big littles for the world.

  13. I am from a teacher-preacher father who went to college
    When he was needed on the farm.

    I am from a patient, caring mother who made time for books
    And knew a song for every occasion.

    I am from England, Ireland and Wales
    Cynthiana, Sadieville and Great Crossing.

    I am from small Baptist churches, bible drills
    Potluck suppers and Bacation Bible School.

    I am from a curated language:
    A tough row to hoe
    Champagne taste and a beer pocketbook and
    It won’t be seen from a galloping horse.

    I am from bare feet, rough hands, kind words
    And prayer before supper.

    I am from trails at Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge.
    I am from the deep caverns of Mammoth Cave and the
    Shallow edges of Elkhorn Creek.

    I am from country roads, stone fences, sink holes
    And slamming screen doors.

    I am from sinking cans in the creek with my Dad’s rifle and the
    Promise not to tell my mother.

    I am from shucking corn, breaking beans and
    a crock of bacon grease by the stove.

    I am from a box of photographs and stories hundreds of years old.
    I am from stubborn blood. I am from laughter and tears.

    I am from luck and hard work.

    I am from love.

    – Patti Miller

  14. This is amazing. I teach at an elementary school. Is it okay if I share Cai’s poem with my students?

  15. Every year for years at the elementary school where I taught, the fifth graders wrote Where I’m from poems and they were made into a framed piece with closeup photos of each child. It was one of my favorite things to see and read. I had many of the children as kindergarteners and in just a few short years they had changed and grown so much. I love your sons poem. I love yours. Thank you for sharing.

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