Life Instruments

My mother’s relatives came to America on the proverbial, yet very literal boat from Greece. My grandfather, also from Greece, had picked my grandmother out of a photo to be his wife after his own arrival from the gorgeous country and they separately made their way through Ellis Island.

Chrysoula, my YiaYia, had worked in a dry-cleaners prior to arriving in the United States, and she went on to design and create the most beautiful and intricate cashmere sweaters. She was one amongst many expert seamstresses in our family.
Sewing was something that brought the women in my family together. It was their joy and for some, their livelihood. The women would spend time together sewing and cooking while their daughters and nieces watched, enriching generations to come. My mother has no recipes for the various Greek dishes she prepares, because she makes them by memory, from the hours she spent cooking with her Nouna (godmother).

I can remember my own mother sitting at her Kenmore sewing machine, pinning and stitching all of our clothes and outfits for my dolls and My Little Ponys. She had learned how to lay out a pattern and use a machine from her YiaYia, who was the main female presence and guide in her life. She made her own clothing all the way through college and beyond. YiaYia Chrysoula passed away when my mother was just three, and her mother’s mother also passed before my mom was born. It’s continuously baffling to me, as someone who was raised solely by my mother, that she grew up without the guidance of her own mom, and her grandmother before her.

I received my first sewing machine as a gift from my mother for graduating high school. She had taken the time to show me her skills, though I felt it was something that was already within me, a token passed down from the women before us. At the time, sewing was more of a hobby than anything, though I did manage to sew some pieces that I wore during my junior year. I was a creative, musical type but didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. My talents didn’t shine though sewing specifically, but I did go on attend college for fashion design.

Zoe, wearing the pajama set originally made for me by my mother.

Traditions aren’t diluted by generation; instead they are part of a metamorphosis of inherent crafts, love, heart and soul.

* * *

Life after Guatemala has been challenging. They said that re-entry would be difficult, but I hadn’t anticipated losing complete sense of self in the process. We are very privileged… That is our normal, and the normal of many in this country. I was raised with electricity and clothing, food and water, and have never wanted for the basic “necessities”. I’m fortunate to note that my own children have not, and most likely will not want for those things either.

I’ve been thinking so much about the strength, heart and soul in the children whom we saw play their instruments as though it was the physical act of their heart beating. The mothers we met who bonded together to make each other’s family’s stronger in a place where food, water and basic health care are daily challenges. They shared skills for cooking and planting through a program instilled by World Vision. It was remarkable.


I watched through my very eyes, the planting of these seeds that will help to nurture the soil of future generations through nothing other than love and persistence.

During our visit to Angel’s home to hear his story about the success he has found as a young cellist and to listen while he played the most beautiful notes. The soulful bellowing of that cello absolutely radiated off of all of us in that dank room of his home in the mountains.

It was in this moment that my eyes fell onto his mother’s sewing machine, covered in fabric and sitting in a corner. It was the old-fashioned kind, built into a wooden table with metal brackets and foot petals, the same ones that I showed Zoe how to use the last time we had tea at our favorite spot in Manhattan (on my birthday, no less). The tears began to flow as I soaked up the sleeves of my blouse and retreated behind a wall so that Angel’s mother wouldn’t see me.


Perhaps we are of different cloth, but it is the same thread that binds all of us like the glorious quilt that is this earth we live on. Although our lives and our version of normal are vastly different from one another, we are so much the same. We care for our families, and we care for each other. We all have our life instruments; the skills and dreams that make us live in color.


I know that my Guatemala posts weren’t easy reads. Many chose to “unfollow” me on my Instagram account during my week there, and while I didn’t then, I understand it now. I am much the same way-I change the channel any time one of those commercials come on, you know, the ones with the hungry children or abused animals. I can’t handle it emotionally, and I don’t really want to be exposed to it when I haven’t chosen to invest emotionally. However, being there in the mountains of Guatemala and in the homes of families who can’t feed their babies, it became apart of me. The music program-one of the many things that World Vision has done in that country-perhaps it isn’t necessary, but these are important tools, these are their life instruments. They are keeping the boys out of gangs and the girls further from the trafficking, but they are also giving so many children a sense of pride, hope, and connection.


Sponsoring two children
a month isn’t an expense that goes unnoticed from our checking account, but I actually feel better knowing that we are supporting an organization that is working hard to change lives. We are helping in some rather small way to break a cycle of hunger and despair, but more importantly to weave a foundation of success into future generations.

In my dresser, tucked in a special box is a Greek cross on a gold chain that belonged to my Nouna. I never used to take it off, but now my fear of losing it has it kept in safer place. It was around my neck, close to my heart when I married my husband and during the birth of my children. Though I rarely sew, and I have yet to learn those Greek recipes, the women in my family are with me in ways that can’t always be seen or touched, but through my own parenting. I am passing down their love to my children in my own way.

One day, my daughter will wear the Greek cross as well.


If you’d like to sponsor a child or donate to World Vision, you can do so here. Please feel free to ask me any questions, I am more than happy to answer. Thank you for reading, helping, sponsoring, contributing.

I was not compensated for my World Vision coverage, and all opinions are my own.

Join the Conversation


  • When each of my kids turn 4 – as part of their birthday gifts we sponsor a child in their honor (of the same sex, with the same birth date) through a similar organization (compassion intl.). Which means we will be adding another “far away friend” for Gage next month.

    My kids connect on a very real level with their far away friend – writing letters, praying for them, learning about their culture. And hopefully – as a family we can support and bless these children and their community until they turn 18.

    It’s such an awesome experience, as you know!

  • “Traditions aren’t diluted by generation; instead they are part of a metamorphosis of inherent crafts, love, heart and soul.” Beautiful writing Jessica, thank you for sharing your experience with us! All the photos are stunning – the one that made my breath catch is the mother’s sweet smile as her son plays the violin.

  • I enjoyed your pictures and posts about Guatemala so very much…we are very privileged here in the United States but as a nurse and social worker I have seen a great deal of poverty and need for resources in families very close to home. The world has indeed gotten much smaller and our global awareness has grown as this has happened.
    Your post is so thoughtful and I love to see how life comes full circle and how women manage to be such a thread in the beautiful family quilt.
    My family was also matriarchal and my own grandmother who was like a mother to me lost her mom at age seven…yet she was one of the best moms and grand moms.
    I like to think that I keep her and my own mother alive in some ways as I parent and grandparent. The name on my blog is reflective of the loop that continues from generation to generation as we parent our own families.

  • I enjoyed your posts and photos from Guatemala, and was inspired to research child sponsorship as a result. However, I am troubled by World Vision’s Evangelical Christian mission. After living and working in the developing world for years, I’ve seen how religious organizations have used money and resources to influence vulnerable people, so I’m a bit skittish. For example, while in Malawi I watched a primarily Muslim community send it’s kids to a Christian school because it was the only game in town that supplied books and paper. I realize that World Vision explicitly states that they do not ‘proselytize’ with their money, but I worry that on the ground the reality is a bit more nuanced. Obviously the work you saw was substantial and powerful for the community- and I’m not saying it’s a bad investment (just not where I will choose to put my money) but I wanted to ask if you came across this religious aspect to the aid on your trip? Was it anything World Vision spoke to you about? As a side note, we are planning to sponsor a child (motivated by you!), but will be choosing an org without religious affiliation.

  • What shocked me the most is that people unfollowed you over it. Something like that would never occur to me. You are not showing something offensive, you’re showing the truth. That so many people turn a blind eye to all of the tragedy in the world and instead focus on DWTS continuously baffles me. Thank you for writing something so honest and true and for showing your readers that there is life outside their living rooms.

  • I am also shocked that people would stop following your feed because of your trip to Guatemala. I loved hearing about your journey and feel we are all here to contribute in some way–to try to improve the vast disparities between have and have not (to over simplify!). And I’m a social worker, too, so maybe I’m just a big cliche, but it’s so important to teach our children the value of what we have and how important it is to, as my son’s old preschool teacher used to say, “try to make things more fair” for everyone in the world. Cheers to you from another California resident (Berkeley, which makes me even more of a cliche (; !!!).

  • Very nice Blog ! , congratulation!

  • Just a little note of caution when you are sponsoring children. When my daughter turned 5 I began sponsoring a little girl in Niger of the same age with World Vision. I wasn’t sure yet if I should “introduce” them to one another. I thought I would wait a little. Sadly the little girl died of malaria. I am not sure my daughter would have been ready at the age of 7 to deal with that tragedy.

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