6 and 7, 10 and 11
It’s fall now and the landscape is changing so quickly. Everyday the yard looks different, the view on the way to my usual tasks varies ever so slightly each day until suddenly, pulling up the driveway, I notice that winter is coming.
These photos of Jessie and Grady in 2001 and 2002 remind me of these shifts—how slow, incremental change happens so gradually you barely notice then BAM you look again and everything is different, everything has changed.
Jessie in 2001 was a 5th grader, this photo taken in the fall of her culminating year at The Raleigh School, the wonderfully nurturing and safe school with high academic expectations that she had attended since she was a two year old. Jessie was on top of her game, academically, socially, and emotionally. Fifth grade was a year when all the kids felt so damn competent and confident. The Raleigh School was THEIR school, they knew what to do and how to do it, and didn’t really need a heck of a lot of help from anyone, parents included.
Grady was a kindergartener at TRS too, of course. He was rocking kindergarten with the fabulous Colleen Dupree as his teacher, a wonderful, warm, wise and incredibly skilled teacher who could manage typical boy energy and enthusiasm, not to mention the occasional potty mouth, without breaking a sweat. I still remember her calling me over one day when I was standing in the school office to tell me that Grady had shared with a friend what it meant when you stick up your middle finger at someone. That sweet friend had then shared the newfound knowledge with his grandparents at the dinner table. Who had then shared the whole story with Ms. Dupree. Great. Lovely.
By 2002, Jessie was in her first year of middle school, an anxious sixth grader trying her very, very best to do everything—and I mean everything–right. An anxious time of new beginnings, a new social scene, changing classes for the first time with all the attendant differing expectations of a host of teachers. Do you see the difference in the photo? The subtle shift in her eyes? No more fantasy costumes, instead a self-conscious awareness of self, body, standards and how she measured or didn’t measure up. Jessie had the blessing of a wonderful, competent, caring advisor who believed in her and encouraged her along the way, leaving sticky notes on her planner saying, “You can do it”, “I believe in you” and “You’re awesome”. Jessie struggled particularly in math, doubting herself, getting lost in details, taking too much time to make sure it was the perfect answer. Now she teaches math to a whole host of mostly anxious, and a few belligerent, 7th graders. Life moves on, doesn’t it?
Grady was plugging along in first grade, still wishing perhaps, that it was kindergarten. It was time to get serious about the reading thing and he was resisting. I remember wanting, once and for all, for someone to tell me if there was a real problem or not with his reading so that we could go ahead and fix it. Eventually, of course, I pulled the trigger, got him a tutor, neural connections were made and generalized and off he went. He’s now majoring in writing—words—at Appalachian State. Life really does rock.
So, I think about how I change too. And how the demands of parenting force self examination, self awareness, and a push to see and think and feel differently in order to do and be what’s needed. It’s not quite the same as sitting in a cave or wandering the forests searching for enlightenment, but it comes damn close.
I think about how my own anxiety, in the face of my children’s struggles over the years, has forced me to look more closely at the beliefs I hold about life. How I used to think that following the rules was the best way to live life, that it led to all the goodies. How I used to think that if I did everything right, my children wouldn’t suffer. How I used to believe that my energy and my stubbornness and my tenacity could overcome anything for them. That if I kept enough on the ball, was anxious enough, saw all the potential pitfalls and had a work-around for each one, that my children would lead a kind of blessed life. Not materially blessed, but blessed in thinking always positively about themselves, being surrounded by kind and honest people, life’s goodness unfolding easily before and through them.
What an anxious and distrustful way to live life. And so short-sighted. I like myself so much better now, with the skills and vision developed by years of parenting. I trust more, am less fearful of what the Universe might dole out. I understand that bad things can happen to good and honest and authentic people who are trying really hard. And that it’s okay. That it’s all part of this precious and crazy life. That we are really put on this Earth to learn to love. To love through all the ups and downs and inside outs. That the struggles my children experience are all part and parcel of their own unique way of being and learning and becoming in this Universe and that the Universe needs them exactly as they are.
What a blessing parenting is. Parenting shows you your holes, your scars, your partially healed scabs. If you let it, parenting shows you a more generous way of being in the world, a more trusting and open understanding that you’re not in charge and you don’t need to be. And that makes more room for comfort, for understanding, and for the simple joy of being with each other in each moment.
From Elizabeth: One of my projects this year is working with long-time clients, going through their files of photographs from almost two decades now, and collaborating on ways to use the images with their voice in words capturing intimate moments and life lessons along the way. My first client, Tammy Finch, is one who has without fail, had her children and sometimes her and her hubby alongside, photographed every single year for the last 18 years. Her oldest daughter, who was 4 when I first photographed her, was married this year:)This project is just unfolding and has so much potential. For now, it will be an ongoing blog series accompanied by the photos that inspired her from that year in their life. But who knows what the creative process will bring, I am looking forward to help facilitate the project and give you a glimpse at a way to use photography and writing to document your life and pass down a lifetime of growth and intimate personal experiences to your families.
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