Long before any of us become actual parents, we wonder at what we will give, sow as seeds, and then how those seeds will develop into children and then adults. We approach the image of our future children with such expectation and hope. The thought being that if we give them our love and wisdom they develop into the image we’ve created.
But life comes along. The real child is born with her or his own wonderful mesh of abilities and interests that may or may not coincide with our prenatal dreams. The lawyer you believe you are gestating may become a monk, the violinist a CPA, or the peace-activist a warrior. Certainly we hope for our children to become good people, loving human beings with a solid respect for themselves and others. But I really thought I’d raise a ballerina–or at least a soccer player.
As my children enter adulthood I recall that my one constant aspiration for each of them as they grew was to develop a love of beauty. That was always my focus, and the direction of much of their childhood activities.
During their early years, before the beginning of each summer vacation, I would scour the local calendars for free events. There were music festivals, breakfast picnics at the zoo, and countless trips to the National Gallery and Smithsonian Museums. We had a simple rule, we would start (and often finish) in whatever museum we could park closest to–it took them years to figure out that I knew there would never be parking around my least favorite Air and Space Museum.
I knew early on that I would not be able to provide money-attached advantages. Instead I had the luxury of living close enough to the beautifully free Smithsonians, a vibrant folk music and art community, and one of the last children’s libraries in the nation. Of course it was also another time. Our national budget crisis had not yet forced the closing of concerts, exhibits, and the most wonderful children’s bookstore–where each fall a Monarch butterfly hatchery took over the front window, and favorite authors like Eric Carle came to paint with children.
There were also adult friends my husband and I were able to share with our children. Artists, writers, scientists and of course musicians who were not celebrities to the kids, but people they knew. People who shared their time and art freely, becoming something of a creative community for them–the village (of artists) it takes to raise a child.
My children now are young adults, and I sometimes wonder (as all parents do) what all those trips to the zoo and the library and th family dinner conversations did. But then without intention they unite to give me a wonderful gift. This Christmas night, after the huge dinner and flurry of gift exchanging my son sat and quietly played guitar–the music he knows I love. The next day my daughters and my son-in-law joined my husband and me walking through several galleries. The highlights included a couple of good bounces on the National Gallery’s “multiverse” walkway. My youngest daughter’s gift to me was “finding” our favorite Rauschenberg, Wall-Eyed Carp/ROCI JAPAN hadn’t been removed–but moved to a better spot.
And there it is. Of course it doesn’t solve the world’s problems, or even our personal ones. But watching my children this Christmas tells me a love of beauty is solid in each of them. I still believe if we all were filled with a love of beauty it might become easier to share with each other. Through sharing we might come to understand and truly see each other as fellow travelers rather than as adversaries. When I see and hear this living in my children, I know my husband and I were not alone in helping this to happen. Sometimes the magic works.