Walk the walk...
I feel guilty doing the things that I love to do. It sounds ridiculous but it's true. I have a daughter and a wife to pay attention to, and more than ever before, I seem to be ignoring myself. So when I come home desperate for a quiet hour, or when I want to just draw, or write, or find new music to fall in love with or to fall asleep to, I feel absolutely obligated to be involved. Of course, there are times that I am not as involved as I'd like to be...sometimes the day dictates a kind of selfishness that I can't explain. I never want to be that guy who believes that his day is any worse or any more stressful than anyone else's day, but I'm also attentive enough to know that my days typically leave lingering burdens. When I get home I feel the ever increasing stress and strain of having to be a good husband and a good father. I feel badly when I take a moment or two for myself, and then I stumbled upon this rarified notion.
I think about what it might take to help Zoey grow up into the kind of girl that I hope she turns out to be -- creative, curious, intelligent, confident -- and I think that obviously there's an enormous "nature" ingredient to who we ultimately become, but like most parents, we try to supplement it with a decent dose of "nurture," while at the same time bracing ourselves for the fact that despite all our efforts, Zoey could still end up a shallow, spoiled rotten, irresponsible, selfish brat of a young woman.
Our version of "nurture" includes things like reading as much as we can, diligent attention to manners, speaking to her as if she were older than what she is, and very conscious decisions early on to allow Zoey some independence and unfettered decision making...what we often overlook is the formative impact on our children of what we're doing ourselves...how we spend our free time when we're around them.
This is what I believe. Be yourself. Read, listen to music, draw, paint, play...laugh out loud and smile a lot...be nice to people, and love one another a lot, overtly and as very often as you can manage. Zoey will see all of that. Zoey will learn from all of that. She will find open books in every room, and music playing incessantly. She will find Daddy's scribbles on every piece of scrap paper and spilling out of sketchbooks throughout the house. When she needs to borrow paint, she'll borrow Daddy's paint. I want to show her that all of those things are as nutritional as food and drink. I want her to intimately understand the living that it takes to make up a life. It takes vibrancy and passion and curiosity. It takes good sketches and bad sketches, and half finished books, mix tapes and cluttered book shelves. It takes old movies and new music and endless interests to grow into something as illuminated as I'd like her to be.
And so I've began to write this on the top of each page in my notebook...
Walk the walk.
What no one ever mentions in their unsolicited advice on how to parent is that Zoey won't remember that her mother signed her up for class after class of enriching activity, or that her Dad lead an endless carpool circuit from one stimulating and creative activity to yet another one. Rather what would seem to (at least partially) form her as a creative being will be what she "witnesses" her mother and father doing (or rather how they are living) -- their love of art and books and music…of traveling and exploring...of experiencing...of football tailgates in the Fall, and running circles around stadium concourses while the squeak of sneakers and the squawk of whistles echoes through the crowded halls. She'll find inspiration in how her parents love each other so openly and who they surround themselves with. She'll learn what things are important by watching what things are important to us. She'll most certainly be paying attention to what path we're walking, and she'll be eager to follow in our footsteps.
I feel selfish when I do things simply because I love to do them. If I have a few moments of down time, I feel guilty…like I need to be playing with building blocks with Zoey, or drawing pictures with her, or taking her for a walk, or you know…helping June make her into a "super-kid". It doesn't need to be that demanding, or that complicated. Zoey mimics June and I incessantly. If we're reading, she reads. If we're cooking, she wants to cook, if I am drawing, she wants to draw. If we're listening to music, she wants to listen to music. It's incredible (and scary) how much our actions influence what she wants to spend her time doing...and I know this incredible phenomenon might not last very long, that we have a sort of finite period to imprint our habits and pastimes onto her beautiful little fast-forming psyche.
Now I see the world differently. I'm working hard to walk to walk, and I don't feel that guilty anymore when I spend an hour reading, or when I spend time sketching, or designing this blog, or putting together the books I've been making for Zed since she was tiny. I don't feel badly watching the Tigers game or listening to music because those are the things that I love, and more importantly, those are the things that Zoey sees that I love. We work so hard to find opportunities for our children to develop and grow, and in doing so we somehow lose the responsibility or the awareness of helping them along ourselves. Right now Zoey thinks that I'm the greatest artist on the planet. Sure, she likes Oliver Jeffers plenty, but she never sees him with a pencil in his hand, and he's never laying on his stomach on the kitchen linoleum coloring doodles with her...Daddy is. If Zoey grows up to value a piece of paper and a pencil it won't be because of Oliver Jeffers, no sir, it will be because of me.
Walk the walk, I tell myself. Someone's watching.