One of my favorite bloggers, Peter Greene, is on his second set of children…his older children are in their thirties and he is the father of twin babies. It’s normal, I think, that we look back at our lives with a certain amount of nostalgia and Greene does this in a beautiful and thoughtful way in his post, Parenting Is All About Losing.
My wife asked me the other day, “Is it always like this?” We had turned around and had one of those moments when you realize that your baby looks like a small child, an undersized person, but not an infant any more. It’s a truly mixed moment emotionally, one part pride and joy at how big your child has grown, and one part sadness and loss because there was an infant just here a moment ago and now that tiniest person is gone forever.
There are conflicting emotions accompanying our children’s growth…
Not that it’s all loss and sadness. Every stage of my older children’s lives was the best so far, the best until the next new stage revealed itself to be even better. They get stronger and wiser and more terribly beautiful each time. It would never be enough to try to hold them back, to trade the unnatural prolonging of one stage for an unrealized better stage to come. Not that some parents don’t panic and try some emotional equivalent of binding their children’s legs so they won’t learn to walk or run. It never works. Children were born to grow, and grow they will, with or without our help.
So, he acknowledges that the emotions are conflicted and there are some good aspects to those changes, yet he titles his piece Parenting Is All About Losing, perhaps unconsciously emphasizing the negative.
I’d like to, respectfully, turn that around, and focus on the positive. Parenting is all about growing…for the parent and the child.
GROWING AND THE CIRCLE
My first thoughts on reading his post brought me to Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
We can’t go back, but we can watch our children grow. One stage is over and the next one appears without fanfare until we realize we’re seeing a new version of our child (and, I would add, ourselves). We never noticed the change until it was upon us.
There’s some comfort that we’re repeating the growth that our own parents experienced as we watch our children grow from childhood to adulthood. Greene recognizes this when he thinks about his own adult children.
…it is an unspeakably great big warm ball of blasting sunshine to experience your children as grown humans, fully themselves and making their way in the world.
At this point, however, he returns to “the losing.”
I wouldn’t. As I have seen my own children become “grown humans, fully themselves and making their way in the world” I would prefer to reflect on the ways we have grown together. They have, without doubt, taught me as much as I have taught them. I have grown as much as they have. There’s nostalgia in the past, but as Joni Mitchell put it,
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
The positive side is that things can get better and there are plenty of new dreams, no matter how old I get. Some of those new dreams are trivial, like seeing the latest season of Star Trek, and hoping that the Cubs will win another World Series in less than 108 years. Other dreams, though, are profound…and remarkable, like hearing my great-grandchild learn to talk, and seeing my children and grandchildren work to make a better world.
GROWING AS TEACHERS
As educators, we see the same pattern. Greene writes,
Teachers go through the cycle of loss, too…
I always experienced a sense of sadness at the end of the school year and I had to say goodbye to my students — even the difficult-to-teach ones. When teachers look back at a year filled with 20 – 30 human children we see the growth they made and feel that same sort of nostalgic joy and sorrow. We see a different version in June of the child who entered our class the previous fall.
Spending six-plus hours a day together, for five days a week, and thirty-six weeks is an intense experience that non-teachers might not be aware of. The relationship between a teacher and her students is more than just an adult exchanging information with a child. It’s more than just teach and test. There’s a relationship which develops that goes both ways…a deep understanding of who the person is on the other end of the pencil. (If you don’t understand this relationship or have never experienced it, read through Beverly Cleary’s classic Ramona the Pest. The relationship between Ramona and her teacher, Miss Binney, should be explanation enough.)
Our growth as teachers, though, should be positive, too. Yes, it’s sometimes sad and hard to watch students move on with their lives…and often we never know how their lives progressed. Still, we have to trust that the growth is positive…for us and for them.
A few years ago I wrote a post about meeting a former student. We talked about the experiences we shared when she was eight and nine years old. I wrote,
She didn’t thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn’t thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn’t thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.
There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – living, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects of the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.
No test can ever measure that.
Teachers don’t always know how they affect a student’s life. I have been lucky to meet a few former students and learn that I had a positive impact on their lives, but that doesn’t always happen. We have to do our best and hope that we provide more positive than negative. Building good relationships helps ensure that the balance will lean more toward the positive. In the process of building those relationships, the positive impact will land upon the teacher as well. Teachers and their students, both, are part of each other’s circle game…