[Disclaimer: What is written below has nothing to do with photography. Please feel free to skip it if you're just here for the pictures.]
It was not quite six years ago that we brought my oldest daughter home from the hospital, and just over three since my youngest joined us. I remember, on a warm spring day in 2008, carrying my 5 day old in a carseat up our front walk, feeling like the whole world had changed overnight. Leaving the hospital, I thought, They’re just going to let me carry this baby out to our car and take her home? I was woefully unprepared, as almost any new parent must be.
I still feel like that, to some degree. But my kids have taught me a few things since then.
1. Nothing is as simple as it appears.
On Sunday I was in the car with V, my oldest. The clocks had been set back the night before, and it was dark when the alarm went off. I yawned, and tried to explain why I was tired. Which meant explaining why it was dark when we got up. Which meant explaining why we set the clocks back. I did my best. Her response:
There are so many things I take for granted, which as I try to put them into words a child can understand, I have to back way up and explain basics upon basics before tackling her initial question.
RYAN: “Do you understand Daylight Savings Time now, V?”
VIENNA: “They put too much cream cheese on my bagel.”
You’ll know what I mean if you have ever been asked what happens to goldfish when they die.
2. Being a parent reveals my own weaknesses.
Perhaps this is true about anything that stretches you as a person, but there is something about raising kids that shows in stark relief my own faults and the condition of my heart. I have posted plenty of images of my family having good — nay, great — times with each other, smiling, laughing, a picture-perfect world of parental and sibling bliss. You would pass us on the street, see me with my kids, and think, “There’s a good dad.” Many days, it’s true.
Then there are days when I don’t carry a camera. And for good reason. My peace and quiet is interrupted, our house is no longer clean, my time is taken up with the needs of others.
How can the living room be this messy already? You just got home 30 seconds ago!
Does it really take 25 minutes to put on your pajamas?
No, lipstick doesn’t belong on the wall. I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.
When I replay those days in my head, I am sobered by my words and tone of voice. Not too long ago, my 5-year-old turned away from a conversation, stifling tears. I sat down next to her, gave her a hug, asked for forgiveness. As parents, we lead, we teach, we correct… but gently. If I am to be the safest place in the world for my children, I must give grace as I have been given.
3. My own parents were far better at this than I used to think.
It was 8th, perhaps 9th grade. I had friends who were allowed to do more, stay out later, and have TV’s in their rooms. We did not even have one in the house. When I went to friends’ houses, it seemed like utopia. And I remember thinking how great it would be to trade parents with them. I’m not proud of this.
I got older. And a little bit older. I went to college. I came back, lived at home, paid off debt. I got married, and had children of my own. And somewhere in there (sooner rather than later, I hope) I realized how fortunate I was to have my mom and dad.
As I was growing up…
they fed and clothed me.
they taught me what’s important in life.
they played with me, spent time with me.
they disciplined me, prayed for me.
they forgave me when I was wrong, when I broke stuff, when I caused them pain.
they listened to me.
As Kelly and I have raised our own girls, it helps me understand why they did all that, the joys of parenting, as well as the cost.
Like the time I drove home in our 1982 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser (a sweet ride if there ever was one) after going to the bank. I had misjudged a turn at the drive-through, edged into a concrete post with the front passenger-side door, and instead of backing up, drove straight through and put an enormous scrape down the length of the station wagon.
Mom looked at it, sighed, and told me about a time when her dad was so gracious when she wrecked his car as a teenager. She then displayed the same grace to me.
Which leads me to…
4. Stuff is just stuff.
Just a few minutes ago I opened up my laptop to work on this post. Looking at one side, I found a dent. Nothing huge, but large enough to make it impossible to insert a memory card.
*sigh* So much for that high-grade aircraft aluminum Apple is so fond of.
I don’t know what happened for sure, but seeing as my girls love to step on stuff (as a mode of transportation, walking on the floor is a last resort), it’s safe to call these two bundles of inadvertent destruction my prime suspects.
I’m reminded of a time when I was young, probably 10 or so. My dad had a Canon AE-1, a tough brick of the camera from the 70′s. Gorgeous piece of work, with a solid 50mm lens on it.
“Can I hold it, dad?”
“Sure.” He handed me the strap, and I slung it over my shoulder. I don’t remember how it happened, but I do remember that thing hitting the ground, and the sound of glass shattering. Nothing but shards where there used to be a bright, clear lens.
I’m pretty sure he sighed, too. But he didn’t yell. I wasn’t in trouble. I was just a kid, it was just a camera. My girls are just kids, and this is just a computer.
Which is far less important than for them to grow up knowing that my love for them doesn’t hinge on, well, on anything, really.