Full Scale Parenting
Ann Hagman Cardinal
During this time of year I find myself thinking of my parents, missing them. For a Christmas gift for my son I am preparing a photo album of the grandparents he never met, and in my research I unearthed a collection of photographs of a trip our family took in the late 1960s to Washington DC. There are several shots of some of the more famous Greek revival structures that pepper the city, and there we children are; tiny beings at the bottom left hand corner of the image, so small that it’s hard to distinguish which one of us is standing where. For years, whenever my siblings and I traveled with our parents, you would hear them say, “Annie, honey, go stand in front of that building.” Then they would step back, and back, the wide angle lens glinting in the sunshine like a distant star and even in my five-year-old brain I’d be thinking, “Where are they going? I’m back here!” Once we returned home and they developed the pictures, I would shuffle through them, looking for one of me, and there I was, the size of a penny while the building’s image filled the page. Though we were certainly well-documented children—our parents were amateur photographers and would spend Sundays taking dozens of portraits of us in scratchy clothing and with overly combed hair—in the majority of our travel photographs we were only included to give scale to the buildings.
I’ll be honest with you, until very recently this really pissed me off. Every few years I’d come across one of these pictures and see our little bodies dwarfed by some marble monolith that towered behind us like a predator, and think, “why did they even bother to take us on vacation with them?” And in many ways I’m trying to compensate for this as when we travel now I can’t take enough pictures of my son, and often our photos are of the same people set in different backgrounds: Carlos and my husband Doug in front of palm trees, Carlos and Doug in the snow, Carlos and Doug on a city street. But as I’ve grown older, become a parent myself and attempt to juggle my day job and writing career at the same time, I’ve come to realize that my parent’s choices of photography subjects was not necessarily a slight on me and my siblings, I’m realizing that it represents a larger issue, one about passion and parenting and how they fit together.
I’m starting to understand that when my parents were traveling and saw a building that particularly struck their interest, the architect took over and the parent took a back seat. Their only thought was to capture that simplicity of geometric form, or the reinterpreted pediment. They saw us every day. But parenting back then was less “hands on” than it is now, so I doubt it was even an issue. Now our children are expected to be the center of our lives—as they should be—but I have some concerns with that, and lately I’ve been reflecting on our modern roles as parents and how artistic and professional priorities fit in.
Though my son is my first priority, Carlos also knows that when I’m writing it’s important—to me and to the family—so he usually gives me my space. Does my dedication to my art take away from my role as parent or add to it? Though it certainly does bite into family time, it also establishes space for him to discover his own interests. When I write sometimes Carlos does too, or plays his guitar. And many of my friends find ways to shoehorn their passions into their lives and in between their ever-increasing responsibilities. For instance my friend Heather wakes up at four a.m. so she can write and drink black coffee before her family awakes. And when Amy is home from the office her husband Freddy goes off to train for his next triathlon. I like to think that having your children see you passionate about something else, about something that really energizes and feeds you but doesn’t directly involve them is important, it establishes you as an individual and not just “Carlos’ Mom.”
What I’ve come to realize when I see those pictures of my miniscule siblings and I next to a unique example of a Bauhaus building, is that my parents were teaching us that sometimes the scales shift, and you’re an architect who happens to be a parent instead of a parent who happens to be an architect. And as I attempt to strike that balance myself, I’ve come to understand that this isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s vital. Hopefully we’ll arrive at a time in our lives when the kids are healthy and grown—God willing—and it changes yet again, but until that time, it is up to us to find the balance on the scale, and encourage each other to make time in our lives for things that feed us, thereby making us better parents, wives, husbands, better people.
My holiday wish for you: find some time to enjoy your passion this season amidst all the mince pies and retail craziness. And felicidades, gentle readers!
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