The holidays have come and gone, and we are entering a new year with all its blank new days stretched out in front of us.
I love the glitz and sparkle of the holidays, as well as the quiet moments of reflection that we somehow manage to work into our often-frantic schedules. Now that it is all over, I welcome the new year with its sense of freshness and renewal. Out with the dry tree and in with the paperwhite bulbs blooming on the kitchen counter.
Among the joys for me this holiday season was meeting several new babies just weeks old — the sort my father called “teeny weenies.” The new parents, thrilled and starry-eyed with both love and sleep deprivation, assured me they are getting the hang of 24/7 parenting. I, in turn, told them they have many adventures ahead with moments of great joy and moments of sheer terror. They smiled the smile of the uninitiated, but I know they will come to understand.
Also on my list of joys are the cards that come my way, bearing photographs of children with Santa, at play with siblings or just hanging out in their yards. The cards come, of course, not from the children but from the parents who love them so much they want to share them with family and friends not close enough to enjoy every moment with their precious little ones.
I understand. I, too, sent those cards for many years and still have a complete collection of Dickson photo cards from Precious Jewel No. 1’s first Christmas going forward to be joined by numbers 2 and 3 and into young adulthood. I would probably still be sending photo cards if the Precious Jewels were still willing to pose for them.
Those of us who have been parents for decades know, and new parents will learn, that bringing up children is a process, a journey that never ends. Even when we parents are gone, we live in our children’s memories, and our voices echo in their heads. Parenthood is not a series of highly significant and life-altering events, though those exist as well.
This brings me to a 2010 News and Observer profile of nationally acclaimed Durham architect Phil Freelon. In it, his wife, Nnenna, herself a Grammy award nominee, said this about her husband’s role as the father of their three children.
“I think he builds children. Not in the same way you build buildings, but you do build them. The time you spend, the things you model, the way you behave. Just the same way your partners, your employees watch you, your children watch you. And at some point, the walk becomes more important than the talk.”
She has hit on the simple and profound truth about being a good parent. You cannot tell children what it means to become a good person. You must show them.
Anyone who has ever been a parent or who has taken care of children knows this truth. Children, and especially adolescents, may seem lost in their own worlds that parents can barely fathom, but they are still sponges, taking in everything that happens around them, absorbing and processing their parents’ every word and action, for good or for ill.
That does not mean, of course, that every word and action must be perfect — an impossible standard — but it does mean just what Nnenna Freelon said, that “the walk becomes more important than the talk.”
My hope for 2019 for young parents beginning their journeys with their children is that you will live lives you hope your children will understand and admire, knowing that some days you will fail and some days you will be gratified to hear your own words and values repeated back to you, whether the children recognize that or not.
I wish the entire Up & Coming Weekly family and all its readers a happy and healthy 2019.