The work/life balance is something I struggle with all the time. I have always been incredibly hard working, and my life’s work will only end when I become too old and frail to manage the rescue. But that isn’t my whole life. I have my studio work, where I create art just for myself. After years of selling work I discovered I mostly enjoy creating when I don’t have to think about selling it. I also try to create pieces to sell. These are few and far in between as is any work I complete for myself. It is a necessary part of my day; creating is something I need. But the most important aspect of my life is being a parent. While creating and creativity are a necessary part of my existence, it is just part of who I am, being a parent is the greatest joy I know. It is also a job that is filled with doubt and at times guilt. It is hard to know if your instincts are right, if you are helping guide your child so they make the right choices when you are not around. There are moments when you think you are getting it right. Last year, as a 5th grader my son decided to join a service organization at his school, which is an IB World International Baccalaureate School. There are many aspects to this education model, but for now all that is relevant is the school teaches life is bigger than our own lives. Since kindergarten the focus has been on looking beyond yourself and your own needs, and doing something to make the world a better place. Considering the world my child will grow up in, I love this. If we can raise a generation of children that view service and humanitarian efforts as part of life and not something to be thought about unless there is some natural disaster, perhaps things will be different. Perhaps we can raise children that don’t grow up to be adults that fear someone who looks different, worships different, or simply is different. Perhaps tolerant will just be something they are, not something that has to be taught.
He is now in middle school and has switched schools, but the IB teaching model is being carried through to the middle schools. For those on the educational front lines, this is not without controversy. It is, after all, simply another rubric; another way of measuring growth and learning. However, the IB model includes an element of introspection on the part of the student that I like. There is a degree of accountability that I think perhaps has been lacking if not specifically in our educational system, certainly within our society. There is a real victim mentality in our country; when things don’t go right it is all too often that I see people blame everyone but themselves when a personal decision causes an unwanted outcome. I have long been a believer that basic happiness depends on ourselves; that we are responsible in large part for our happiness. And one of the main ways to be happier is to focus on someone besides ourselves. I am talking about basic happiness, not clinical depression. Basic happiness, and the understanding that happiness is largely a personal responsibility is something I feel strongly about. I love that my child is learning this. I love that while he is complaining about homework and classes he is also learning that there are children that desperately want to learn, but don’t have books, don’t have basic supplies. Forget smart phones, computers and the internet. They don’t even have running water. This isn’t just an abstract concept my child is learning. This isn’t the admonition I grew up with (“Eat your dinner! There are starving children in China that would love that”). But growing up I never saw a starving child from China, or even had much of an idea that poverty existed right in my own hometown. It meant nothing more to me than I was being forced to eat brussel sprouts when I didn’t want to. As an adult I have learned to love brussel sprouts, especially when roasted with olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar. Truly delicious. And although I am grateful every day for what I have, I wouldn’t say I necessarily think about how so many in this world don’t have their basic needs met. My son, though, is not learning these concepts in the abstract. Thanks to the internet and the dedication of teachers that are making these concepts real, he learned about kids on the other side of the world who don’t have their basic needs met. He also learned that something could be done about it. He and ten other students raised $8,000 to build a well for a school in the Sudan.
Earlier this month we attended a fundraiser for the organization behind this effort, which is H2O For Life. Just like me he is a day older every day. His interests will grow, change. Each moment I have with him is a moment in time that will never again occur. But the evening was more than just a great night. It is my son’s generation that will have to deal with the consequences of global warming, to help decide what natural habitats and animals can be saved, and which will simply disappear; how to feed the world’s population and deal with all the climate changes that already are and will continue to occur. Although my own contribution to this world really is small, I am committed to helping where I can. My son’s generation, though, has a much more difficult path. They are going to have to solve world problems, really solve them, not just talk about them or argue whether or not they exist. (Yes, global warming is real issue!) Maybe every older generation feels a little bleak about the world their children will live in, and especially after this election year it is hard as an adult not to feel completely frustrated about everything. No one is talking about the issues, about the real problems facing us, the real threats. It is hard not to feel hopeless at times, to live in fear and dread. But then I look at the upcoming generations, and feel hope again.