Thursday, December 01, 2005

Raising the children

My life is one that involves a lot of travel, as my wife Ellen and I are musicians and educators that specialize in music for young children. We get to go around the United States entertaining families and their children in concerts, and also leading seminars and workshops for educators on how and why to use music in early childhood settings. It is a great job, one that combines my lifelong career as a musician and my adult vocation as a teacher. To do it with my wife as my partner in all this is the true miracle, and one I am thankful for every day of my life! We are old enough to have raised our kids (5 between us in a blended family) to adulthood, so our travel has picked up, allowing us to keep pace with the growing national presence we find ourselves enjoying.

The final major trip of our year is coming up next week as we go to Washington, DC to attend, present a workshop, and exhibit at the annual conference for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). We'll be hanging out with 25,000+ dedicated educators and administrators who focus their life's work on helping teach the very youngest of our society. I think this world has got to do a better job recognizing and supporting these people who literally have the future of our society in their hands and in their classrooms. Nurturing children from age birth-6 is such a vital and important task, and yet these fine folks are often underpaid, overlooked, criticized, even ridiculed in a culture that refuses to see how important their work really is. In just a few generations time we've gone from children being taught and nurtured in their homes by a family member, most often the Mother in the family, to having our children be placed in the care of others, and this shift is bound to take a toll and have a long term impact on our society. I'm not saying that we need to keep women at home, those days are long gone, and hooray for seeking equality in the workplace and in opportunity. What I am suggesting is that we need to honor and respect those people who step forward and take on that incredibly difficult and vitally important role of being the most important adult role model in a child's life. It is too easy to blame the education system for our society's woes, and certainly some of the way we warehouse and herd our children through the antiquated system we continue to use has it's faults, but in my opinion the responsibility and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents, period. We have all become too used to letting others run aspects of our lives, with every expert we can find telling us how to do this or that, from health to prayer to finances to clothing, while we all blindly hurdle forward trying to earn enough money to pay the experts and own the gadgets we just can't live without. Now I love my gadgets, this laptop I am typing on, my guitars, my cell phone, my CD player in my own car, but none of those nor many other things I have worked so hard to purchase are impossible to live without. What is impossible to live without is my health, a roof over my head, a car, heat and food. After that, the rest is negotiable and extra. My own children are all over 18 years old, and they have all turned out great, good people who will make a positive contribution to society, just as I hoped for them when I first held them. I am not going to say I was a perfect Dad, having had a divorce to deal with since they were young makes me pretty lucky that they were surrounded by many many people who loved them and taught them good lessons and manners. What they got most of, I think, was a safe place to rest their heads, loving people to care for them, the knowledge they were loved, respected, cherished, important, and the models of adults who lived those very values as much as talked about them. "Be the kind of person you want your children to be", to paraphrase somebody great; they were fortunate to have that.

Many years ago I was with my children at a cemetery looking for the gravesite of my father's father, too long not visited. So we combed the place, looking at every tombstone until we found Grandpa Roy's. When we had prayed and spruced up the site, my youngest child Luke, maybe 6 at the time, noted that while he was looking at all those markers he noticed that none of them mentioned the work, income, grade point average, social status that the deceased had achieved in their lifetime. I asked him what he had seen as he'd searched, and he said "Beloved father, son, brother, neighbor, grandfather, friend." We all agreed that those are really the things that truly matter in life, that we all want to be remembered for, and I was reminded by my youngest child what is really the most important focus of life here on earth. I pass that on to you, the little children really do lead us, and all those little children grow up to be our leaders of the future. Invest in them now, invest in their teachers and caregivers now, be a good role model for them now, all the children you meet, and this will truly be a wonderful, wonder filled world!


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