Spite of Us
by Jenny Doh
Art Camp 2013 • Lincoln City, Oregon
At home, every morning when I get up, I exercise. Usually, I go to my gym to take a boxing class and lately I’ve been getting into gymnastics in my garage but occasionally, I go for a good old-fashioned run or walk in my neighborhood. The thing I love about running or walking in my neighborhood is that I get to see interesting things on the long stretches of sidewalk on my street and neighboring streets … like leaves, cut grass, branches, lemons, avocados, and sometimes the prettiest flower petals fallen from nearby rose buses. When I see petals on sidewalks, I always find myself stopping to take a picture.
One of the things that I frequently notice on these runs is that when there is a crack on the sidewalk, where the cement has become broken for whatever reason, it isn’t long before something starts to grow in that broken space. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. Sometimes little blades of grass, sometimes a dandelion, and other times some other flower or plant life that just starts to grow in that crack. It’s a place where life isn’t intended to happen. But it just happens. Life happens in spite of intentions.
Many of you know that I have two kids. Monica and Andrew. They are both teenagers and last week, they were both on spring break. And given that Monica is a junior in high school, it was the perfect week for me to take her on a road trip to visit college campuses as she gets ready to submit her applications in the coming year.
The trip was exciting. I loved watching her react to the campuses that we visited: UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz … I loved watching her soak it all in and I treasured the concentrated time we had together to do mother-daughter bonding as we talked for hours in the car, in the hotel rooms, enjoyed meals together, and enjoyed working out together. My running joke with her is that wherever she decides to go to for college, I’m gonna go with her … with a pair of those funny glasses attached to a mustache so that I can still be near her without cramping her style. We all laugh at that and I know in my heart of hearts that I won’t follow her to college but let me tell you … that at a certain level, I really want to. And quite frankly, I’m not sure how I will cope when she actually does fly away from home to go to college, as she embraces her grown-up destiny. It’s hard to hold back tears when I realize what a marvelous person she has grown up to be. And her brother Andrew, too. They are both such good kids.
But I’ll be the first to tell you, as I frequently remind both Monica and Andrew that I have certainly NOT been the perfect parent. Actually, I’ve been far from perfect. I was not the mom who brought cupcakes to their classrooms. I was not the mom who volunteered with the PTA. I was the workaholic mom, barely able to keep up with everything career-wise let alone the bare minimums of juggling bills, pets, house repairs, laundry, groceries, and of course the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
I do take pride, however, in the fact that even though my parenting has been imperfect, my communication with them has always been high quality, open, honest, and genuine. I know that my kids know that they can talk with me about anything at anytime without ever fearing rejection or judgment. I’ve always been proud of that and I will work hard to sustain that for them forever.
And even with pangs of guilt that I’ve gone through and still go through when I remind myself of my imperfect parenting ways, I have seen evidence throughout their growth that they are well-adjusted and for the most part, they are succeeding in life. And this tells me that I really don’t have to be perfect for them to succeed. Our home doesn’t need to be perfect for them to succeed. And it reminds me that I also grew up in an imperfect situation. We all did. Imperfect parents, imperfect siblings, imperfect home environment, but also some good moments within that context of imperfection.
And I’m forever humbled to remember people I’ve met who have stories that make my experiences as an imperfect parent and my experiences growing up in an imperfect family pale in comparison. Stories that sometimes involve abuse, tragedy, disease, and accidents … some so painful that you wonder how anyone can ever survive, let alone thrive.
But you know of those people. You might be one of those people yourself. Where in spite of non-ideal circumstances, in spite of the fact that you’ve not been planted in a large lush field with plenty of sunshine and water but rather castigated to a small crack on a sidewalk, you’ve found a way to make it work. You’ve been able to take the parts and pieces of the good parts … and found a way to make those parts work for you as you maneuver through life.
So here we are. In beautiful Lincoln City, Oregon. We’re here to make art, I know. But as I’ve observed over the years, I know we are here for much more than that. We’re here to connect, right? Perhaps with ourselves … as we take a much-needed break from our routines. Perhaps with new friends … and new energy so that we can be heard and understood in ways that we need to be heard and understood.
As we continue this weekend on this journey creating art, connecting with ourselves, and connecting with others, I want to remind everyone … including every teacher, student, coordinator, speaker, and volunteer of 3 things:
1 Nobody’s art is perfect. Even the most famous artist, or the one you hold in the highest regard … even their art is full of imperfection. As it should be. And I would argue that it is the artist who shows her imperfections and shows her vulnerability who is the most genuine, and therefore the most interesting and inspiring.
2 No person is perfect. Stop beating yourself up for being here and not being there … for falling short in any and all of the ways that we do and will continue to do.
3 And finally, that regardless of our imperfections, life will continue to happen … in fallow fields, as well as in small, underestimated cracks. Because it’s not always because of us that a flower grows, but frequently and thankfully, in spite of us.
Thank you for allowing me to share and thank you for being here. I look forward to getting to know everyone this weekend.
Per the invitation of Terri Brush, I had the honor of delivering this talk at Art Camp 2013. For more information about Terri and her fututre Art Camp events and to enroll, visit http://www.terribrushdesigns.com/