Show your children who you are, Show up as you are

Here’s a lovely invitation that crossed my path last week, from Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, Don’t Give Up and Show Your Work, beautiful books on making things, which is another way of saying “creativity”, but with less pretension. Right?

This is what he wrote:

Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.

Jim Henson

My grandma died on Monday night. I wrote these pages in my diary yesterday morning, and reflexively, almost without thinking, posted them on my Instagram. Since then, I have been awash in kind condolences in the comments.

I was surprised by how many people mentioned how well I knew grandma. One sentiment seemed to be something like, “How nice to be known like this!”

I was blessed with grandmas who had things they liked to do and things they liked to do with me. I always took it for granted that they shared who they were with me.

This is not a given thing, having adults in our lives who love us and are willing to let us really see them.

Yesterday I re-read an interview with one of my favorite songwriters, Bill Callahan, and he spoke about his relationship with his mother:

“I never understood her,” he admits. “And I didn’t ever feel like she was being honest or expressing her feelings my whole life. As she was getting older, I begged her: Show your children who you are, because we want to know before you die. She couldn’t do it. So now she’s still just an unfinished person for me.” He rubs his eyes and his spirit seems to lighten, as if suddenly struck with a pleasant memory. “We only have this time, each of us, 70 or 80 years, if we’re lucky. What’s the point of hiding?”

“Show your children who you are.” Or: Love what you do in front of the kids in your life.

It is a great gift to them, and the best way to be remembered.


For some weird reason, this made me think of this video that has been cracking me up since Sandra McLaren posted it.

And of my friend Lisa, who commented, “I’ve always seen you as a sock-slider”, to which I naturally responded, “You see me, you really see me.”

And it made me think how surprised our kid was to look at old photos of me and his dad the other night (prompted by the wonderful Family Literacy Bingo sheet that was developed by Signal Hill’s librarian Ms Benes <3.) (We were a lot younger, once. This surprised him. As it surprises us quite regularly.)

And it made me think of the moment I learned that the word “integrity” is related to the word “integrated” – which suggested that being a person of integrity, something I would very much like to be, is connected to owning all your parts and pasts… not being ashamed of things you might have done or been, but welcoming all those pieces of yourself home, in yourself now.

I think, if we work towards that, towards that goal of hospitality towards our own self, and all our shadow bits, then we will be seen more clearly by our friends, and we’ll feel that love as unconditional and so welcoming, instead of dependent on certain behaviours… and we’ll show up to our kids, too, in such a way that they’ll learn what it means from us to be a human – messy and messing up and laughing and trying and crying and learning and helping and falling down and getting up again. And sock sliding. And aging.

My kid took this photo of me, which I naturally wanted to delete because it’s not very flattering, mostly in its accuracy. Oh well. That’s what showing up means, too. He’s used to this being the way I look, and loving me anyway. I just don’t see myself in the mirror often, so it’s more shocking and challenging to me.

I was kind of surprised when I read Austin Kleon’s list about his grandmother, that it elicited those comments from people – “wow, how well you knew her” – because I thought, he only saw a few surface things. I wonder who that woman really was. What made her tick. I wonder what list I would make about my kid, my partner, my friend… I wonder what list they would make of me. And I realized that, if I want it to read true to who I am, it’s on me, to show them, by showing up, with all my bits and pieces, my shine and my shadows. (And my socks. Hahahaha. You’ve got to watch that video.)

One of the greatest joys of my life is what a kick my kiddo gets out of cracking me up… That for him, working out what makes me laugh until I cry, is satisfying, feels like some kind of magic that I’d like to bottle. It makes me happy that I don’t “mom” like a performance, like I’ve got a role to play and I want to be the best version of Mother possible. I mom in a much messier looser fashion, in which I mostly just show up, no make-up, admitting when I’m tired and cranky, letting myself laugh at the things that are funny, which is exhausting still, but exhausting in its own special way, not exhausting in the way I think that momming might have been for my mom, (and probably most mothers of her generation) who did it all perfectly, with no cracks showing, and nothing ever revealed, and who I have no idea, really, how to make laugh until she almost pees her pants. Which seems, perhaps, like the true measure of really seeing someone. Right?

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