Life in Softer Focus

On a recent train ride, I read a section of a work by Anne Lamott, the American novelist and non-fiction writer, which happened to have been reprinted in Amtrak’s Arrive magazine. In the magazine, Lamott described grand-parenting using an honest metaphor that got me to see beyond the less-than-amusing observation made by many blissful grandparents, “Well, you can give the kids back!”

I was so mesmerized by a metaphor she used to describe grand-parenting that I took a picture of the article so the experience of reading those words would get filed into my visual memory (and likely last longer). She wrote, “With your own child, you’re fixated on the foreground, trying to keep them safe and alive. But with a grandchild, you get to be in softer focus, so you can see beyond the anxious foreground.”

Isn’t this what life does, generally? The more we experience, the better we can contextualize our current experiences and temper them with the other multiple realities in which we’ve lived. What’s interesting is that as we age, many of us rely (or will soon rely) on glasses to put things back in focus. So, as we age, things are in softer focus literally, but we also see life, in a metaphorical sense, in softer focus. We get to see beyond the anxious foreground.

What a gift this is. Well, except that this is something that we can’t really give.

I’m learning both the preciousness of this gift and the frustration of not being able to give it as I supervise student teachers this semester. My own teaching experience allows me a bit of softer focus in the classroom, yet I still remember how joyous/frustrating/exhausting those early teaching moments were. The recognition of what experience alone can and will give my student teachers helps me to know which “problems” to troubleshoot with them. They are so fixated on the foreground (as they should and likely only can be), that it’s my job to situate their concerns and anxieties a bit. Then we take on the things that they can learn now and master first, even with little experience.

While I didn’t expect a metaphor about grand-parenting to help define my role as a supervisor of student teachers, I welcome it as a way to help me understand and articulate one of the most complex relationships in which I find myself. Thanks, Anne Lamott!