Nestled in my art studio this morning, my bare feet wrapped under a blanket, which covers me keeping the chill off. The whir of a small space heater trying to play its part. Chilled raindrops slowly and methodically pinging on the metal roof above me.

Looking at my blessings each day, my daily exercise of finding three things to be grateful for, I recall the days when painting occurred in a back bedroom with the paint smelling up the whole house, which eventually pushed me into a small corner of the garage. Countless hours were spent there bundled up in the winters and in t-shirts and shorts in the summers since there was no climate control. Yet my passion to paint overcame any inconvenience. And frankly, I know even those conditions were a luxury compared to most.

A Dream Art Studio

The dream of one day having a studio of my own, with ample space for my friends to visit and paint models on Wednesday nights, came true about seven years ago when we moved to this very spot. The little 16×20 brown clapboard cabin sits behind the house overlooking the winding oaks and distant purple hills; its porch has a fireplace to warm me on days when I move my easel there.

A Room of Memories

The tall ceiling comes to a peak, making the small space feel bigger, and every square inch of wall space is covered with framed plein air studies I’ve painted on my art retreats and fine art trips all over the world. Within view … a lighthouse and colorful trees painted on fall color week, a nocturne (night) painting done in Bruggen, a waterfall done in the Adirondacks in one of the same spots many Hudson River School painters painted, a Native American painted in Santa Fe, and a rock scene painted with my friend Joe McGurl.These and hundreds of paintings are my lifetime memories of trips, painting with friends, painting models, and living the plein air lifestyle. Unlike tens of thousands of photos, which may someday be lost on discarded hard drives, paintings are much harder to throw away. One can only hope they find good homes with my kids, grandkids, and their grandkids.

A Family Celebration

Speaking of kids, last week I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks as I searched old photos of my children at different ages so I could could post some old pictures on Facebook in celebration of their sixteenth. I had no idea the impact this momentous celebration would have on my heart; it was a sobering moment realizing that with driver’s licenses we will begin the separation process, soon to be followed by college, then the rest of life.

When I think about how little time they have in their nest, I started thinking about what lessons they still need to learn. One can only hope our own behavior and actions have left them with the tools they need for a quality life.

A Different Kind of To-Do List

I decided to make a list of traits I hope my children will adopt that will serve them well, so I can think about ways I might help them develop some of these important traits before they fly. Though the list is personal, the thing that led me to this is that lessons cannot just be random. We need to be deliberate. Though much of parenting is accidental, which is why our bad traits are also absorbed and become part of our legacy, we need to put ourselves in a position where they can observe these lessons in action.

Making a Point

An example: I recently picked out a pair of sunglasses when we were all in a store buying some things together. I handed the glasses to my wife to add to the the items she was purchasing. Because her hands were full she put them in her purse fully intending to pay for them, only to discover when we returned home that she had not paid for them. Though a return to the store was inconvenient, and though I could have phoned them to give my credit card, I piled the family into the car, made the drive, and together we went in to pay for them. The clerk was amazed and said “this never happens,” and then let us know how much they appreciated our honesty. Having the kids hear those words was important.

What They Don’t Know Can Help Them

My kids would rather sit on their screens, texting their friends, than go out on an adventure. Visits to museums are met with whining, yet usually the kids are grateful at the end of the experience. They don’t know what they don’t know; therefore it’s easier to let them stay home. But then, that isn’t good parenting.

What is on your list for your kids, grown or young, or grandkids, or nieces and nephews?  What lessons do they need to learn?

What things do they need to be exposed to in order to open their minds? What things do you need to drag them to, that they don’t want to do, that they might enjoy?

What traits have given you an advantage, which need to be instilled in your kids? What traits have hurt you along the way, which you can help them avoid?

Breaking Bread Plays a Powerful Role

When I was a child, we sat for dinner as a family every night, starting with a prayer of gratitude. Later in years, we gather as a family on Sunday nights for dinner. Everyone is welcome. I’ve come to realize that dinner is about sharing stories of our day, our lessons, and also a chance to listen. It’s something we don’t do enough of anymore. Busy lives and homework tend to lead to random meals. Yet in spite of how difficult it is to gather as a family, this is the glue that holds families together, helps them hear the stories of the past, the lessons of our day or week, and that gives us a chance to reconnect on a deeper level, and maybe help each one feel heard.

Life’s Lessons

These phases of life, monumental birthdays, play an important role reminding us of our own role, our own purpose, what we are grateful for, and what we have yet to accomplish. Though it was a week of celebration, it was also a stark reminder that time travel exists and that it’s moving fast, and though parenting lasts forever and lessons continue, we have much to get done.

What will you do this week to impart lessons to friends, family, and others, which are important for them to hear or experience?

It’s my hope that your week will be richly blessed and that new lessons are learned that we can pass to others to make them better, stronger, more resilient, and have more open and caring hearts.

Eric Rhoads