Sunsets and Parenting


At 16, my parents dragged me, along with my four-year-old sister, on a rainy and miserable family vacation to a television and telephone absent vacation rental in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

My overriding memory of that week is sulking around the neighborhood dodging the mosquitoes, hoping the sky would clear so we could at least take a walk to the beach or do something – anything – outside.  So intent was I on not being inside that I destroyed my virgin white Members Only jacket by spraying Avon’s Skin-So-Soft on it as the preferred bug repellent of the 80s.

All that, and the afternoon the skies did clear when we drove to Herring Cove beach to watch the sunset over the ocean.

I am a sunset devotee.  There is something about the colors, the extinguishing of the sun’s last rays in concert with the coming of the chill that accompanies nightfall on a beach, that sings to my soul and makes me want to morph into a mythical sea nymph to dive beneath the ocean’s waves.

That particular evening was chilly from the dearth of sunshine during the preceding days, but I wanted to photograph a sunset “series.”  I kept jumping out of my parents’ Volkswagen Rabbit, then hopping back in to warm up during the few minutes it took for the sun to move; I wanted all my photos to be just a tiny bit different, so when they were all viewed together, the viewer could see the sunset in motion.

After about three out and in cycles, my father lost his cool and snapped that if I wanted to photograph my series, I’d have to stand outside the car and do it, as he was sick of being jostled about while trying to relax.  With some snarky aside cast under my breath, I did as he bade and stood next to the car, shivering and teeth chattering while capturing images I was sure were going to catapult me to fame as the heir apparent to Ansel Adams.

When I got the photos back a couple of weeks later, I was enthralled with them, and I created a photo album that still lives on my shelf as a reminder that discomfort can beget beauty.

A few days ago while my son was getting ready for bed after the long holiday weekend, he remembered he hadn’t finished his homework assignment due the next morning.

I have been dogging my child all year about his homework, and all year it has been a struggle so foreign to me that more often than I like to admit I have lost my temper, doling out the loss of privileges and ranting about responsibility and accountability.  I have ranted. I have cried. I have felt a failure as a parent.  Of the last month or so we have reached a détente, however, and I have relinquished control, leaving him to discuss with his teachers the consequences of any failure to do an assignment.

But on this night, he stepped up to the plate.  He admitted he forgot to do the assignment.  When I asked what he was going to do, he went to the shelf and picked out a book.  Then my second grader sat down, read the book, and wrote a six sentence summary.  Pride.

As I drifted off to sleep later, I remembered my sunset series and was reminded that sometimes magnificent moments are created from within the most challenging places we inhabit.

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