Nell Painter was an accomplished adult. She was more than out from under her parents thumb—she was in her seventies. She was a world-class historian. Yet even then, her mother was teaching her.
How did she have the courage to leave a promising academic career at that age to leave her job and go to art school? Well, her mother writing her own first book at age 65 probably had something to do with it, even if Nell had not grasped the significance of this lesson at the time.
“It took me years to sense the bravery, the sturdy determination her metamorphosis demanded, for she was tougher than I could see during her lifetime,” she said. “I knew she delved deep to express herself with unadorned honesty. Hard for a woman. Doubly hard for a black woman. Triply hard for a black woman of a class and generation and never wanting to let them catch even a sidelong glimmer of remorse.” And yet her mother had done it. So when Nell reached her own golden years, she didn’t find it strange to try something strange. She didn’t mind looking crazy or out of place. She didn’t mind doing something hard. Her book, Old In Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over, is a testament to what her mother had taught her implicitly and explicitly.
We should take from this two things: We never stop teaching our kids. What we are doing right now may not be resonating, but it can teach them something in the future. This is not a job we age out of. Our work, if done right, can age, too.
So keep doing what needs to be done. Embody what you want your kids to be. Keep growing. Keep teaching. Keep being the example they can follow. Show them it’s not too late, but continue to show up.
You never know when they might finally see it.