Not too long ago, I awoke from a dream of an orchard and it felt like I’d been there before. And in that dream-awareness that comes when the narrator starts talking, I realized that I had been. I’d seen these as mere twigs poking out from their root stocks. But now these were tall trees with flowers and fruiting and I remembered shaping them through the years. And as I stood in recognition of my labor, peace filled my soul.
While the metaphor has limitations, I’ve come to see parenting as growing trees. You graft in trees to a root stock, plant them giving each enough space for what they’ll become, and while in the early days/years it’s easy to confuse one with another — they all look similar, but you can see at their heart some key differences — eventually you begin to see each plant as its own creation with its own future and shape, and then you wonder, “How can I help shape you so you are fruitful, healthy, and lovely?” The imprint is borne of the soul of that tree. It’s an amalgam of what do I know about life (which sometimes as a young arborist isn’t a whole lot) and a genuine exploration of the tree’s permutations and nature. And then you mentally imprint that snapshot and every year you come back to prune. You recall that tree and that imprint of the future and work at getting the tree to blossom, fruit, and not get in its own way.
Of course there are outside factors. Soil, wind, sun, rain, and I’m sure they have their metaphorical equivalents: friends, school, scrapes, accidents, broken limbs, broken hearts, and such. All of these affect the trees and my kiddos. But after the tears or the hospital visit, I try to reset my sight and see what’s the heart here? What shape comes from how he or she is growing and again. How can I best help?
I’ve worked in apple and peach orchards. And I’ve been continually stunned by how when I look at one tree and really reflect on its form how a vision emerges of what that tree can look like once it’s grown. Of course, I’m reminded of the quote from Michelangelo about how he creates his sculptures, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” As parents, we do the same. Take time to look on the heart of your child and see how best to help them grow.
One of my favorite plants is the hibiscus. Seven years ago, on Father’s Day, I was gifted this little twig of an hibiscus with a couple of green leaves. As I’ve watered, repotted, and nurtured it I’ve watched it grow and take on a shape that feels natural, although some places where small limbs started, I pruned them back so it could dedicate energy to flowering and strengthening its main branches. Slowly, gradually it has blossomed and is something I take pride in seeing.
My own children are now in and nearing their 20s and what I’m surrounded by when they’re home are people that I really enjoy being around. Of course they have some sibling rivalries and after years of growing near each other they can “rub branches” and leave a little mark, but their hearts are precious.
Whether an arborist or a parent, you are working something that will grow on its own, in its own way, whether you’re active in its life or not. There are few days off. However, as a slight contradiction, you don’t have to be on Every.Single.Day. I’ll also say this, if you make a mistake – don’t water at the right time, prune back a branch too far, ignore spacing, speak unkindly – it’s okay. You don’t have to start again at the beginning every time.