April 06, 2009

Growing Oaks

Years ago I wrote on the wall of my children's playroom, "great oaks grow from little acorns". Next to those words there are some painted trees, with the leaves of the trees being dozens of their little hand prints, stamped in shades of green around the branches. It makes me sigh at how their little hand prints have already grown so much since that time.
I love oak trees. I stop and marvel when I see the beauty of a really old, seasoned oak. Around the neighborhoods here, many builders have planted Bradford pears. They are chosen because their growth rate is exponentially faster than the slow growing oak, with spectacular blossoms to see early on in its life. Unfortunately, the Bradford pears grow too fast, they can't support the weight of their numerous broad branches and a decade or two into its life it starts to split. The branches split chunk by chunk until it doesn't even look like a tree should, and the tree is chopped down. We have removed several Bradford pears from our yards over the years. We have never replaced them with the same type. I am not growing Bradford pears, I am growing oaks.
I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago. A mother was exhaustively, and proudly, telling me of the bizillion activities and lessons that each of her children were signed up for. After I listened to her going through each of her children's daily itineraries she turned the question to me -- what did I have my kids signed up for?
"Not much." I simply replied. That short response didn't seem to satisfy her. She questioned on.
"How about x? Or y?"
"Nope, we are not really into that." Again, she persisted in the questioning. I'm not sure if she really just wanted me to join in her competitive game, or if she was really looking for the gold star to be placed on her belly. Finally I responded to her questions with more than a 5 word response, trying to end the conversation while respecting her pride of her children's resumes.
"Alan and I just have our own philosophies on things like that."
"Oh," she said sympathetically, "you probably can't do anything because of Bridger."
Oh dear. My claws came out. I'm pretty good at tolerating annoying conversations, but when you bring little Bridger into it you better step back. Bridger has only cemented our philosophy. I took a deep breath, tucked my claws into the pockets of my jacket and looked at her with a smile and said nonchalantly, "No, I believe that kids will be plenty busy one day, and that day will come all too soon. I believe in just letting them be children for now."

That ended the conversation. I have one thing that I do not wish about my childhood and one thing that I do. I do not wish that I had one more piano lesson. I do wish that I had one more date with my dad.
A friend sent me these musings, they are thoughts of a friend of hers. But they perfectly summarize my philosophy:

"I believe in downtime and childhood and non-regimented exploring. But sometimes it's difficult not to get caught up in the competitive energy of it all. I do believe in education, in interesting experiences, and in supporting talent and hard work. I just have to remember I'm raising people not college applicants, not just someone's future employee. I'm raising someone's best friend, someone's spouse, someone's mother or father.

I have to remind myself that what I want for my kids is a
good life, with challenges and joys.
To find something they love to do
and develop the work ethic to do it well.
To find someone to love
and to know how to be loving.
To use their imaginations and
create ideas and passions to follow.
To be able to articulate their thoughts.
To be involved citizens and engaged neighbors.
And, really, the camp for those things is called home."

So what talent are we practicing here?

Walking slowly,
Eating doughnuts,
Counting turtles.