Husband and our youngest Junior Tribe Member and I planted an oak tree yesterday.
A wee baby oak. I’m taller than she is, and I’m not tall.
We picked her out at the nursery on Friday.
On Saturday, I went to get the dirt while Husband and JTM dug the hole. Twice as big as the pot it was in, as per instructions.
We watered the hole, put some fresh dirt in, covered her root ball with some magical growing powder, and put her in the ground. We filled the rest of the hole with moist, rich black dirt and then watered her good.
Now we wait.
Well, not really.
We will go and live our lives. Full, rich lives. And someday, that oak tree will be big and tall and give shade to people who will live here after we are gone. Children who aren’t born yet may swing from a swing from her branches. Those who will truly enjoy her won’t know about her for years.
And yet we plant.
I spent a decade raising my Junior Tribe Members. Rambunctious, spirited boys who were rough and tumble. It was a matter of necessity to have a ball or two of some sort in the car at all times, because if we ever needed to pass the time anywhere, we only needed to find an open field or a lot with a hoop. They liked to blow up stuff too. Raising these kids safely to adulthood was a serious goal for me.
I also wanted to raise them to be conscientious, kind and respectful citizens. People who knew how to love well. I was hoping they would become men who would leave things cleaner than they found it, be helpful without thinking, and know their way around a kitchen.
It wasn’t easy slowing those JTM’s down enough to fill the dishwasher or wash the pots. Teaching them to be polite, or look adults in the eye when addressed and responding directly–I did that over and over. The lessons didn’t seem to stick.
Parents will understand me when I say that so often it would have been easier to clean up supper myself rather than have them help me. The drama over mundane chores can be exhausting.
Parenting often seemed like one long exercise in trying to instill good habits into the children…only to see them be rude, bicker instead of work it out, do an incomplete job, or wiggle out of responsibility–yet again.
Sometimes, I felt like all my parenting fell on deaf ears. I may as well have been talking to a wall…or so I thought.
And yet I kept at it.
Earlier this summer, my adult son borrowed Husband’s truck to take some loads to the dump. He returned the truck late Saturday afternoon, exhausted from unloading and unloading several loads. He asked for a broom…and when I followed him out after I handed it to him, I saw that he swept out the truck bed, getting rid of the remaining debris in the back of the truck. Left it cleaner than when he got it.
On his way back to his car to go home, he called out nonchalantly over his shoulder, “The tank was below a quarter when I picked it up. It’s above a quarter tank now.”
My job dropped.
He had been listening! He knew what to do. He chose to be polite, kind, and respectful all on his own.
The lessons that I taught month after month, year after year, that I thought fell upon deaf ears apparently had sunk in at some point.
When I wasn’t looking, he’d grown up to be the fine young man I’d always dreamed he would be.
Husband and his late wife bought the property on which our house sits years ago, after she was diagnosed with cancer. The property was chosen for the pie shaped lot. In the backyard, a large back corner is where the forest is. Some people laugh when we call it the forest, but there is a fire pit surrounded by bushes and trees.
In the evenings, Husband loves nothing better than to light a fire, and sit in the forest. The trees rustle in the wind, the fire crackles, and he sits, quietly. Sometimes for long stretches of time, thinkin’ and ponderin’ in the wood.
We enjoy our forest because someone who lived here decades ago didn’t cut this down to make room for lawn. The trees are tall and majestic–and the lush green of our forest that develops over the dawning of spring is a seasonal highlight for us.
Some of the trees are getting older…and a few have branches that have stopped bearing leaves. Trees don’t last for ever…and so…
We planted baby trees with time to grow.
The mature ones still have some years left, but we plant with hope and anticipation that they will be emerge, over time, to take over the role of being the big trees in the forest.
It’s not gonna happen overnight. It may take a decade or two…and I may not still live here.
But I smiled as we planted, knowing someday there will be a family that will enjoy a forest in this backyard.
I’d like to think that maybe somebody dreamed about us enjoying a little space of forest heaven right in the middle of the city, when they left the trees to grow decades ago.
Jim’s late wife, Car, believed in the long game too. Believed in the idea of investing in the future in ways you will never know about. She was diligent about planting seeds from which she would never reap.
She and Husband built the house knowing that cancer was in her bones to stay. She built a house that she knew would be enjoyed long after she wasn’t there to enjoy it. The windows that overlook the backyard forest are huge. The morning sun’s rays burst into the house each morning. And when the sun reflects on those trees in the evening, we are there to see it because of the beautiful way she designed the house.
I see her love and tenderness in her sons. The way they gently relate to those they love. Their helpfulness.
Her values reflect through her sons’ lives like sunshine dapples the forest floor through the branches of the trees.
We live in a world of instant: instant coffee, microwave ovens that pop corn in 2 minutes and a cook a potato in 4, satellites that allow for immediate responses to texts from a person in India or China, vehicles that can transport us from one place to another in minutes when it might take hours to walk–this world of instant has us forget the value of the long game.
Investing in relationships…with our children, our friends, our spouses…is something that develops over seasons, years, even decades.
The roots that grow deepest grow slowly, almost imperceptibly.
Roots that are rich and strong. Roots that hold for the challenges of life. Relationships with deep roots not only give life to us personally, but will go on to affect others in ways we might never know about.
Trust grows slowly and deeply in relationships like the rings of the tree, year after year. Significantly, but slowly.
Shade of the mature relationship provides space for others to feel safe, to witness strong connection, and to learn about relationships from the stories told by parents and grandparents.
People enjoying the shade of your good relationships will grow and play and enjoy life because they see and feel and know what it is to be deeply connected. When we bask in the shade of great relationships around us, our own grow better.