Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I have been thinking a lot about the way we present ourselves, what we share, and what we hold close and protect. And how this is related to parenting older children.  When you realize you are beginning to need to dance a little differently around these beings who are also learning to navigate how they present themselves to the world.  As they develop their different personas, their masks, and expose their vulnerabilities.  

I am feeling the need to show the view from a wider lens.  To show the pretty, but also the complicated.  The distractions, the mistakes, and the messes.  To show our growing children that in fact what they see is only what a person is choosing to show you and that I, within certain boundaries, want to tell a fuller story.  It's tricky, because I am trying to respect our children's privacy, their own story, as I have heard it referred to by many.  But sometimes, the more complete story, the one that includes the noise and the imperfect, the mistakes and the hurt, sometimes just knowing it is there can help you grow and understand and explore in ways that are richer.  

And so it was with our first evening of tapping trees this year.  It was beautiful.  It was quiet.  It was a lovely beginning to a new season.  But it was distracted.  It was getting dark.  It was difficult going.  And the outside world was with us.  It was complicated.  And it was real.

Our maple tapping began a bit bittersweetly.  Jonathan and I walked into the woods alone, having told the kids we were heading out and having been met with seemingly unenthusiastic responses.  Last year's holes drilled together all five of us, growing over and healing, we walked around the first tree's trunk and drilled from a different place.

And so, having just watched Whiplash together the night before, we bantered in a grownup way that we would not have been able to with younger ears present, a conversation between us about this movie and the issues it had raised for us of parenting and trust and achievement and our own childhood experiences fresh on our minds.

Jonathan:  My tempo.  Tap tap tap on the bucket lid.
Me:  My tempo.  A quick rhythmic squeeze of the power drill.
Jonathan mock scowled.  Dragging.

Jonathan, pointing to the maple tree:  Her tempo.  And then silence, as we listened to the drips of sap into the metal bucket.

We are very hip with our Academy Award winner allusions.  But we both felt a bit sad that we seemed to be alone in the woods.  Will we still do this if the kids don't want to participate?  I asked.  Yes, there is a future ahead of us that is less G rated.  When we can quip about the darker sides of life.  But there is the reality that much of what we do now, because we have children, will need to be reassessed when it is just for us and not for their experience.

But soon, one.

And then, another, arrived.

Nicholas stayed inside.  It was Sunday night.  And he had homework to finish.  So I sighed.  Thought about the weird days ahead.  When he will not always be with us for family events.  I certainly want him to be out in the world growing and living.  And I wouldn't want our younger two to feel like their being there isn't enough.  And so, we headed out into the brambly woods to tap a few more trees together before our drill's battery died and the sun went down.

The snow is so deep this year.  I think our buckets might require a ladder to fetch them by the end of the sugaring season.  First paths into the woods to each tree were difficult going.  

We talked through what we knew about tapping, learned only a few short years ago.  We love this website, and I pulled it up on my cell phone to show Elliott, when he began to get nervous about whether tapping the trees was bad for them, as he does each year.  Jonathan showed them how to drill a hole once, and then both Julia and Elliott tried it on their own.

And while we giggled and tripped and fell and lost our boots and did indeed have a wonderful time out there, a part of me was still directed back toward the house, toward the light I could see where Nicholas was working away at the desktop computer on his homework.  Thinking of him up there working, knowing what we were doing.  Liking that he was making his own choices, liking his sense of responsibility, liking that as part of his experience of this night, this season, his family was tapping trees.  But still, wishing he was with us.

We stood close by and watched Elliott and Julia drill.  And when it was difficult, or they were worried a spout was not placed correctly, we stepped in and helped.  Following the rules of doing this carefully, thoughtfully, enjoying the process, but being careful not to damage.  And for us, learning to step back and accept their methods even if these methods might mean we don't get perfectly drilled holes.  

As we worked on the last tree for the night, before darkness made it too difficult to find the next one, Nicholas joined us.  

But not in the flung on parka, no hat, hands stuffed in pockets with his goofy child grin way I had been hoping for, sweeping in for the last tree.  Instead, my cell phone in my pocket dinged.  We use our cell phones like walkie talkies here sometimes.  Nicholas was texting me from an iPad in the house.  He had texted me a few minutes before that he needed to use the computer to read an article for class.

His text asked: Is there a way I can find a news article about Africa that I need to analyze for homework without seeing things about ISIS?

My stomach lurched, and any plans I had for telling this story with only gorgeous pictures of bark and drips of sap and pink cheeked children ended.  Here we were playing in the woods kicking it all old school while he was up there, pondering world events he knew some of, but also knew he did not want to see.  We had left him up there to navigate it alone.  

I told him to please wait for a minute.  And that we would be right in.

And we were.  He told us that he had entered a search for the article but then realized really disturbing images could potentially come up.  We listened.  Answered a few questions.  Spoke quietly together.  And then, calmly and adeptly, with his hand placed on Nicholas' back, Jonathan taught him how to do searches that limit what you find.  Help you learn what you are ready for, and explore in ways that still feel safe.  I told him I was glad he had asked us for help.

There is no way around it.  Our children are getting older.  And the world is a disturbing and troubled place at times.  And though I wish that their childhood, and by childhood, I include the years still ahead with us for Nicholas, could be one filled entirely with backyard sugaring and gardening and forts in the woods, that is not our reality.  I have access to them and the world in my parka pocket.  And so do they through many means, some that I can control, and some that I cannot.

And as that connection with us gets farther away, when we are not just down the river bank and a trudge through the snow away, I hope that increased distance will not keep him from reaching out.  And from seeing the world with the awe and wonder that began on our river bank and then moved outward.  Where he learned how to take from it without draining it.  And how to ask for help when things were hard.

We headed out the next evening again.  And again without Nicholas.  My cell phone in my pocket.  Julia and Elliott now quite ready to take on the drilling themselves.  Tools in their own hands and not in ours, they headed straight for Old Drippy.  Their favorite tree.  Old and dark and kind of tired looking.  But season by season, one of our best providers despite how she looks.  I followed their trail down into the woods.

Glanced at the river, with its growing areas of melting snow and ice.

And watched, as they were already putting a new hole in their favorite maple tree.  Carefully.  Following the information we had about how not to hurt her.  Speaking to her like an old friend.  Who they may or may not visit next year, but who will be here on the bank in a part of the woods where they can find her, us, when they need us.

There is a certain tree.  One over between us and the cemetery.  I am saving it for Nicholas.  He drilled it last year.  It is there, and I am here.  In case he decides to throw on his boots and parka and join us one of these evenings.

As I stood in our woods, where I do indeed intend to be each Spring, this year two children close by and one up the hill near the light from the house, I could hear the dripping of the tapped trees in the distance.  Dripping her tempo.  Slowly.  Steadily.  And beyond my control.

No comments:

Post a Comment

we welcome comments, but please select a profile below. tree to river does not publish anonymous comments.