I have driven past this tree, walked and ran past this tree. I’ve ridden my bike and sat shot gun in the gator. I’ve walked alone and I’ve walked with my boys past her. I’ve seen her out the window of a dozen different cars and I’ve noticed her a thousand different times. She didn’t always look this way. When we first moved here–nearly nineteen years ago– her branches were full of evergreen needles. She was tall and unique, her branches reaching in scattered directions toward the world. She was not perfect, she was different. She wasn’t always spent, covered in brown, dead needles with branches that have quit reaching for the sun. She didn’t always have beautiful saplings growing up under her canopy, either.
Yesterday as Eric and I walked past the tree he said, “You could transplant some of those saplings now, they are strong and healthy enough.”
Now, I’m an emotional person by default. My heart is on my sleeve and there’s not much that hasn’t made me cry. I’m like a cup that sits full to the rim, any extra put in and my emotions begin to fall like a flooded river. They flood everything. The last few years I have grown, I’m more capable of absorbing my emotions and managing them. Hey, forty-six years and I am getting the hang of it, not bad.
But when I looked at this tree. Tall, tired, spent … gone. I was completely, and I mean completely, overtaken with emotion. How had I noticed this mother and her children? How did I not notice that she was the exact picture of what I feel so many days? That I have given everything I can to my boys and it has depleted me, but they are flourishing. This is the exact end I have been working to avoid, to not end up spent, tired, unable to give any more because I have given my entire life force to my kids. The image is so powerful to me it brings me to tears at merely the thought.
I believe in the universe and the world’s energy leading me to what I need to learn to grow and become the best person I am able. I believe my curiosity and concern and worry and search for wisdom lead me to see things in different ways, to help me process and filter. To help me teach and love and empower my children. For some reason, last night when Eric called attention to her I saw her for the matriarch she is.
I have said before that I used to believe that if I could just work hard enough I would get to the sweet spot. If my kids would just sleep through the night, if they were potty trained or went to school … it would get easier. I was aware enough of this belief that I was very careful to not wish away time, to not wish they would sleep or wish that they would go to school or wish that they would just grow up … if anything it grounded me. If I stayed in the now, did the work, relief would come. I am so grateful that I was present, that I worked every day to not regret where I spent my time and energy.
The hard part is that the relief I needed, expected, had counted on never came the way I thought it would. It didn’t come in a long path drawn out in front of me, it came to me in small clearings in the path as the road took me every direction except straight. Life continues to be a jumble of knots and some days I am victorious in untangling a knot or two, others I only succeed in tying more up! There are days my sister-hood with the mother tree is so overwhelming I feel broken. I feel as she looks: tired, spent, dead. She is the consummate martyr. The mother who gave all. And while I had always intended to be the mother who gave all it is more vivid to me today than ever before, that that does not serve my children in the way I intend for it to.
They do not need a mother who has given them everything. They need a momma who has given them enough. Who has given them what she can while still caring for herself. They need a momma who cares and loves for all she is worth, but sets boundaries when she begins to wilt. They need a momma who will show them the way with her strength and light, not with her never ending sacrifice.
I am going to frame a picture of my Mother Tree. I will hang her where I can see her. I will honor her sacrifice. I will honor her gift of life to her children. And then I will remind myself that my children – my nearly grown sons – my husband, my family, my friends need a woman who is tall, strong, green and alive. They need a tree that provides them with shade in the July heat and a place to hide under the November rain. They need a place to feel safe and loved and to give them that – I must be alive and strong and healthy. Always learning. Always seeing things in a new light. Always learning the same damn lesson in a different way.