My mom tells me a story of my childhood, how she worries she broke my spirit. I only heard this a couple of years back, when she commented on how opinionated and joyous my children were.
When I was in nursery school, so perhaps two or three years old, the teacher taught us a song that apparently revolved heavily around the use of the phrase ‘I am an apple tree.’ I guess I absolutely refused to sing it, and the teacher duly notified my mother of this rebellion when she picked me up from school.
My mother says she was SO ANGRY at me. She screamed and yelled and hit and said, ‘You must listen to the teacher! You have to do what she says!’ I tried to explain that I wouldn’t sing that song because I wasn’t an apple tree, I was a person, but that cut no mustard with my mother.
Years later, she says she worries she broke my spirit. She says it was a stupid thing for her to get upset over. She laughs about it, but there is no doubt of her deep uneasiness and guilt.
She said I was doing so well with my own children, that I was letting them be who they were, letting them make their own minds up, not crushing them.
That compliment made me feel so good, so noticed, that I’m sure it undid some of the harm of the dreaded apple tree song.
The truth is, we all can only do as good as we are in any one minute. There is a lot of talk about ‘good enough’ parenting, a lot of repetition of the phrase, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ All that stuff is true. I’m not trying to belittle it.
But sometimes even when you DO know better, when you are mostly good enough, and sometimes more, you still have a bad day. I’ve had moments where I get angry over stupid stuff, some days when it’s all I can to not scream so loud my throat burns, when I know if I allow myself to feel there will be so much feeling that I can’t stop it.
I have to believe that those times are overshadowed by all the other ones – saying ‘yes’ to things many people would say ‘no’ to (sure, S, you can stop wearing clothes and only wear pajamas. Fine, M, you can strip down to your underpants in the park, whatever), hugging my children a lot, standing back and creating space for them to figure themselves out.
Did the apple tree thing have a long term impact on me? I don’t know. I don’t remember it consciously, but it feels true when slotted into a wider pattern. But a lifetime of apple tree moments can be gracious in providing seeds for something greater, a big opportunity for growth and blossom.
I like that I was so strong at age two. I like that I am learning to be strong again, every day, at age thirty five.