Things I remember from my grandparents’ house: the faint smoky whiff of the fireplace, my grandfather’s large leather recliner (much coveted in his absence and quickly vacated as soon as he entered the room), the Saturday Evening Post wallpaper in the half bath, the mecca of all bathtubs (a sunken whirlpool big enough to fit three granddaughters), the screened porch where we slept in a tangle of growing-girl limbs freed in the pine tar laden air of a North Carolinian summer, the dinner table from which we’d beg to be excused so we could huddle in the den sneaking some forbidden MTV viewing, and this sign in their hallway: “There are two gifts we should give our children; One is roots, and the other is wings.”
The sign hangs now in my bedroom.
Along with my great-great-grandmother’s rocking chair, my grandmother’s costume jewelry, and my mother’s artwork, I feel strongly the call to preserve these words as an inheritance to pass down to my children. The sign is my tangible call-to-parenting-arms; it is the legacy I wish to leave.
Because what greater gift can we give our children than this dichotomy of roots and wings?
Rich loam of love. A compost of acceptance. Forgiveness as fertilizer. Some worm trails of seeing themselves as the blindingly amazing people God created them to be. Into this fertile soil of family, our children grow the roots, strong, deep, connected, that will allow for all of the upward and outward growth of their life.
Little Friend hugged a tree yesterday. It was the type of afternoon so mellow and gorgeous and ravishing that you can’t help but comment on it the next day with everyone from the preschool teacher to the mailman to the dental hygienist. She hugged the tree in our front yard, which has long since been claimed as “her” tree. “This is my Giving Tree!” she announced with her arms spread wide around the trunk. And I thought of that sorrowful, giving book with that loving, sorrowful, giving tree. Even with all leaves, apples, branches, and trunk carted away, that tree could still count on its roots.
We should give our children roots. A complicated, intricate system of roots that will feed, nourish, and provide for them as they grow. A system of roots that are so protected by earth that even if the whole tree is chopped down, the roots remain.
We should give our children such permanency. Such unmovable, unquestionable, unseeable, unconditional love and acceptance.
Because then our children can fly away.
Fly on wings that carry the child from wind current to wind current. Wings that work hard, flap tirelessly, rest sometimes. Wings that gift the child with independence, vision, challenge, success, adventure, and creativity. They are a joy to watch, these butterfly children we release into the air, watching to see where they can go, what they can do.
The joy of finding a monarch caterpillar on a milkweed pod one pre-adolescent summer. Kept in my dented mesh bug box, that caterpillar dined for weeks on my gifts of milkweed, grass, and Queen Anne’s lace. It spun a chrysalis. It metamorphosed. It unfolded creased wings. I held it in the palm of my hand, a perfect orange and black butterfly, and released it from my front porch into the late-summer air. Watching it beat haphazardly away, I felt at once grieved and elated. I wish these wings and this flight for my children. I know I will grieve. I know I will be elated watching their wings do what wings are designed to do.
“There are two gifts we should give our children; One is roots, and the other is wings.” It would be easier to concentrate on either roots or wings. Just one half of the sign’s equation. Because it would be easier to cling with root tentacles to our children. Or, it would be easier to just shove them up and out, expecting them to fly and not return, not to need them to return. The challenge is to do both–cling and release.
I want to honor what my grandparents and parents did for me–anchored me with a solid root system and offered me up skyward to see what my wings could pull off. I want my girls to grow up seeing the sign in my bedroom and one day, when they’ve flown off to families of their own, bring grandchildren back to their roots, and my grandchildren will see the sign, maybe while sneaking off to watch MTV or to take a bubble bath, and memorize the words for themselves.