Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level, it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence. When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight – all form part of this tree. As you begin to think about the tree more and more, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is, that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else, and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing.
— Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
This is a new experience for us, coming from Southern California where October meant heat waves and fire storms, parched hills and rolling tumbleweed.
Here we have cherry red noses from the chill. We have a hat drawer that is rarely closed. We have one son singing in his school choir and starring in the school play, activities unthinkable a few years ago. Another son spends each evening rowing the waters of Green Lake, where, like the fir trees nearby, he grows stronger, taller, more rugged each day.
October is typically a month of noticeable changes outside the window panes. This year my children seem to be morphing, too, into characters completely different than I had previously type-cast them in my mind.
This week I attended an awards assembly at one child’s school and listened as award after award was given for outstanding grades, peer leadership, or athletic prowess. My daughter was last to be called up, and her teacher took to the podium to explain that she was officially being recognized for ‘feeding and reading to the fish in science class.’ He told how, after she’s done with her work each day, my daughter begs to clean the fish aquarium, feed both Spoka and Swish, then reads aloud to them from her science text if time permits. All the parents in the audience clapped politely as my daughter bounded to the stage in her pajamas (it was ‘Pajama Day’) and accepted the ‘Friend to Fish’ award from her white-haired, bespectacled science teacher. I looked around and silently wondered if I was being punked, even as I snapped away with my camera.
Later I went to volunteer in another daughter’s classroom, where I watched from the windows as she spun in crazed circles, alone on the grassy field, while the other kids played around her. After a few minutes she stopped spinning and now zoomed, arms spread wide, through the falling leaves blanketing the playground. “I was playing airplane,” she told me later, cozily tucked under a blanket on the sofa. “I like being an airplane,” she sighed. I sighed, too. “You do?” I thought worryingly. I wondered what her third grade classmates thought of this girl from California who wore pigtails every day and played airplane all alone. “At least she’s marching to the beat of her own drummer,” I reminded myself soothingly.
Then last night I received an email from my third daughter’s teacher informing us that a raccoon had been on the roof of their school yesterday afternoon, right outside the classroom window. “I saw it first!” daughter number three gushed when I asked her about it over dinner. “It was curled up, asleep, and I told Reece that I’d found a raccoon, and she told Mrs. Williams, and then all the kids rushed over like they were magnetized (her word choice), and everyone couldn’t stop looking at it all day!”
“Maybe that raccoon wanted to come in your classroom and learn about owls, too!” I said good-naturedly. “Or read a book with your class. Did you ever think of that?”
My daughter rolled her eyes and groaned. “It didn’t, Mom. It just wanted to sleep. It was a raccoon.”
I marveled at how different all my children were. How leaves from the same tree could be different shapes, sizes, even colors. Here I had one daughter permanently lost in a fantasy world, while another had both feet stuck insistently in reality. I had one son who seemed at home on the stage, while the other longed to be out in the rawness of the elements. I had one daughter so desperate for friendship, she’d befriended the fish. I realized despite my worries – would they fit in or stand out, find friends or go it alone? – they’d all found ways to navigate the world just fine without me – either as a plane or a performer; rower or realist; friend of fish.
My children are branching out into the world, every moment their natures subtly changed by new people, places, ideas, adventures. Like leaves on a tree, they twist away from their mothers’ clutch and into the wind, falling to earth in a pace all their own.