I love my veranda!
Okay . . . technically, it’s not a veranda. It’s a back deck. But I really wanted a veranda so, when we put a roof over our back deck, I started calling it my veranda.
As I said . . .
I love my veranda, especially in the summertime when my pots are overflowing with flowers. I have a hard time leaving ‘on holidays.’ To me, the perfect summer vacation is spent in my own back yard.
One sunny morning this past August, I was admiring my flowers while eating breakfast on my veranda and musing about growing conditions and how the exact same type of morning glory planted in the exact same soil in the exact same kind of pot only a few meters apart can result in two very different plants.
Here’s the eastern-most plant, bushy and downright pushy.
While the westernmost plant is a little on the scrawny side.
Then I raised my eyes to look at the clematis growing on the posts supporting my ‘porch swing’
This time it’s the westernmost plant that is thriving in its patch of morning sunshine.
Which got me thinking about raising children. I know, that’s a bit of a leap, but everything makes me thing about raising children since my eldest son left the nest 1 month, 2 weeks, 6 days, 22 hours and 21 minutes ago.
I have had the privilege and blessing of raising two sons. I love them both to the nth degree and the biggest surprise of my parenting life was discovering how two minglings of the exact same DNA, planted in the exact same womb, growing up in the exact same environment, showered with all that nth degree love, can be so radically different.
Same pot, same soil, same sun.
Well . . . not really the same pot.
Or soil. Or sun.
Every child in a family has a different experience because every child grows up in a different family. Some of those differences no doubt come from their ‘position on the veranda.’ The first born has the benefit (and challenge) of receiving all the sun and rain and fertilizer, with no need to share the wealth, but also no one to dilute the glare of the grow light. When siblings come along, they demand their share of everything, which poses a challenge, but also gives the firstborn the chance to breathe without constant scrutiny.
Each subsequent child creates a new constellation which can’t help but change the family dynamics: upping the responsibility ante for the Intrepid First-born, shunting the second child from Mama’s Baby to that of Invisible Middle Child. Growing conditions change for everyone whenever a new plant is added to the garden. Add to this the variations provided by gender and spacing and we end up with a garden of micro-climates, each plant thriving (or not) in its own particular allotment of soil, sun, moisture, nutrients.
It’s no wonder a walk down memory lane can result in rollicking ‘discussions’ about what really went down. Every child has a different take on family events, viewed through and remembered (and no doubt embellished by) their particular place-in-the-garden lens.
One of my parenting struggles was being ‘fair,’ which in a child’s vernacular translates into each child getting exactly the same rights, privileges, gifts. What I’ve learned over the years is that there is no such thing as ‘fair.’
In fact, it’s impossible. What’s fair (or right or appropriate) for one child is not necessarily right or appropriate for another, even at the same age — and sometimes never. Fair has nothing to do with years ticked off a calendar and everything to do with readiness and unique psychological bent.
I only had two children with which to navigate this minefield. I can’t imagine how the parents of large families manage it. If only it was as easy as John and Olivia, the parents on my favorite childhood TV show, The Waltons, made it look.
So what to do with the very different plants at opposite ends of my veranda?
Just keep shining the light of my ever-loving sun on them.
And talk to them. Plants and children thrive when we talk to them.
To them and with them, not at them.
Just this week, I was able to experience first-hand what it sounds like for an adult to talk to and with children as if they are equals rather than minions to be managed. I was Author Visiting and spent the day in the company of an Elementary School librarian. She was organized and calm and spoke to every child person-to-person. I was especially impressed with the way she handled the chaos that invaded the peace of the library during the afternoon recess when some older students came in to write and film and edit a video for the next morning’s announcements. There was no top-down management here – they were co-workers, efficiently working together to create a final product in a very short time-line. Respect flowed both ways and it was beautiful to watch. And hear.
It was a wonderful reminder to talk to and with children.
And to listen — deeply — to what it is they truly need in order to flourish in their particular spot on the veranda.
And then to provide it, to the best of our ability.