Monday, June 7, 2010

Roots & Wings

Somewhere in the back of my mind sits a quote I read several years ago encouraging parents to provide 2 things for their children: roots and wings. The roots are to keep them grounded and the wings are to allow them to take flight into adulthood. I like that idea and I strive to provide both for my own children, but I'm beginning to wonder if our conventional notion of roots and wings are broad or deep enough.

When I think of roots, I envision a stately shade tree rooted in the Earth, stable and steady, strong and tall. I picture a network of roots, deep and wide, anchoring the tree in place year after year. When I think of roots, I also envision shrubs and wildflowers planted on hillsides and beside highways, lush and beautiful in the summer sun. Not only do their roots anchor the plants to the ground, they also serve to hold the soil in place, keeping erosion under control. Roots anchor, hold, and provide a sturdy foundation upon which to grow.

When I think of my husband and I "putting down roots", I think of settling into a neighborhood, buying a house, and turning that house into our cozy home. Our home is the stable foundation for our family, anchoring us in place. It's where we keep our favorite stuff, the place where we live and eat and sleep, our safe haven in the world. But once we've created our cozy nest for ourselves, are we done? Is that all there is to providing roots for ourselves and our children? Are our roots in just one physical place? No, I think there's much more to it than that.

I believe there's an unseen emotional and psychological component to our roots, not just the physical or tangible. Our roots include our family members, immediate and extended, and the relationships we have together. They include our history, our shared memories, our celebrations, our habits and traditions, and our stories. In fact, more than roots, I think we create a web that acts like a safety net to catch us when we fall, a trampoline on which to play and experiment and flex our muscles, and a wonderful trellis that supports us as we climb to reach our greatest aspirations.

I believe that we all, no matter what our age, need to recognize, honor, and nurture our root system (and our web) in order to continue to stand tall and strong. We do this by learning about and remembering our past, sharing what we've learned, and passing it on. We do this by gathering together, on a regular basis, to celebrate, to talk, to listen, to make new memories, and just to spend time together.

Our emotional roots and webs, when well-nurtured, know no distance and no bounds. They are long and wide enough to reach over miles and miles of geographical distance and flexible enough to bend and twist through time. They are strong enough to hold 2 people or 2002, and they don't care if family members are related by blood or simply by love.

So I give my children roots by providing a loving, cozy, home for them. I also give them roots (and a web) by bringing them to family gatherings of all kinds, in all different locations, to give them the gift of time to spend with the people who love them just because they were born.

What about wings? Wings allow us to fly off into independence and our adulthood. I also think that wings lift us up so that we can see the big picture to better understand our place in the world. They take us on new adventures and to new places, both physical and spiritual, so that we may encounter new ideas that we can integrate into our own lives and different points of view to broaden our thinking and tolerance. Perhaps most importantly of all, wings bring us back to where we started, so that we can truly appreciate how far we've come, how much we've grown, and how many people are still here to love and support us. Wings carry us back to our roots so that we may refresh, replenish our energy, regroup, and reaffirm our connections to one another.

I'm helping my children exercise and strengthen their wings in the hopes that they will follow my lead, not only by soaring to their greatest possible heights, but by returning, time and again, to the places and people where it all began.

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