Facing Forward

Sometimes a preposterous idea turns me back in the right direction. The whole family was sitting on Aunt Colette and Uncle Brian’s patio last night. We had finished eating Grandma Alton’s homemade berry pie, the wind had completely stopped, and the air temperature felt exactly right. It was the only time in days that I wasn’t waiting for minutes to tick by. Suddenly Brian blurted out, “KK, I have an idea!”

Brian rarely speaks out of turn and I have never heard him raise his voice. But here he was, jumping in-between the sentences being spoken, with words said  a few tones above his normal quiet level.

“I could build you a clubhouse KK,” says Brian. “Nancy, would it be OK if I built KK a room with a desk where she can write her novel?”

Dude, you are offering my child a second room of her own right in the backyard. You see her gifts and you want to take your gifts and offer them to her, to us.

Of course, there is a catch. Where, I ask, would this be? Chris, Colette, and I were just talking about chopping down a tree. It’s finally clear that she is talking about cutting down the kid’s treehouse tree, the treehouse Chris built with KK when she was merely 3, the one the kids and he just remodeled with carpet and tar paper. The one that has two rope swings on it. The tree the girls have spent the summer living under. I have already started my annual Christmas letter in my head with the line “It was the summer of the swing.”

And it is clear that Brian is channeling his wife’s mind: She is chopping down the tree and he is building a new masterpiece. The girls are getting older. KK can’t stand up straight in the treehouse. Next year she might be too heavy for the swing that she has spent hour upon hour swinging on during these last few months. I am filled with such sadness lately about summer ending, about KK getting older, about Annie headed back to the classroom that she dislikes, about our slow mornings turning into chaos as school begins.

“The tree is a weed,” adds Colette. This is the tree that sees so much activity. The squirrels and blue jays clean it out every August before any hazelnuts are ripe enough for us to eat. It provides shade. The treehouse has been lovingly built and the swings hanging from the tree’s branches, well, they have been fought over all summer long. Every kid, including my own, does not want to stop swinging on these ropes. Cut this tree down? Are you crazy?

But I can see it happening as I sit enjoying one of the last evenings of summer. Life changes pretty fast. I fear these changes. I want to hold onto to all the good stuff as tightly as I can. Heck, I want to hold onto the bad stuff, too. It defines us. I can explain it with humor and make lots of people laugh.

The Adrienne Rich line pops to mind: “The moment of change is the only poem.”

There’s a reason I had my Aunt Susie embroider this line for a wall hanging that hung for years by my front door. Change is hard. Change is constant. Change wins every time. Wait, change can be good. KK was ecstatic about Brian’s idea. What kid doesn’t want her awesome uncle to build a clubhouse for her? Who doesn’t want a room built with leftover construction materials with windows and a door and a desk for writing and drawing and for a laptop with a wireless connection provided by dad?

This crazy conversation and the excitement it brought to the table turned my mind to joy. Why not plan the future with bliss instead of the usual dread? So often I look forward with terror. The last school year was hard, what if next year is harder? What if the school year is difficult but we mix it with equal parts of greatness and fun? Let’s tear down an old weedy tree that gave us much pleasure. We will mourn it, but we can look forward with glee to a brand new clubhouse for KK (and by extension, Annie). I want to approach the school year with the same mindset: Sad for the end of a sweet summer but excited for countess opportunities for growth for all of us. Change happens whether we welcome it with anticipation or push against it with panic. I’m ready to let go of the fear and greet the fall with a blessing on my lips.

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