As I sit looking at our back lawn on a typically cold late Spring weekend, I realize that the lawn must be mowed, and fertilizer would help greatly. I remember the landscaper’s interesting and potentially beautiful design for this lawn, full of turns and twists and beautiful arcs. I had expressed the basic idea and he took it further. The lawn next to the house, along the patio, could be hard edges and ninety degree corners, but as it moved away from the house, I wanted it to gently push into the woods and manzanita; the wilds, so to speak.
I liked his design, but reality made me limit his artistic spirit. I told him that my children (my son was 3 years old and my first daughter was 1) would want to play on the lawn, and though his design was beautiful, it would make a 5-year-old soccer game almost impossible. We needed more actual square feet of lawn for the children to play.
We compromised, and we still have the undulating edges away from the house, and my kids have played many a backyard game of soccer, sometimes with all the neighborhood kids joining in. The pond and the flower garden there have taken quite a beating in these games. Living in the Almanor Basin is a bit of challenge with both ponds and flowers, but it was worth it to have the kids enjoy their backyard in the way they do.And the girls in particular have grown into enjoying the flowers, too.
Now that my children are in full double digits — almost all of them teenagers — the lawn still gets used, but more as a base, not as a complete playground. As they’ve grown, they’ve ventured into the woods, into an overgrown area known as the Secret Garden. And now they go to their cousins’ place, further away, and venture into what they’ve termed The Wilderness, wide open forest that may some day become another neighborhood, but not in their childhood.
As they go, they need advice, wisdom, guidance, but they’re going more and more on their own. I’d be a fool to try to stop them. The back lawn, as lovely as it can be, and, I hope, will be again in a few weeks’ time, is not big enough to hold them. They’ve had the safety of the house and then the lawn, and then the outer yard and the woods, and now they’re in the wilderness.
It’s scary being a parent. There isn’t much help in this job in our current culture. We all want the list of the five “must-do” things to make a kid turn out as a great adult. No such list exists. Our job as parents is to show them how to pedal and steer, point the way, walk along beside them until they seem to get the hang of it, and then let them ride away. If we’ve done our job, they’ll avoid the biggest dangers and we’ll see them again.
If we make it about us, and about control, and safety at all costs, and a list of rules, they’ll learn to ride that bike and then ride away hoping never to return. The wilderness is often a scary place, but it is also full of adventure, and excitement, and a sense of wonder. Don’t you remember wondering what was over the next rise? I do. I want my kids to wonder as well, but I want to give them now as much help as I can for when they’re over the hill and out of my sight.
Maybe I’ll get my son to mow this lawn this week. I’ll be doing it again myself in a few years time.
First published in the journal, Earth & Altar — earthandaltar.standrewsalmanor.org. Father Brian is the vicar and headmaster of St. Andrew’s Church & Academy in Chester.