Monday, June 04, 2007

Tree Climber

My Eleanor loves climbing trees. "No tree shall be left undisturbed," seems to be her unspoken motto. She sees a tree-- at the park, in your yard, at our church, at her school-- and she is drawn to it like a politician to power. It must be climbed.

She doesn't climb trees to conquer them, although she is certainly proud of her extraordinary climbing prowess. She climbs for other, more social reasons: to discover and examine snails and slugs, smell the blossoms, befriend or scare the squirrels (depending on her mood), and heckle the passersby on the sidewalk from behind the safety of our fence. At bathtime, I discover sticks, twigs, blossoms and berries, hiding in Eleanor's hair like a secretly located nest built exclusively for birds in the witness protection program (you know, those cute little finches, who rat out the dastardly crows).

Eleanor is completely fearless in her climbing ambitions. "I know how to climb onto the top of the garage," she announced to Tobin last week, and then she demonstrated her method, step by step, using our magnolia tree as her ladder--"I put this foot here, and hold on with this arm here"-- until she proved that indeed, she can lift her leg onto the garage's roof. She didn't hoist herself up, of course, at least not while Tobin was watching, since he treated her to a free lecture series entitled, "The Certain Danger And/Or Death Awaiting Those Foolish Enough to Climb Onto the Garage." Tobin warned me later, "If Eleanor goes missing, she's likely on the roof of the garage." Okay, thanks for the tip.

Last summer, all three of my children were baptized. After the ceremony, our extended family and several friends came to our house to celebrate with-- what else?-- Indian food take-out. The girls had selected a cake from the local bakery, complete with a Mickey Mouse Fire Truck topper. ("Well, it's at least in keeping with the water theme," Tobin said). Take-out devoured, cake eaten, and the beauty of the ceremony reminisced, Eleanor shed her white baptism dress like a snake molting its skin in fast motion. (See photo at right of dress hastily deposited into our backyard bush). And then she went-- you guessed it-- up, up, up to the top of our maple tree, where she perched herself on a high branch and settled in with her newfound holiness.

During all of this tree-climbing, I've only encouraged Eleanor. When I want to say, "be careful," I say instead, "are you feeling safe up there?" When Eleanor answers "yes," I avert my eyes to a safer place and keep my mouth shut. I've smothered my fear-of-falling worries with the certain knowledge that there is value in healthy risk-taking. And really, I've come to love her love of tree-climbing. I love what it says about her: she is agile, confident, curious, strong. What more could I wish for my oldest girl?

We should not have been surprised when, today, while climbing our apple tree, Eleanor experienced the curse of gravity as she crashed to the ground. Really, I wasn't surprised that she fell. It was bound to happen at some point. Rather, I was surprised at how I felt: not overly worried (but appropriately motherly) about Eleanor's injuries (a ripped skirt and we *think* a sprained wrist; we'll see the doc if she's still complaining about it tomorrow), but instead, very concerned that Eleanor will stop climbing trees. Because it seems to signify more than simple tree-climbing. Eleanor might learn that, in fact, she can't do all things she sets her mind to do. That her success in this world doesn't only depend on her ambition, but a multitude of external limitations: physical, structural, and political.

I'd like to postpone this lesson, thank you very much.

I like Eleanor's world-view, just the way it is: where every tree is hers to climb.


slouching mom said...

I hope she continues to climb trees. I have a feeling she will. I just love that she climbs trees for 'social' reasons.

And I wrote about tree-climbing yesterday!


Worker Mommy said...

Absolutely, every tree is hers to climb and how great that she's learning this so early.

And what an amazing mom you are to help her and encourage her and not limit her.

I loved this post.

Ally said...

Just an update friends: Today Eleanor complained that her arm was still hurting, so we went to the doctor. The doc sent us to get x-rays, which was very exciting. The verdict: no bones are broken.

bgirl said...

whew...good news from the dr. let's hope her spirit remains injury free as well.

yay eleanor. climb climb climb.

yay ally, you are an incredible and thoughtful parent.


Seattle Mamacita said...

i hope like you when the G falls from the climbing wall at our park and i just know he will one day, that I'll be able to ooze peace and respond as you did "appropriately motherly"
Go Ms.E climber extraordinaire!

Lori said...

I love your question, "are you feeling safe up there?" I'm going to remember that one!

My second born is our risk-taker, and he has not always had a good sense of his boundaries and actual ability. In his case, we have often had to say, "whoa boy, that's not safe" for his own good! :)

Mike M said...

Great blog!! I will be back for more


Julie Pippert said...

I was nodding along, thinking oh my Persistence is a monkey like this and my Patience loves to investigate all nature.

Then you socked me in the gut with the bit about learning about limitations.

Awesome post.

I also like the "are you feeling safe?" queston!

Jenn said...

When Eleanor answers "yes," I avert my eyes to a safer place and keep my mouth shut.

Kudos on that. Because I'm still trying to get to the averting my eyes part.