planting trees, growing people.

My kids LOVE to help in their community. They relish the idea that they're a part of a large global fabric, that they are just tiny threads that weave into a greater picture. They are constantly asking when they can go clean bicycles to get them ready to donate. Or when when WHEN can they go through their closets to give away toys and clothes to those who may need them. Or for crying out loud WHEN is the next ivy pull at Tryon Creek?! They ask and ask and ask, and then they clean their rooms spick and span, and eat all their dinner, broccoli too, without whining once, and then sit down to do homework and then ask if they can go read quietly, and then they brush and floss their teeth, climb into bed, give me hugs and kisses and then softly snore as soon as their angelic heads touch down onto their pillows.

These kids exist.

Somewhere.

Probably?

My kids do help in their community. It's just a slightly different scenario than what I painted above. Slightly. Slightly hugely. Magnolia, 4 years old, just started with her first tree planting last weekend with Friends of Trees, a remarkable organization that has rooted itself deep into the tangled compost pile of my soul. River, 7, has been on a few volunteer outings with me. Begrudgingly. He comes along like a very strong tuna on the end of a fishing line, and I'm sweating it out by the reel, trying to not lose him to the digital depths of Minecraft and Angry Birds Star Wars. But I have promised him this: until he is no longer living in my very direct presence, he will continue to get out there and get his hands dirty beyond our own backyard.

Yes, pulling ivy is SUPER hard, as it turns out. And it doesn't even seem like you make a dent in anything except your fingers. When this became obvious and even the grown up volunteers were looking forlorn, I gave River my phone to take pictures of the activity, which he did. For a minute. Until he ended up on his backside in the ivy piles staring at the sky, moaning "can we go now?"

In truth, it's pretty hard to get him pumped up and excited about anything that means leaving the house and being very un-bored for a stretch. When I told him we were going to bring costumes and my camera to play in the park with some of mommy's friends, he acted like I had just smothered his pet chicken and served it up in a sandwich. But then this happened:
and we all float on

resisting being a sandwich














And now he has told me that he'd be happy to play with my friends when I ask him to. Well then. The boy can come around. Must. Buy. More. Costumes.

He just can't yet make the connection to fun-can-equal-doing-something-new. He wants comfortable fun. He wants to do Lego, and it's no wonder, he's a genius Lego architect. He wants to do art projects, also no wonder, his imagination is untethered and flits about up-cycling garbage and bottle caps into wall-worthy art. He wants to play Minecraft. Which, well I don't get that one much. But he loves it and there's no shooting in it and he can build stuff and his sister likes it too, so okay, he can play it sometimes. But not instead of getting out of the house and helping in our neighborhood.

Still, it was no surprise when I prepped him for this weekend's tree planting. It couldn't be any easier. It was in our neighborhood! We would walk over together. We'd be on a team with neat people. Then we'd go to neighbor's houses and plant their trees for them. Such fun! "We even get to have lunch afterwards with the other volunteers! Yum!" Cue the symphony of complaining. "I don't want lunch there. I just want to eat lunch at home afterward."

find a worm. put it on a stick.  
Eye roll from me and off we went to plant some trees. Magnolia enthusiastically collected worms from the large holes in the ground where the trees would go. She gathered them all together on a stick. She let them crawl into her coat sleeves. She happily helped fill the water buckets and made a valiant effort at sweeping the grass because she thought it needed it.

River got in to the rhythm. Flipping the grassy clumps on their heads to build berms around the freshly planted trees. Sealing the identification and care stickers over the string that held the trees to their stable posts. And ultimately, delighting in the free pizza and bagels that awaited him at the staging site when our work was all done. He seemed to maaaybe have had an okay time after all.

Walking home we passed trees in our neighborhood that had been planted a few months prior. He said "Wait. Did we just plant these?" And I said "No, someone else planted those earlier this year." He said "Oh. Well that was nice of them." I raised my eyebrows and waited, hoping he'd make the connection and say something like "and that was nice of me too and boy oh boy I can't wait to do this again because aren't trees GREAT Mom?"

But nothing else came. We got home, he took off his muddy boots at the back door, went inside and asked if he and Maggie could watch a cartoon. I said yes. Yes they could. It was a thank you from me for their help in planting trees. Also, I said, we're totally doing this again. Every year.

"Grrrrrreat, Mom." Yeah. That was totally sarcasm.

It's no big stretch of the mind to see how critical it is that kids learn the value of community involvement. It's good for our world, for our microcosm worlds, for our spirit. And it's fun. You meet people that are incredible. You see things you wouldn't otherwise see. The marketing for volunteerism practically writes itself and yet it is such a hard-sell for so many people.

So in the spirit of me being all about asking questions and very little about offering solutions, how can I build up my son's enthusiasm for community volunteering? Do I just keep leading the charge? Cause that's my plan. I didn't just give birth to babies. I gave birth to people. And these people can either add to the wealth of problems that stack up against our world, or they can start helping whittle those problems away. So let's have this discussion. How do we collectively, and individually, inspire our children to become involved members of their communities? I'm pretty sure there's a better way than promising pizza and a cartoon afterward. But, dammit, if that's what it takes, I will totally eat pizza with them.

Want to plant trees? You bet your growth rings you do. There are more plantings with Friends of Trees happening this year. Sign up. Show up. Because you're a grown-up, and I shouldn't have to convince you why planting trees is a very very good thing.
rest assured: there are no worms in this dirt. thank you, maggie.

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