This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is "Wild." Rows and rows of pansies. Blue, yellow, red. Tulip swirls, concentric circles of prim rose bushes. Butchart Gardens in British Colombia gets thousands of visitors every year, each coming to ooh and ahh over the neat rows and patterns, beautiful flowers and plants, all tightly arranged in a breathtaking presentation. But I was just bored. Not because I don’t enjoy greenery. On the contrary, I love flowers and plants, but I prefer a more unfettered beauty. When I visit such places, I crave more nature, less human dominance. I find myself longing for wildflowers careening down hillsides, bowers draped in greenery, ferns as tall as your shoulder, and leaves as big as your head. I yearn for thick piles of needles in redwood tree groves and waves crashing against rugged, rocky outcroppings, where lonely cypress trees stand sentinel. My soul sings when I see Earth bursting forth in all its wild holiness. There is a sacredness in wilderness, a reverence the soul feels at witnessing the beauty, power, and life cycle of nature.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from someone I respect deeply. He referred to my kids as “those wild and holy children you mother so deliberately.” At first, I was not entirely sure what to make of his comment. As I reflected on the person speaking it, I understood that he really saw me and my kids and what we are doing. I realized his words were a great compliment. When my eldest was just a baby, I found myself at a crossroads I did not expect to reach until much later in my parenting journey. It became apparent to me that parenting was either going to be about control, or it wasn’t. I had had a good deal of experience controlling things in my life. I had succeeded academically, in my career and my hobbies, by exerting control over the things that I could control. This practice had served me well.
But I knew in that moment, looking at my infant son, that using the same approach in this new stage of life could damage my child and our relationship with one another. Our boy was a free spirit. A curious and energetic explorer. A passionate lover of life. He would crawl at four months. Walk at eight. Into all the cupboards, the Tupperware, the pots and pans. Then toddling, then running laps around us everywhere. His expansive spirit quickly endeared others to him. His joy was contagious. He came to us with a fiery will of his own – a strong and undeniable life force, sacred and wild all at once. In those early months, when we had our first encounters, his acts of defiance caused me to pause and remember my decision to try not to control him. “Don’t you dare break him,” the thought would come to me. Somehow, my heart understood that his life would require all of his strength and will, whole and unbroken.
And so I didn’t. I played with him, taught him, and administered consequences as needed, trying hard to be consistent. I let him climb and explore and run and use his joyful voice. I set high expectations and strived to help him learn discipline, respect, and the significance of choices and consequences. But I refused to control him, or to use harshness to dull him or break his spirit. Our magnificent boy continues to challenge me with his strong, wild heart. Now he has two sisters, who I am also trying to raise responsibly, without breaking. It is a challenge. I find it much harder to be intentional with them – giving them the space they need to grow in a natural kid environment – rather than controlling them or numbing them with distractions. Muting the vibrant colors of their souls for my own convenience is not an option. I have too much respect for who they are. Because this I know: In the world we live in today, my kids will need their strong, wild hearts. Have you ever noticed how wise children are? Intuitively, they know whom they can trust. They understand what is really important in life. Their compasses keenly discern right from wrong.
Children have a purity that surpasses the world around them. It is the same purity and wildness that I see reflected in nature, unbounded and unconquered. All children are beautiful, holy, and teeming with potential. Some children may be rows of pansies and tulips nicely arranged in tidy, white planter boxes. They will likely elicit oohs and aahs throughout their lifetimes. Lest you feel concerned that I should peel back the vines and start in with the garden shears, please know that these are my magnificent, natural children. They are wild and holy, and I mother them deliberately.