“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children: One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – Hodding Carter
I worry sometimes that I am not giving my children strong roots.
Somewhere deep inside, I have this image of a family living on the same street for generations. The kids grow up, go to college, then come back home to marry their sweethearts and raise families of their own... somewhere around the corner maybe, but no farther.
On the weekend, they go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Sunday dinner. Grandma serves a big, ethnic meal that may be Italian or Chinese or Ukrainian, but which has not changed in decades. It’s all very Ward and June Cleaver-ish.
But this is not the life we lead.
To begin with, our family was formed through adoption. My children are relative newcomers to my big, extended family tree, grafted onto my branch with some sticky substance that hopefully feels like love. They seem to be pretty firmly attached at this point, and you would have to look pretty closely to even know that they haven’t been there from the start. But still, I wonder.
My children have never lived in the same state as their grandparents. We have moved once since our adoption eight years ago and if I have my way, we will do so again before the next winter. It is highly unlikely that the house we are in now will be the one they come home to with their own children someday.
And don’t get me started on the whole dinner with Grandma thing. While my mother – and a couple sisters – can produce a truly mouth-watering Thanksgiving feast, my cooking can be described as nutritional, at best. Maybe “creative.” Not in a good way.
On the other hand, I like to travel. Most days, I am mid-way between unpacking from one trip and planning the next. I am determined to give my children the world, or at least a sense that it is out there, available to them. I want their wings to be big and strong, ready to take them anywhere.
But what if I haven’t given them the beacon they need to find their way back home?
We spent the past weekend at my sister’s house, attending a family gathering. My mother and five of my six sisters were in town, with spouses and children in tow. My children spent two days playing with fifteen of their twenty-three cousins.
We visited, shared a couple meals and attended church services together. We caught up on family news. We found out that one of my sisters is expecting cousin number twenty-four.
The children ran around outside, playing tag and basketball in the driveway. They shared bedrooms and French fries and a general consensus that parents were a necessary evil. (We are apparently most useful when it comes to providing food. Tons of it.)
And I realized that my children are growing all the roots they need.
They may not be rooted in one place, but they are irrevocably rooted in one family. And now I am remembering one of the reasons I had the courage to adopt in the first place: This family.
These people give me my strength; my place in history; my own little corner of the universe. They keep me grounded, even on those days when the world seems to be flying to pieces around me. Especially on those days.
And I do the same for them.
This is what I am passing on to my children.
This is why we drive three or four or more hours to be at baptisms and weddings and the annual summer lobster bake. This is why we fly to Florida as often as possible, to build memories with Grandma and Grandpa.
This is why we hang pictures around the house and repeat stories about “the old days,” that we’ve heard, but never completely verified.
Like, was Grandpa really Batman, before he retired??
Our stories may not all be one hundred percent true, but they are part of our family history, just the same. They are what make our family tree tall and strong and deeply rooted in love.
Every child needs a solid foundation to build a life upon. They need to feel like they belong – that there is a place where they are always safe and loved. For some, it is a house, or a town. For others, it is a group of people. It is grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Wherever they are gathered, we are home.
You can turn your family tree into a beautiful keepsake for your children with this scrapbook from Reader’s Digest, Our Family History.
To capture your family’s stories, try To Our Children's Children: A Journal of Family Memories, by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford. It includes 365 provocative questions (one for each day of the year), with room to write everything down. Invite your parents to complete one for your children – a perfect gift for any occasion!
Read more about roots and wings in “How Do You Know When It’s Spring?”
Read more about building healthy connections with your child in “5 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem through Mindful Eating.”
Read more about adoption in “Totally Single Parenting."