On Being Prepared

A playful picture from my ground of being… many years ago!




Some years ago a close friend told me that in a discussion about preparing children for the world, her then twenty-year-old daughter exclaimed, “ You already haven’t prepared us enough!” It is the indictment that many of us parents fear. We receive that new baby and think we can right all the wrongs inflicted upon us by our own parents, only to discover we too are human and all we can hope for is being “good enough.”

I hurdled this indictment at my own family. I grew up in a close-knit farming community, one quite different from the life I was to have. As a young adult I felt quite ill prepared for the challenges I met: moving across the country, graduate school, divorce, being a single mom, remarrying, the rigor of analytical training. And yet, if I am to live my own life, how could anyone completely prepare me to be myself?

These days I feel gratitude for the preparation that I did get. Growing up in the country bonded me to the earth in a way that has defined my life. I need to live in nature; the earth and my body are of one piece. I relish the flirting of owls at dusk and again at dawn, and bask in the hotness of sun as I walk the rows of the grapevines―or is it soybeans? The relative isolation of the farm brought closeness with my sister and friends which laid a path that I have sought out time and again. The camaraderie of women is welcoming and familiar, one that spawns creativity. I know from my experiences with my sister that play is to enter another universe where everything is possible. If you don’t like where a line of play is going, you just say, Let’s start over! 

I learned from my mother that you never get food just for yourself, but always offer it to everyone, and although my California self has spent years in analysis learning to attend to my own needs, I still think it’s best to not just serve yourself.

My mother laughed a lot, and I received that from her as well. What could be more helpful in life? Life is hard; laughing can put things in proportion. Once when my sister accidentally caught my mom’s wheelchair on a ramp and dumped her into the street on her foot with the caste, my sister and mother, unhurt, sat on the curb laughing, people staring at them in disbelief. The irony demanded the relief of laughter.

I learned from my dad that Spring’s work is something you yearn for. Then, once again, you can get into the field and plow, cutting worries into the earth in deep furrows, along with last year’s stubble. From him I learned there is not enough money to draw you away from work that pulls your soul. That farming, like private practice, is a lifestyle: independent, with ups and downs and no guarantees.

For years I have valued not working too hard or too much as that can be at a cost of creativity. But I also value the ability to keep going. This is what I wanted to impart to my sons when I delivered my annual Why-picking-up-walnuts-is- preparation-for-life lecture. (Each year: We’ve heard this, Mom!)

I learned favorite grandmothers die and we go on living without them. Mothers get sick and we cope anyway. That there is meanness in all of us, and we can survive it and still be strong and love ourselves and each other.

I learned prairie grass will sprout in ditches, even after it’s been mowed for seventy years, and grow as tall as it ever did: big blue stem, Indian grass, purple prairie cone flower. Suppression is not always permanent. We can be disappointed but, when the mowing is over, know― yes, this is my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, this is the earth I grew from, have deep roots in, and from which I sprout my sons.

For this I was prepared.

Newest sprout: grandson Wesley.