Sticks

It’s that time of life. I’m aging, my parents are aging. They are still living in the home I grew up in but are slowing down. They always enjoyed gardening and landscaping and take pride in their home. The garden is smaller now and the woods are no longer mowed.

I live 60 miles away but drive out to help them a couple days a week. My brother lives closer and visits more frequently. He is there to help with emergencies – such as when a sump pump fails and floods the basement.

Each Friday is chore day for me and my father. My mom has a “to-do” list for us. Last week we cleaned out the asparagus bed, raked out leaves by the fence line and mowed those areas. The week before we picked up branches and sticks around the property.

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Picking up sticks brought back an old memory from childhood. I was probably 9 or 10 years old and was assigned stick picking up. My brother was assigned mowing. You’d think that would be a straight forward job but I looked at the woods and felt overwhelmed. Sticks were everywhere and I couldn’t see how this job could be possibly be finished in a thousand years (yes, kids exaggerate, but that’s what it felt like to me).

I walked out to the woods and handful by handful, I trudged back and forth, over and over, to the brush pile. I was working for over an hour and hadn’t made a dent in the work. My mom walked out and indicated to only pick up the bigger limbs. I was a sensitive kid, and it felt like I was being yelled at instead of helped. Why hadn’t that instruction come sooner at the beginning of the work, why hadn’t I thought of it instead of having to be told. I felt resentful and inadequate at stick picking up. I felt I wasn’t good enough to know even what sticks to pick up.

Drama right? Actually it was an internal drama, I didn’t act it out. It was that internal judging voice inside of myself. I listened to that voice too much as a kid. As an adult I now approach stick picking up with a system … a tractor and trailer to reduce walking back and forth, a rake to get smaller sticks, and the ability to discern what stick is big enough to harm a mower blade and which stick is just fine to leave lying where it is.

I didn’t have that type of planning ability as a kid (who does) and I’ve had to go back and nurture and forgive that sensitive child, the me from the past, with the knowing that comes from age and experience. Self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, becoming the master of the critical voice within … even thanking it for trying to keep me safe in it’s own way but then stepping forward to do what needs to be done.

Any new learning experience is never completed perfectly. But the learning part is worth overcoming the fear and the critical voice. Just breathe and take it step by step. I’ve heard fear is just excitement without the breath. I know the fear response can include freezing (not taking any action). I’m glad I’m stepping up and taking action, even in a small way, and helping my parents as they age.

I’m still not perfect at picking up sticks, but my father and I finished our job on Friday and it looked pretty good. ¬†Experience built from past times of inexperience. A system. A helping hand. And then a hearty family dinner from mom. Life is good.

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