I stood there looking at him feeling both sad and surprised. His reaction was adorably sweet, but still, it broke my heart. I wondered if I should have seen this coming? If I should have worded things differently and prepared him more? I was unsure how to proceed and reassure him. But one thing was certain. This did not go as planned.
It all started at bedtime two days earlier. A loud cracking sound beckoned us all to the back window of our house to see what had happened in our yard. My husband and I were not expecting to see our hundred year old, 70 foot tree split in half and lying on the ground. My five year old, however, thought it was exciting. My, “Oh no,” was met with his, “Wow!” My husband’s immediate worry that the tree had pulled down live wires was echoed by my son begging to go outside and climb on the downed tree. We wondered how much damage it had caused and how much it would cost to remove. We hoped we would not have to remove the other half of the tree and we were relieved no one was in the yard when it fell. But, our concern did not bother my son. He wore the biggest smile and simply said, “This is awesome!”
The next day I held my son’s hand as the arborist told me that the tree was healthy and had simply fractured under its own weight. He pointed up to the newly split seam in the tree. “See there? It’s a spiral fracture. These Manitoba Maples are famous for falling over like this,” he explained to me before promising they would return the next day to remove the downed portion of the tree and to cut back and prune the rest. It was a simple plan and I was relieved that we did not need to remove the entire tree. I was also excited to see my son’s face watching grown men hanging from ropes, climbing a gigantic tree and wielding chainsaws. I was certain he would marvel at watching the wood chipper pulverize giant pieces of wood in a matter of seconds.
The next morning as a big truck filled with tools and trailed by a chipper pulled up to our house I explained to my boys that the men had come to take care of the tree. I told them they would be allowed to watch but they had to stand far away and listen closely to mommy. With heads eagerly nodding they agreed. Sitting on the deck they watched the men secure the tree before they began to cut. It looked like so much fun to my five year old that he began to contemplate if he wanted to forgo his dream of becoming a paleontologist and instead climb trees for a living. But less than 30 minutes later, things took a very serious turn.
The men had pulled out so much deadwood from the tree that they were left with a gigantic heap of fallen debris. They decided it was time to chip what they had so they could make room for the next section of tree. “Oh, you are going to love this part!” I told my son eagerly, “But it’s dangerous and loud so we need to stand way back if you want to watch.” He nodded okay and smiled at me as he ran out to the driveway to watch the men turn on and prepare the wood chipper. They had only gotten three big branches down the driveway and into the machine when I noticed the tears welling up in my son’s eyes. While holding his little brother I knelt down on the pavement next to him and asked him what was wrong. “Mama,” he said clearly upset, “I thought they were coming to take care of the tree?” I wrapped my arm around him and said as reassuringly as I could, “They are! We are taking away the broken parts. Then they are going to make sure that the rest of the tree is safe.” But my answer provided him no comfort and instead it only made him more emotional. He quickly began scurrying around the driveway and picking up as many fallen branches as he could.
“What are you doing?” I asked him, not sure what was happening or where this had gone wrong. My sweet boy stopped and looked at me. With his lip quivering and tears gently rolling down his cheeks he calmly and assertively said, “They are going to get rid of it just because it fell. Just because it’s hurt.” He picked up a giant branch and begin dragging it back to the yard. Half way there he stopped to hug and kiss the branch he was holding. Sweetly he said, “Don’t worry tree, I still love you even though you are hurt. I am going to take care of you.” Suddenly I got it. I understood. This wasn’t about the tree falling down. This was about him seeing himself in the tree.
I quickly explained that to the tree, this was like nothing more than a haircut. The tree was not sick and was not in pain. I explained that we were trying to help the tree and that the wood would be recycled. We were not just throwing it away. But he didn’t care. All he saw was his mommy discarding something because it was hurt, twisted and fallen down. He saw me throw away something he thought resembled himself and it bothered him deeply. He was sad and confused as he clung to the branches lying in the driveway. With tears in his eyes he gently told the tree how sorry he was for what was happening to it and that he loved it. He promised to help it.
Trying not to cry myself I looked down at my two year old. His face held a serious expression as he wiggled to free himself from my arms. He pointed at my oldest son who had wrapped himself around the branches and said, “Brother sad.” Then he walked over and wrapped his arms tightly around his big brother. It was just enough to make me lose it. Here were my boys, well versed in what it felt like to fall down and feel physically broken, and instead of being angry and hardened, they were sweet, compassionate and unafraid to show empathy to all living things. Even an old ugly overgrown tree. I stood watching my baby hug my toddler hug my tree and I felt a surge of emotion. Feeling moved by their reaction to the situation, I knelt down next to them and wrapped my arms around both my boys. I hugged them tight and closed my eyes soaking them in, then I heard the engine to the wood chipper fall silent.
I looked up to see two arborists standing in the driveway staring at us. They had reached a standstill. They needed to clear the driveway of debris, but they couldn’t because the three of us were clinging to the tree hugging it and crying. It was a scene that made us look like a bunch of lunatics. I instantly started laughing. “Sorry,” I said shrugging. “We are just sad the tree is hurt, aren’t we buddy?” I asked my son. He nodded yes as he buried his face in my hip and hugged my leg. The men were kind and promised my son that his tree was not in pain. They told him they were tree doctors and had come to help make it strong and healthy. My son seemed to find their words comforting, however they did not take away his emotion. He gave the tree one last hug and waved goodbye. As he watched the men put the branch in the chipper tears fell from his face.
Three hours later we stood underneath our freshly pruned tree. My five year old was smiling as he looked up at the canopy above him. “See!?” I said to him, “The tree is still here! And look at how strong and healthy it is? He just had a haircut!” My little boy ran to the tree and wrapped his arm around the trunk. “I’m glad they helped you tree,” he said. My little two year old ran over, hugged his brother and giggled. “Look baby brother,” my oldest said as he let go of the tree and put his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “The tree doctors helped the tree, just like our doctors help us.” My two year old smiled mischievously at his big brother. “Tag!” he said whacking him on the arm as he ran away. My five year old paused a second to give his baby brother a head start before he took off after him laughing.
As I watched them run around like two typical little boys, it was hard not to appreciate just how much their doctors had helped them. Their medical team had taken two little boys who’s feet and legs were twisted and unable to work properly and gave them new life and newfound strength. I could see why my son saw himself in this old tree, and I found his sentiment beautiful. Looking up I no longer saw an overgrown, ugly, old weed tree. I saw what my son saw. I saw strength and beauty and a reminder that falling down does not equate to weakness.
Under the giant old Manitoba Maple, wrought with freshly cut scars but still standing tall, my two boys and I played chase while we waited for dad to come home from work.