If you think the past doesn’t matter
please close your eyes
and open your belly.

Because ten years ago, pushing a child on a swing after school
I heard a mother snort:
the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

She wasn’t speaking about us.

So why did my belly tighten?
Why did my shoulders flee to my ears?

It seems my body’s been gripped – for longer than this decade –
invisibly braced for impact.

Until this morning,

when those words swum up to meet me.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

They appeared
through the fog of waking up to the memory of yesterday’s conversations,
through the reassuring plod of
changing the litter tray, unpacking the dishwasher, scraping plates, loading laundry, scrubbing the cat’s water bowls

all the while
being increasingly aware
of this alarm
trilling over and over in my bones:
my child is a teenager in full flight,
and I am being judged.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
No-one’s said it to me directly
but I’ve lived it.

Do you wince? Flinch?

Go on. Tell me.

Tell me I shouldn’t let words bother me.
Tell me not to care about the thoughts
of small or frightened minds –
my own, or yours, or theirs.

Thankfully, I have pen and paints,
curious and kind.

The pen asked:
who is the apple?
who is the tree?
and who decides what’s falling?
Let’s wonder why it matters.

The paint asked:
so, these children who emerge through your body and out your front door,
are they really a mirror ball
hurtling through your village
flashing out failure from a thousand angles
exposing a core you’ve worked so hard to hide?

Could each human, just as truly
be millions of years of DNA?
Are they not an untold history
made present?

Might every child have sprung into life, guiltless and guileless?

Might she, like me and we
be new every moment?

Might what we call falling
in fact be

soaring? Or learning? Or growing? Or giving?

Toss me all our metaphors:
tending the vine, pruning the roses, pick of the crop

can you list a dozen more?

May my ribs open wide enough
to recognise another’s worst fears.

May my heart remember – with a chuckle or a sob –
that children are not my apples
and I am not their tree.

Could it be, painfully and exquisitely,
that it’s so very human to long
not just for my children to soar –
but to long for them to be seen to soar –
so that I may find it easy for both of us to belong?

Could it be that every parent, like every human
to drink deeply from our shared springs
to laugh in the same breeze
to swing high, tickling our toes
on this same wide sky
no matter what our children say or do?

Could it be
that our children are not apples;
just as we were never apples;
and just as we are not trees?

Is it safe
to free myself
from being anyone’s apple or anyone’s tree?

Is it safe
to wish the same for her?

Could it be
that our children are already learning, quicker than we know,
that they share our same time and space and air?

Could it be
that our children arrive
to find how their pleasure and peace
is fed by the good will
of lives beyond their own?

Could it be
sometimes painfully true

that we live dense and inseparable
as branch is to stem
as stem is to core
as soil is to orchard
as orchard is to earth
as earth is to water.

Could it be
that you
are you

and they
are they

and also we
are we

with them?

Could it be
that we are attached to a child’s glossy bloom
for reasons beyond their wellbeing?

Could it be
that we did not utterly choose this orchard?

Could it be
that no single arborist
has planted us here?

And yet, could we agree
that we share a certain knowledge of the nature of things:

that apples tend to fall
and that when they do
they are graded by fellow humans
for cooking, for medals, for sale, or

for culling from next year’s crop;

yes, and could it be that we care how apples

and children

are evaluated
because another person’s pursed lips
can hinder our reach for soil, water and air;
for belonging, love, adventure and joy?

And could we agree
that the apple and the tree are an old
old story?

Perhaps it is a tale
spouted by frightened mouths
and handed down through hungry bellies.

And perhaps that parable
comes at the very price we don’t want to pay:
the safety of our children to learn & live, over and over;
the trust that we will not be left to whither alone;
the hope that hearts will provide what our heads cannot.

No apples.
No trees.
Just humans – green; and yet

carrying some kind of ancient drive
for learning to thrive

Could it be —
whatever our roots —
that we have lived long enough
to receive ourselves, to receive our children,
to receive one another
in a space beyond metaphor?

– Naomi Byrnes

Notes about the art journal page:

Acrylic paint, mixed out of the primary colours of red, yellow and blue and a touch of white. Primed with a layer of gloss.

Listening to Mary McKenzie’s meditation* yesterday, the theme was “fun”. The discussion afterwards really got me thinking about the concept of having fun, even when – or especially when – I’m experiencing worry or concern or that things aren’t “right’ in my life or for those I love.

As the day passed, I found myself wanting to finger paint! Fun!

I headed outside and loved the blurring effect that happens, and the thrilling shiver of delight up my ribs at getting messy and having my fingertips thick with paint against the paper.

Then, this morning I went on an early walk, talking quietly aloud to myself to work through the thoughts and judgements that were coming up in me, transforming those into feelings and needs.

As I sat down to have a coffee and enjoy belonging in a local cafe, I found myself feeling playful. A request emerged: draw a picture of not the perfect mum but the acceptable mum. That’s the scrap of paper you can see taped to the apple.

I jotted down some of the things that I hear a “mum” is expected to be. (I noticed that perfect isn’t one of them. I reckon an acceptable parent is seen as someone who’s about 3.5 stars out of five. If you strive too hard or look “too perfect” I reckon that also leads to exclusion because it’s hard for others to relax around you and accept their own choices ).

It might seem strange that putting this down on paper was actually a relief. But why carry it around in my head or body, invisible even from me?

I found such compassion and a sense of freedom by making this visible to myself, seeing how impossible it is to live up to these judgements. And I also have tenderness for why part of me can still try unconsciously to achieve this impossible task. I see that the culture “we’re swimming in” (to borrow Brene Brown’s phrase) so often reinforces these high standards for mothers and links them to our fundamental human needs for belonging, acceptance and safety for our children. The acceptable mother: a stereotype you might see reinforced in so many places – advertising, school newsletters, and that chat amongst family and friends. And, in times of difficulty as I parent, they come back to nip at me and add suffering to pain.

I’m so glad to have art journalling and the skillset of nonviolent communication to find compassion, wisdom and peace.