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Mighty Oaks From Tiny Acorns Grow

by Lisa Matter (9)

Last year, I wrote about how the devastation our beloved early childhood field is experiencing feels like the devastation of a forest fire…and how something will come next even if we can’t yet see it. One way to approach determining what comes next is to plant it ourselves. Sometimes this can seem easy and exciting, at other times, just as heartbreaking as the loss and destruction.

As we head into a new year, we face another time often filled with promise and wonder as we think about what might come next and what we might cease doing in order to find our day-to-day experiences in more alignment with our vision and values. A time to reflect on our work together to build thriving ecosystems for infants, toddlers, young children, and all the adults in their lives. 

While in the throes of many laments late last winter, feeling as though I’d never heal and be able to contribute again, I filled my pockets with fallen acorns on a walk. Each time I found them in my pockets over the next few weeks, the possibility of planting something new–of making an effort–allowed me the anticipatory joy of imagining a towering oak tree! 

All summer it rained and rained, and hailed and stormed. There were weeds I’ve never seen before in my backyard. I pulled weeds everywhere and collected them into a compost pile to build soil for a future growing season. I’ve composted other losses in the past.

As I made my way around the edge of the yard, I saw a little…seedling? plant? weed? It had oak-like leaves (I don’t remember at all that I had buried acorns in the backyard.) 

All of the plant ID apps said it was some kind of oak, with about 50 percent of the suggestions being poison oak–a noxious ground plant—and so I decided to pull it up. I put on a glove, to make sure I didn’t touch any part of a poison oak. 

And my heart broke. 

I cried out as the little acorn, with its stem growing up and hosting these three little leaves, its roots going down, revealed itself in my hand. The delicate root and the stem just barely lifted the cap from the body of the acorn, all of them still holding on to one another. 

I planted this acorn. I dreamed it would become a mighty oak here in my own backyard. And it believed me! The weather, soil, and whatever else it needed were amenable this year. And I pulled it up. Through my tears, I quickly dug another hole, nestled it back in, watered it again, and put the bricks around it to protect it from the lawnmower. The memory of planting the acorns all around the yard returns, how could I have so quickly forgotten my intent? How could I have forgotten my effort?

THIS is where I am on my journey. I am at the Acknowledge Harm stage. Sit with it. Stay with it. Feel it. Take action, if there is one to take.

It may be, like mine, harm you have done yourself that it is time to begin to acknowledge. It may be that you can’t unsee harm done by someone else who came before you and now is ready to be healed.

I wonder if you, too, have jumped at the first sign of life and inadvertently harmed it. I wonder if you have been led astray by someone else’s limited or narrow assessment of your dream and harmed it just as it would have begun to thrive on its own. I wonder if you have been able to hold yourself with compassion still, for all that has not yet gone well. I wonder if you have tried looking again, from a more still, slow, curious, or grateful place. I wonder if you have been resourced by one tiny miracle, one tiny delight that might give you enough hope to try again tomorrow. 

Planting for the future, in a way that is likely to thrive beyond us, will likely be a longer project than that of a single year. It will likely be more miraculous than we could possibly anticipate, given how impossible it may seem at this moment. We will likely need to learn new ways to tend to our work together in order to hand the thriving ecosystem off to the next caregivers. I still don’t know what will happen next, but I’m willing to keep trying, to keep looking again, and to keep learning from and acknowledging the harm I’ve done and the mistakes that I have made.