A few days ago, when it was cold and rainy, we drove over to a new library to check out its kids’ area. My mind was elsewhere, as it always seems to be lately, and I was desperately trying to be present with Olivia and Caleb. Luckily, the library had a chalkboard wall and wooden activity boards that kept them busy so I didn’t feel too guilty about my mind wandering. Because we were there to read books, I also took advantage of the kids being occupied and I browsed the shelves in peace and quiet.
I found some of the usual suspects for Olivia – Fancy Nancy and Ladybug Girl – but needed something for Caleb. I looked for Loren Long’s Otis books, which is a series about a tractor and his friends that live on a farm. I didn’t find any of them, but I picked up another book by Long called Little Tree.
After reading it to the kids at home that night, I handed it to Ryan and told him he needed to look at it, too. It’s an easy book with beautiful, simple illustrations, but it has a powerful message that really touched me. It’s a book for all ages because of the lesson it teaches about courage.
The story is about a little tree with bright green leaves who was surrounded by other little trees just like him. As the seasons changed, he was too afraid to drop his leaves like the others did. His leaves turned brown and he stayed small as the forest began to grow around him.
I think that Little Tree sounds a lot like me. I’ve been holding on to our old life, the one we had in Virginia when Ryan was making good money and things were easy for us. My leaves turned brown long ago, but I’ve been too afraid of what will happen if I let go. The world has continued to go on around me while I’ve been grasping at things that ended a long time ago.
“One summer, Little Tree could no longer feel the sunlight.”
I feel like this book was meant to be in my hands right now. This week has been pretty dark for me. It’s been rainy here in Southern California, and the dreary weather has matched my mood. Today is my birthday, and this is not what I thought my life would look like at 35. I’m usually pretty excited for my birthday, but this is the first year I can remember just wanting to ignore it.
“Little Tree looked up at the other trees, at their branches reaching high into the sky. He remembered when the trees had all been his size. And then he let go.”
And that’s exactly what I have to do. I have to let go of the regret, the anger and the shame or I won’t be able to grow tall like those around me. I need to look at the people who were once in my place and see how they’ve grown despite their fears and struggles. This is where comparison is NOT the thief of joy. If they can do it, so can I. I need to let go of the things that are holding me back.
“As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.”
Isn’t that why we hesitate to do things? It’s hard to be stripped down naked and to be vulnerable. It’s tough to let go of things that were once beautiful. These problems could be anything or anyone depending on your personal story. For me, they are my expectations of what should’ve been.
I keep thinking that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Our life, our family, our home. We should be all of these things that I hoped for, but we’re not. I haven’t let go of my idea of what our life should be like, so I’m not living like I should be. I know that I have to accept reality before I can ever hope to grow into who I was meant to be.
The book ends with beautiful artwork showing how Little Tree finally grew big, just like all the others around him. The squirrels play in his branches again and the deer lounge in the shade of his leaves.
One day, I’m going to be on stage somewhere telling my story. I’m going to start it by saying that I once was a little tree scared to drop my leaves. I am little and I am scared now, but one day I will be big and strong. And I hope that when that day comes, all those little trees will look up at me, see how I’ve grown, and think, “I can do it, too.”