2013 has been a year of miracles. It has been a year of letting go, bringing in, tearing down, and building up. It has been a year of death, and most remarkably, of birth. In February, I found out I was expecting my first child. From that instant, I became roots for the little being I was carrying. I provided nourishment and support; I was the source of life. On October 24 my son came into the world. Despite our no longer being physically connected, I continued to provide nourishment and support for him. Even when he no longer needs me to provide his every meal or carry him in my arms, I will be his roots.
Just as I am the roots for my son, my parents are the support system for me, even though I am grown. My father is very ill. My mother is his primary caretaker. She often becomes exhausted, saddened, and discouraged. However, despite these struggles, my parents continue to care for my siblings and me. They remain ever-present, encouraging forces, ready to lend an ear, make a coffee, or offer child-rearing advice. Watching my father napping by the fire with my son, I realize root systems extend far beyond one generation.
In the Giving Tree, the much-beloved book by Shel Silverstein (1964), the tree gives just about everything she has to the boy, until she is nothing but a stump. As I child, I loved the book and was moved by the generosity of the tree. As a young adult, I was angered by the story. The mother (or female caretaker) gave, gave, gave until there was nothing left, and the book seemed to imply it was just fine that the boy bled her dry. Now, as a mother, I read the story differently. The tree does not give everything she has to the boy. She may end up nothing but a stump, but she keeps her roots. She is able to give so much because she continues to be nourished by her roots, extending into the earth. Further, I’ve come to think that the tree’s giving is not about the boy, it is about her. It makes her happy to give. After all, as Susan Heitler writes in the article “What Can a Newborn Infant Teach Us About Joy?”, “It’s the giving, the nurturing, the taking care of, that stimulates the deepest feelings of joy” (November 18, 2013, Resolution, Not Conflict).
But, roots that are not allowed to grow deeply and to receive plenty of water and nutrients will not provide much to the plant. In order to be the best nurturer possible, it is important to receive plenty of nourishment for oneself.
In 2014, I will be the best self I can be, so that I can be the best mother, wife, daughter, and educator I can be.
I will sleep, eat well, and exercise so that I can provide nourishment for my son.
I will take time for myself so that I can be fully present and giving in my marriage.
I will care for my parents so that they may continue to experience the joys of receiving and giving and so that my root system stays intact as long as possible.
I will prioritize my own professional development so that I may bring the latest, best knowledge to my work with students and teachers.
I will appreciate and recognize those who are roots for me, and I will allow them to give to me so that they may be fulfilled.
We are all part of complex root systems, ones that extend far into the past and far into the future. I encourage you to think of those for whom you are roots and of those who are roots for you, and to consider ways to both nourish your own root system and allow others to provide for you so that they too may experience the joy of giving. I wish you, readers, a year filled with connections, family, giving, and receiving.
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).