What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. —“Hamilton”
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Turns out, I guess I’ve spent most of my life as a gardener.
Yes, that’s a metaphor, thankfully, for those who depend on me to feed them.
My kids are older now — two of them have moved out, the other one is navigating his way through high school. And I guess I’ve been relegated to the role, for the most part, of planting seeds with them.
What I mean by this is the older ones are now in charge of their own lives, and the youngest is trying to figure out how much of his life he can be in charge of. Which means that I’m not really in charge of much of anything. The best I can do is plant seeds—ideas, values, thoughts—that, hopefully, take root someday.
My parents were really good at this facet of parenting. I mean, back then, the dynamic of raising children was different, so it was a little more “hands on” than just planting seeds. Still, there’s very little doubt that much of what they taught didn’t take hold until later in life for me. And, maybe it’s because I followed a relatively narrow road on my way to growing up (and I use that term advisedly), those seeds didn’t have a chance to flourish on their own until after I’d been on my own for a while. Making mistakes. Getting slapped upside the head by life a few times. That’s when seeds really start to grow.
My kids have a little more freedom than I did; that’s just the world we live in. And, every once in a while, one of those little shoots pop up. And, honestly, it’s not that I ever had any great storehouse of wisdom to convey. What I have is a lengthy list of mistakes and missteps that I hope my kids can draw from.
But gardening was also most of what I did as a teacher, especially for the last 20 years or so. Believe me, I did not spend four years in college and countless hours alone in a practice room so that I could get excited about students playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Of course I had higher musical aspirations. But, in the end, with beginners, all I ever really did was plant seeds — try to make the soil welcoming for those little germs of musical interest to grow, and try to keep everything watered. The people who had the real chance to turn those seeds into artistic accomplishment came along after me.
But, then I think, even those people are really only tasked with strengthening the roots and keeping the plant alive. I spent a few years teaching high school, and in that time, I had some really incredible musicians come through my doors, kids who I am proud to say are still involved in music, either as performers or as teachers themselves. Even at that, I look back and think that the best thing I did was not screw them up. They were headed on that path all by themselves; if I helped them along, then I am pleased.
Yeah, yeah — of course that probably means there were those I did screw up and never knew about. We don’t talk about them. They’re like Bruno.
The point is this: the world needs gardeners. Parents, I know the ethos has changed around parenting, but you can’t let the only voices in your kids’ heads be their peers or (God forfend) their online friend group. And teachers, be careful what seeds you plant or you allow to take root — weeds grow much easier than fruit.
And bad gardening, actually, is sort of tragic.
Train a child up in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. —Proverbs
Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at email@example.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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