“What am I going to do with these girls?” my mother says to me. She rolls her eyes like we’re a bunch of troublemakers that she’ll have to sit down and give a firm talking to.
The sophomore, curled up in her bed for the weekend, fights the effects of an oral surgery. She can’t speak. A cold compress wraps around her head, resembling the gauze on a soldier in a war movie.
She stumbles down the stairs to my mother’s office in the basement and mumbles something without moving her lips. Shakes her Palm Pixi at my mom, who doesn’t understand a word.
The senior, interning from home for the day, manages two Skype chats, a Twitter feed, and a LinkedIn message board from the other room.
She starts running down lists of blogs and magazines to write submissions for. And the website project she’s been working on since she came home in May.
“She’s trying to tell me about some email from some guy at High Point. Something about an internship,” my mom tells me.
The valedictorian who graduated college a semester early should know this. She should know how it feels to want to squeeze every second out of four years.
What I want to tell her is this: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But she wasn’t a physics major. So I’ll start with what I know.
Gravitationally-speaking, the apple stays in one spot. It falls off the tree when the branches don’t support it anymore—when it outgrows the branches—and lands at the base. The apple always thinks it’s gotten so far, that it’s traveled miles and miles from where it started, but a single moment brings the apple back to one simple realization.
It hasn’t gone anywhere. Not really. It’s still lying in the same bed it’s slept in for the last dozen years. The paint on the walls and the orientation of the bed has shifted, yes, but it’s still rooted in place.
When I grow up, I’ll tell my kids not to plant an apple tree on a hill. I don’t expect them to understand, but I’ll start with a lesson.
“If you plant the tree on a hill, what happens when the apples fall off?”
“They roll down the hill,” they’ll tell me.
“Exactly,” I’ll say. “And what if it snows? What if it rains? Will the apple be protected?”
The difference between the apple that never falls from the tree and the apple that gets stuck nestled between the thick roots at the trunk is fundamentally huge.
One grows up without growing apart; the other stays stagnant and never learns how to thrive without the tree.
My mother never planted an apple tree. Not to my knowledge.
So she definitely didn’t plant it on a hill. We rolled four hours and eight hours from home, like little kids each testing how far we could go for a few months’ time before Christmas and Thanksgiving brought us back like magnets stuck to each other forever.
It’s an art, knowing where to plant that tree. Knowing how to raise a family and let it grow and learn and experience the world but making sure it knows that the same key will always open the front door.
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