Much of parenting young children and teens is made up of small sacrifices: forgoing minutes or hours of sleep when they are babies; forfeiting time and treasure to support their interests; disadvantaging our agenda to deeply listen to and attend to their needs. Sometimes, the requirement is small; other times, a complete surrender of self is called for. There is no promised moment of acknowledgment where the reward or pay-off is felt. Rather, child-rearing is more akin to becoming what ecologist call a ‘nurse log.’
As a parent-nurse log, you lay down and surrender, so that new life is sourced. When a nursing log falls down, it allows more light to emanate into the space where it once stood. If accomplished, as you fall, you illuminate more; as you decay, you bestow an unending and ample supply of nutrients and energy so that new saplings can form and mature to their intended height and beauty. Interestingly, when a tree is standing only about 5% of it is living material. But when it falls, it transforms completely from a tree to a log. The tree resurrects into a fresh life and now contains 5 times as much living matter than before. (National Public Radio station KUOW, 3/21/2012). The tree is utterly altered into beautiful, rich, organic material--- ready to spawn a new generation through the sacrifice of its body.
Nurse logs not only give water and nutrients, but they offer disease protection. An article in Nature, (2010, Volume 466, pp. 752-755) reveals that soil pathogens in certain forest communities are hostile to a specific tree species. These disease-producing microorganisms appear to congregate in the neighborhood of that species, and may impede seedling growth. Nurse logs provide a protective barrier from these pathogens, and increase seedling survivorship. How Joyous! We both nurture and protect.
Over time, the new younger trees start growing larger than the nurse log and nothing of the old tree is left. It loses all of its original “definition,” it’s body. Finally, the nurse log is completely gone, leaving only the roots that were once wound around and through the nurse log. Last year, overnight, I left my job, my home, my community because my daughter was gravely ill. She spent a total of 4 months in a hospital in far away cities. I left my job so quickly that my computer was still on when I returned 4 months later....completely changed, completely emptied for the cause.
According to naturalist Larry Daloz of Whidbey Island, WA: "One thing I think about when I look at a nurse log like this is that after it falls, the soil it leaves behind is much richer than what was there before, and maybe that would be a great way to live. May our legacy that we leave behind be richer than what we found when we came." (NPR station KUOW).
And that is humbling as a parent. My daughter's life is much richer now; she is stronger, braver, lighter, her laugh is true and deep.