When visiting the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains last week, I really wasn’t expecting to come across an illustration of an important parenting truth. But there it was, the albino redwood in its subtle beauty, reminding me of a lesson it has taken me many years to learn.
As my friends and I strolled through the towering redwoods, their rich bark a striking contrast to the verdant canopy overhead and the carpet of ferns and other greens below, Bambi, a park volunteer, approached and enthusiastically volunteered to share with us a few nuggets of the natural world.
First she showed us tiny cones that in the right time will disperse miniature seeds that will in turn birth coastal redwood giants. Incredible.
Then she led the way to a tiny albino redwood sprouting from its parent tree (another form of redwood reproduction). The paleness of the offspring’s delicate needles created an intricate pattern against the darkness of the parent tree, leaving me a bit awestruck by the way two plants so closely related could each be so vastly unique.
And I was reminded of one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from parenting my daughter.
She’s 16 now, and according to most people she bears a resemblance to me. Even Facebook has mistakenly tagged her photo for mine (probably because she doesn’t have FB). Despite the physical similarities, though, our personalities differ in some significant ways.
As a child and later as a teen, I was motivated largely by competition and approval, so striving for academic excellence was par for the course. Beyond academics, I thrived on involvement in extra-curricular activities such as sports, band, journalism, and the church youth group. In time, I learned which activities clicked with me, bringing joy in and of themselves, and I immersed myself in their pursuit.
Shayna, on the other hand, was content for years to operate at her own pace–a daydreamer’s pace. Stories of all kinds resonated with her, the quirkier the narrative the better. She would come home from school and recount Mr. Baglio’s boyhood adventures and her mentor Wendell’s takes on reruns of Get Smart and Monk. Stories still speak volumes to her, and she can quote lines from books and movies alike with a delight that runs deep and with an awareness that stories are the way she processes life. Beyond that, she’s also quite content to be something of a homebody. She doesn’t feel the need for constant activity nor does she seek approval through accomplishment. She rarely compares herself with others.
Truth be told, I kind of wanted to be a “tiger mom.” Early on I gave my daughter all kinds of opportunities for sports and classes. Thankfully, I couldn’t muster the drive necessary for insisting that she be someone other than herself. After all, she did resist, and strongly. A tiger cub was not what she was created to be.
Now, more than ever, I love and admire my daughter’s qualities. While at times throughout the years I’ve been hard-pressed to understand why she doesn’t desire the level of activity I thrived on for so long, I’ve learned to let her be herself and pursue the few activities that resonate with her being. I’ve learned, albeit imperfectly, to listen to her heart.
I’ve also learned from her example. She has a strength of character that usually enables her to resist peer pressure and stand up for herself. Would that I had known at her age how not to give in to abusive treatment or base my actions on fear of the negative opinions of others.
This summer, Shayna is acting on a dream of her own and volunteering at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In terms of academics, she’s becoming more and more of an advocate for herself, her education, and her learning style, and she takes pride in a job well done. As she begins to consider any one of a half-dozen future careers, she’s embarking on a journey of discovery, one in which she still travels at her own pace but one that will lead her where God wants her to go.
The analogy of the albino redwood only goes so far. How thankful I am, though, that this daughter of mine is true to her nature, a nature she shares in part with me but one that exudes a beauty and depth of character all her own.