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Harvesting berries and insights

August 20, 2013

Harvesting berries and insights

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

August can be exhausting for parents. The cumulative impact of camp schedules, missed naps, late nights, heat waves, and escalating sibling squabbles take a toll on kids, leaving parents frazzled. I now understand why my mother and her generation of peers eagerly awaited the first day of school.

So on a recent summer day when my wife, Lori, was working and I faced the prospect of a long day at home with our two restless kids, Zoe and Adam, I headed for the hills. We loaded the car with essentials: snacks, lunch, and drinks, caffeinated for me.

Under a cloudless sky we wound our way through a patchwork of small towns, forests and fields. The familiar drive, a route that also leads to our favorite apple orchard and state park, transported the three of us into joyful conversation about past adventures.

Before any back-seat yelling even started, we turned off a narrow gravel lane, arriving at Summit Farm for our third season of berry picking. I parked along the tired strawberry fields, smiling at the weekday absence of cars and people.

Focusing Zoe and Adam’s exuberant energy, I directed them to the barn where they collected a wicker basket with six cartons. Up the grassy slope and past the house, we worked our way deeper into a quiet, fertile land, encircled by a thick forest of sugar maples where rows of drooping bushes awaited our nimble fingers, and watering mouths.

We started in the less frequented back rows where the kids’ colorful caps disappeared under arched branches as they set about picking and eating.

Soon their voices echoed, each proclaiming, again and again, “I found the biggest blueberry in the whole world,” then shouting to locate each other in the green maze, and finally quieting as they picked alongside each other.

Much has changed since our first visit here, when pre-verbal Adam crawled from plant to plant, strawberry juice sticking to his fingers and dripping from his chin. Now he skillfully adds detail and humor to big sister’s ramblings. He also increasingly resists her tendency to direct his thoughts and moves, with shouts and shoves that seem bigger than his almost-4-year-old stature.

With my mind stilled by the landscape, I notice that Zoe is imposing her words and direction on Adam with the frequency and tone she often receives from me.

“Zoe,” I say, “I notice that the more you use your words to coach Adam, the more he yells at you.” “That’s because when I tell him what to do he doesn’t listen to me,” she replies, painfully confirming my self-realization.

“Do you think you use your words to coach Adam a lot because I use my words to coach you a lot,” I ask, to which a nearby mother who has just arrived with her children knowingly chuckles.

“Yes, you coach me too much, Daddy,” she tells me in a confident, soon-to-be first grader voice.

“Zoe, I will do my best to coach you less, and if you think I am coaching you too much, you can say: ‘Daddy that’s too much coaching,’” an invitation which I hope will empower her and, at some point, I will no doubt regret.

Then, I added, “And when Adam is yelling at you, can you do your best to stop coaching him so much?” She agreed, but I am under no illusion that we have seen the end of coaching and yelling in our family. Still, the insight I gained and the peaceful tone of the conversation was juicier than the biggest blueberry in the whole world, especially when the first day of school is still four weeks away.

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