What comes before us


Last night around dark, I was talking to one of my favorite chickens, Cochi. I quietly apologized for disturbing her, removing eggs she so loves to set upon at this time of year.

Suddenly, I flashed back to myself as a child of about 7 or so.

The night was similarly quiet and cooling down, the chickens white instead of Cochi’s black and shiny plumage. I remember being much more scared of being pecked then-much like my 9-year-old daughter is now. I was helping Gramma in her hen house. She collected around 100 eggs daily, cleaned them, and sold them.

Caught in this odd mental juxtapositioning of my life at my daughter’s age and my life of today, I felt somewhat like I was time-traveling. The many daffodils that cheerfully greet these still-cold May mornings? Gramma planted hundreds of them, too, in long, thick rows. The bond between myself and my second son, this connectedness I love as I help our 13-year-old son put away his" rabbits? I am reminded of my father watching me, as I coaxed a new born calf to drink her first bottle. My choice of climbing a mountain to see the sunrise many mornings when I’m out at 5.30 a.m.? I’m transported back to the warmth of a Midwest summer’s morn, with a light mist rising off the pasture, hearing the flapping of my boots against my bare legs as I shepherd the cows home to my mother in the milking parlor.

My mind jumped forward several decades, suddenly connecting my childhood with my current adulthood.

Now, though, I wondered what impact my joys and my choices-and those of my husband -- have on our children. Will they, too, stop short one day with these realizations?

But then the first example of "maternal influence" that pops into my head also makes me laugh out loud. My love of flowers has definitely impacted them -- particularly the boys. I have taken these two to many garden tours, happily hauled them with me to garden shows and botanical gardens (in many states and even into Canada), and whiled away more hours in garden centers than even they could count.

We have different speeds at this places, and surely, different mental states as I plan and dream-and they, occasionally, have wrecked unintended havoc. (Their enthusiasm for pulling wagons seemed endless and impossible to curtail.) For several years, my thoughts centered around ponds, brightly colored fish and grasses dancing at the water’s edge. The boys’ only criteria for a "good garden"? Fish, preferably big and bold.

This influence showed up very clearly on a trip to visit Geebee and Pop in Florida, when they were about six and four, They busied themselves with their shovels and buckets and the warm sand, industriously moving piles from one spot to another, only occasionally throwing it in someone’s eye. Interested in how large their sand castle would be, and the many special moats it would have, I asked them what they were building? Their reply? "A water feature-just look at it, Mom!"

Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that my oldest insists on learning Spanish-due to my choice in career, he’s been exposed to international visitors since his first trip with me at six weeks. I cherish the mental video I have of about twelve Spanish-speaking college students-from at least six countries-all surrounding my screaming baby. Their solution? Start singing a song called "I Have a Dairy Cow ..." (It worked, too.)

Their many hours of watching and "helping" their skillful and talented father build things, has luckily, successfully moved down a generation. I have no patience-and even less skill-with anything I have to construct or assemble. Some years ago, one of the dogs threw up and I desperately wanted to use a new rug shampooer. But, I just could not figure the dumb thing out. Our middle son came to my rescue, saying, "Mom, you’ve seen us put together Lego things of more than 500 pieces. How hard can this be?" (The machine worked quite well -- when put together correctly.)

Our youngest represents the most vivid example of how strong an impact her parents have on her life-in every way. She arrived into our lives just four months shy of three years old, flying to her forever home from her first country of Guatemala. Within hours, she went from "the land of eternal spring"... to a world of puffy winter coats, fast-moving sleds down driveways and ice-covered grounds that made her slip and fall.

Now, she complains how "hot it is!" when the temperatures hit, oh, about 70 in the early spring. She cross country skis (with Mommy) ... she downhill skis (with Daddy) ... she lobs around lacrosse balls and lacrosse sticks (with her brothers and their friends).

Not so long ago, in a fit of exasperation at myself, I called my mother. "You know, Mom," I start in, "it’s all your fault." Then I launched into a retelling of some silly thing I’d volunteered to do. It was something that I thought was important, but now I was regretting because it was taking more time than I had planned for.

"You know why this is your fault, don’t you, Mom?" I asked her. She was laughing at me over the phone, but she actually replied that she didn’t know. She wanted to know exactly what she had done to cause this situation that I had put myself into.

"Well, it’s all because of all that you and Dad always made us do. The way you fed calves, drove tractors and worked on the farm? How you did all the books for the business and still kept on top of the church newsletters when it was your turn? How you taught Sunday School, went to your homemakers’ group meetings-and still went to most of the basketball games and drill team shows?"

I paused, thinking of the millions of things that my parents had shown me. I thought of how they had always lived their lives as an example of a life well lived, with a dedication to each other, to their farm, to their children, and to their community.

"Well, Mom," I said. "if you had not done all those things, well ..." I stopped myself from choking up a bit, and ended it more with a joke. "Well, it would have been an easier life for me to carry on all your traditions, you know."

Yes, surely, what comes before us shapes us.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.


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