Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forcing Bulbs and Children

Every Christmas my mom gives me an Amaryllis bulb. I love growing that freakishly tall flower with the brilliant red blooms. It brightens my kitchen and helps to tied me over until spring.

A few years back I tried to force some other bulbs – narcissus, crocus, tulips. It was a grand failure because I’m not so good with following directions. I’m more of a free-form gardener and there were many important details concerning how long to chill the bulbs, how much to water them, etc. A few bloomed, but most poked their little green heads out of the bulbs and changed their minds. Never one to let anything go to waste, I simply dug the bulbs out of their fancy dwellings and planted them in my garden outside. Sadly, they were never the same. The formerly forced bulbs could only send up a few green leaves, but no flowers. They haven’t been much better in the years since their fateful beginning.

I think there is a corollary to be drawn between forcing bulbs and forcing children. In much the same way as my failed bulb attempt, I have entered in to an exercise in forcing my daughter to play her saxophone. Just like the bulbs, in the beginning the instrument held great promise of beautiful, effortless sounds to come. She struggled to learn the fingering and squeaked out note after note until she could string together We Wish You a Merry Christmas. In much the same way I planted my bulbs on rocks in pretty pottery dishes, fantasized about the blooms to come, and waited. There is more work than you would imagine to forcing bulbs, just like there is more work than my daughter anticipated in playing the saxophone.

But spring has arrived, and the saxophone is not so much fun anymore. Practicing is no longer novel, it is hard work. Progress has slowed to a trickle. I have threatened to remove the instrument, taken away computer time and play dates, withheld dessert, and layered on the guilt, but my daughter, just like those crocuses, will not be forced. So I am letting go. I’m leaving this one to her.

She may yet be a concert saxophonist playing in Carnegie Hall or she may be happy to squeak along in the marching band or she may lay down her instrument and walk away. Whatever she decides she will not be forced in to this decision. I can not force her to bloom when I want her to, she’ll have to do that on her own time.

Once again my children are teaching me how to parent. Just like those bulbs, I can’t force my children to do anything. Well, technically perhaps I can, but it won’t be a real bloom. Like a forced bulb it will last for a short while in the wrong season and then be gone. And like a forced bulb, it might never bloom again. Better to provide my children with sunlight and rain and good nutrients and let them bloom on their own in their own season.


  1. Beautiful post Cara! I work in a foster/adoption agency, in addition to freelance writing, and see so many poor examples of parenting. It is refreshing to pleasure read about your joy of raising and "learning from" your kids :)
    Peace and Blessings,

    1. Thomasena-
      Thank you for your comment. This is my first post on this blog. I haven't even told family/friends about it, so it was really encouraging to get your comment. I write almost daily about this journey with my kids and decided I would start to share that writing. You are a special person to work in the fostercare world. Thank you for that work. Blessings, Cara

  2. Hey girl, Tiger Mother you are not! I am going through the same thing with the clarinet. I am chalking it up to Hannah wanting to be social and be part of a group (the band) more than wanting to be a really good clarinet player. I, like you, have backed away and will wait to see what happens next. I'm not sure that most really good classical musicans had parents like us, but my only hope is that we raise happy people. Thanks for sharing your new blog...I have a feeling further articles will be relevent to my journey as well. Yeah!