It was a perfect August morning for peach-picking.
My wife and I were a week away from driving my oldest daughter, Lauren, back to college in Boston for her senior year. After many months of virtual learning from home, the time was “ripe” for her return to in-person learning. To celebrate this pandemic milestone, we planned a final summer outing to a local farm to pick peaches together.
As we gathered with other families and waited for instructions from the couple who owned the farm, warm memories of our children’s younger days picking apples each fall flooded my mind. I knew I would miss days like this with Lauren.
In fact, I couldn’t help likening her imminent departure from our lives once again to the process of picking ripe fruit from a tree. As the farming couple explained, “If the peach is ripe and ready to pick it should come easily off the tree.” After so much pandemic family time, there was no doubt Lauren was ready to leave again.
The farmers added that picking peaches reverses our usual traffic-light associations with red and green. A red peach means “go ahead and pick,” a green peach means “stop — not ready for picking yet.” As Lauren walked in front of us toward the sunny peach patch, I stopped to savor the moment.
Then, it happened.
As if in slow motion, Lauren caught her foot on uneven ground and fell down in pain. No! We hadn’t even picked one peach yet, but she was concerned her ankle might be broken. And she needed to move into her new apartment in just seven days! So off to the nearest emergency room we went for an X-ray. Fortunately, it was just a sprain, but she left in crutches.
Then, something else happened.
Just a few days before our scheduled drive to Boston, Tropical Storm Henri emerged as a threat to the East Coast. The forecasters said it could become the first hurricane to hit Boston in 30 years. Plus, a full moon meant higher tides and greater chances for flooding. What are the odds?
Suddenly, the time did not seem ripe for our back-to-school trip. But because Henri’s intensity and direction were hard for forecasters to predict, my wife and I had to make one of those harrowing parenting decisions. Either we could drive Lauren to Boston early, move her stuff into her apartment, and have her stay safe at my brother’s house during the storm, or we could drive her after the storm but then risk many travel dangers on our return home.
Parenting is full of difficult decisions
We ended up driving her to Boston early to beat the storm, but it went against our parental instincts. What kind of parents drive their child into peril rather than away from peril?
That question flitted through my mind every time various emergency and tree-cutting vehicles with their orange cones hanging off the sides passed us on the Massachusetts Turnpike. By the time we moved Lauren in, her ankle felt better, but she still had to hobble to her third floor bedroom.
Our roller coaster experience with Lauren reminded me that parents always have to make tough decisions, whether we (and the conditions around us) are ready or not. In other words, ripening can’t be rushed.
Sometimes you collect juicy, red-cheeked, perfectly ripe fruit in the peach patch of parenthood. Other times, your child sprains her ankle and you end up in an emergency room before needing to navigate a hurricane as you move that child across several states.
On the way home from Boston, I felt an incredible mix of emotions. Relief that Lauren would be safe. Happiness because she was about to begin her senior year. Worry that she might be overconfident about her ankle. Sadness that our move-in goodbye weekend was curtailed so dramatically.
But I also couldn’t help thinking of a final piece of advice the farming couple gave at our peach-picking session: “Handle the peach like an egg.”
Peaches, like children, are precious and often vulnerable, especially when they’re young. As children age, parents can no longer handle them like an egg in our hands. We can always, however, hold them like an egg in our hearts.