Updated: Nov 2, 2022
A.J. is three years old. Three is, to my mind, the optimum age for humans. Three-year-olds can walk (until they don’t want to and then the nearest adult is always willing to carry), they can feed themselves (if not without mess), and they can carry on a conversation (albeit with limited verb tenses). Most importantly they still believe things – like magic and anything their adults tell them. Last Sunday A.J. and I went looking for acorns. I have known and played with enough three-year-olds to know that anything sounds inviting when suggested by an adult using words like “Wow!” and with appropriately outrageous facial expressions. Thus, when I suggested that we might find ACORNS! under the big oak tree, she was all in. We crossed the driveway that separated us from the tree, my wrinkled hand holding her chubby one, and I bent over slightly to scour the ground for acorns. A.J. mimicked me and stared with intensity. “Look,” I pointed, “we found some.” I picked up several of the smallest acorns I’d ever seen and dropped them in her outstretched palm. “Do you know what will happen if we plant one of these acorns? One day it will grow up to be a big tree like this one.” She tilted her head and gazed up into the dark green canopy of leaves without a shadow of disbelief in her face. “Let’s plant one.” I grabbed a short twig and began scratching in the dry ground. What I managed to create was more a depression than a hole, but – with those huge green eyes watching – I dropped an acorn and attempted to cover it with a few grains of sand. “I don’t got one,” A.J. sighed and then picked up her own twig and began scratching at the dirt, determined to plant her own acorn. With both our efforts to make a difference in the world completed, we headed back toward A.J.’s mama, whose own hand I’d held when she was three, whose own green eyes had stared at me with wonder. “Look, Mama, I got pine cones!” she squealed as she held out her hand. “Acorns,” I corrected. “Acorns, Mama! I got acorns!” Time froze for a moment. Not just long enough for me to become wistful, but long enough for me to remember the afternoon the week before when I’d been out walking in the quiet of early fall, so quiet that I could hear acorns and pine cones falling around me, landing in the sand with a soft thud. One of the things that fell, though, was different: a short twig, still bearing green leaves, had landed among the fallen acorns with one stubborn acorn still attached. It was beautiful, but it was sad. I realized, standing there absorbing the scene – my Kate all grown-up and her A.J. growing up so fast – , that an essential part of any acorn becoming an oak tree is the letting go. The acorn has to loose its grip on the limb that is all it’s ever known. The acorn has to separate itself from the leaves that sheltered it from the wind and kept it attached to its source of nourishment. The acorn has to risk the fall to reach the earth which is where it will change into what it was meant to be. Three-year-olds are perfect humans, but they will not remain three. They will not always need to hold our hands. They will not always believe everything we say. One day they will, like acorns, let go. And with any luck they will land softly on the way to becoming trees.