Grapevines and Family Trees

Three springs ago, I planted a grape vine. It was a dead looking stick that I hoped would someday grow into a vigorous vine that would produce delicious grapes and save our family money. That first summer I carefully tended to each delicate shoot. It made painfully slow progress and would droop pathetically when the Texas heat came. Eventually it gained strength in the roots and started putting out strong vines, but no fruit since it was the first year. We pruned it during the winter, but we didn’t prune it as much as was recommended. I knew that the fruit would be produced off the old wood, and I was eager to get as much fruit as possible.

The vine took off that spring and quickly had covered the trellis. Blossoms came, and then tiny grape clusters. Unfortunately, there were so many vines and leaves that the grapes were unable to mature as the plant was putting its energy into producing leaves and vines. The sunlight was also unable to get to the grapes, so they didn’t ripen. Although the vine produced probably fifteen grape clusters, we didn’t get a single edible grape. I was disappointed.

You can see the clusters of grapes hidden at the bottom of the vine. It produced a lot of fruit, but none of it was good.
Dad is helping me build a path. Thanks Dad! In the background you can see a massive vine. This was in May. It had grown over the entire trellis and the backside too.
These grapes ended up never maturing and stayed small, green, and sour.

I don’t like failure. I take it personally. I don’t like to think about my failures because it’s painful and I prefer to distract myself with other things that bring easier rewards. I busy myself with projects and once I face an obstacle, I start another project. The chaos that ensues tends to sap my energy and contributes to my depression. As I have become healthier, I have reflected on this part of my core personality and I am working to challenge some of my views about failure.

We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. One of the worst things to do with failure is ignore it or avoid it. Failure is a gift that can lead to success at hard things; and hard things often bring the greatest rewards. So I looked at that hairy mess of vines on my trellis the other day and I decided I would do some research and try again.

After watching a few hours of YouTube videos about grapes and pruning, I thought, “I can do this.” I went out with my pruners and a saw and I hacked into my grapevine with no mercy. Where I made my cuts, the vine bled clear liquid, but I knew that in order to get what I wanted, I needed to butcher my poor plant. I cut off about ninety percent of the plant and was left with barely anything. I am also going to prune around the grape clusters so they get plenty of sun. Most importantly, I am going to prepare for another year of failure, because chances are, I have more to learn. That’s okay.

This is the vine after the severe pruning I gave it a few days ago.
This is the pile of vines I cut off. This isn’t even all of it.

Because this isn’t about grapes. This is about me learning how to grow grapes. It isn’t the end result that matters. It is the process. It is the growth. It is about me, not about groceries, grapes, or food budgets. God teaches us through the soil and the plants and the animals. This world was created for us; so that we can fail and learn and fail and learn and in the end we find Him.

The grapevine keeps coming to my mind in my parenting. Parenting is hard. There is a lot of failure. Sometimes my kids look like vigorous vines growing and learning and running wild across the trellis of life. Then it seems that the fruit just isn’t turning out just right. I want to clarify. I don’t mean that they are bad kids or anything. I just mean that I sense that there is more potential in them than they are expressing. Just like the vine. The vine was good last summer. I did a lot of things right with that grapevine. It didn’t reach its potential because I was shy with the pruning. I made one mistake, and it effected what the vine was able to do.

Like the grapevine, I need to not be afraid of my failings as a parent. In fact, I need to look carefully at them. Success for my children depends on my willingness to face my failures and learn from them. Just like I did with the grapevine, I need to do my research. Last Sunday I was studying the church library on my phone and I came across this marvelous resource. It is a book published by the church in 2006. If every parent in the church would read and follow the principles outlined in this resource, we could change the world in a couple of generations. it is called Strengthening the Family, an Instructor’s Guide. I read the first session which is about parenting principles and practices. I’m thinking this book is for a stake parenting class or something? I’ve never heard of such a class, but I think it’s a great idea. Anyway, what I have read is excellent and gave me some good ideas for adjusting some of my parenting practices. Just like the YouTube videos and horticulture sites I learned from about the grapevine pruning, I can use the massive amounts of good information about children and their development to become a better parent and bring the potential out in my children.

Failure as a parent is excruciatingly painful for me. This week I had several painful failures. Tuesday I brought Austin home from preschool and carefully snuggled him to sleep on the upstairs couch. I planned to shush Wesley as soon as he came home from school to ensure that Austin would get a good nap. Wesley exuberantly walked through the front door and flipped it closed with a smack. I heard wailing from upstairs. So much for that.

When Austin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed from a nap, it is torture for everyone. He screamed for an hour in spite of my many solicitous efforts to stem the tide of toddler fury. Then he went on a tornado rampage across the house, climbing to get cookies that I had told him he was not allowed to get, playing with things he was not allowed to play with, and making messes everywhere. I started getting overwhelmed and I went to my room to calm down. Of course, they eventually made their way to my bedroom. It’s like gravity. They find me.

So my irritation continued to mount and I started yelling at Austin to stop crying. I knew I was going to hurt him if I didn’t calm down, so I told him and Wesley that Mom needed to take a timeout. I herded them out the door and locked it. Austin was not okay with that. Of course. He screamed and screamed pounding at the door.

Anyway, it was a mess. I was supposed to be making dinner. I had counselling and a parent meeting for track and a STEM showcase. I prayed, I called Ben, I calmed myself down. I unlocked the door. Austin had wet his pants and as I took them off, he chided me. “Austin very angry! Austin so sad! I was crying.” I comforted him and praised him for naming his feelings. I was still crying at that point and he patted me on the shoulder. “It’s okay Mom,” he said in his parent voice. “You gonna be okay.” He grabbed a tissue and started wiping my tears. I had him give me kisses for my owies and I smiled for him to show him he had made me all better. He was delighted. Eventually, with the help of an angel friend and my husband, I was able to pick up my son late from track. I missed the parent meeting. I also missed my other son’s STEM showcase because it conflicted with my counselling appointment.

I tearfully apologized to Layne for missing his special day. He had the sweetest expression of compassion on his young face. “I understand Mom. It’s counselling, and you need it. It’s more important.” Of course, that made me cry even more as I told him how proud I am of his work at school and how much it means to me.

Devin had his first track meet yesterday. This was his first meet and he was actually pole vaulting. I didn’t realize it was a forty minute drive to Ft. Worth, so I was late. I thought for sure I had missed the whole thing. Parent fail. When I got there, I ran around in the cold searching faces, trying to find Devin. There were hundreds of kids and at least four schools. If I had gone to the parent meeting the day before I would maybe have a clue, but I didn’t, and now I was paying the price. I hadn’t put on any makeup, and I felt like a total looser. Besides that, there were so many African Americans. Even after living in Texas for nearly two decades, I am still irrationally afraid of them. Other people blithely say, “I have lots of friends that are black.” I only know a few black people, and I feel awkward and wrong footed around them most of the time. On top of my normal level of social anxiety, I felt on the verge of panic in this environment. I tried timidly asking a few people for help finding Devin, but no one knew. I went back to the car to warm up, thinking of the hurt expression on my son’s cold face when I finally found him. I was devastated.

I eventually dried my eyes, screwed up my courage, and went out into the cold again, determined to face my fears and find the coach. The sun had gone down at this point, and the wind was cutting through my sweatshirt. I wished I had worn a coat! I fearlessly asked the strangers with Wester sweatshirts. “I need to talk to the coach.” I was directed to a large black man with massive shoulders and a confident stride. I paced for a few minutes, then pushed down my terror.

“Hi, I’m Bridgette Burbank,” I said firmly, “I’m looking for my son and I can’t find him.” My voice didn’t even shake. He flashed a bright smile that contrasted with his ebony complexion. “Yes, Devin Burbank and pole vaulting. He would be over there,” he pointed out the pole vaulting event, hidden behind a set of bleachers. As I walked to the event, I got a tender mercy from the Lord. I saw Devin’s lean lithe form run down the track and gracefully vault right over the bar. It was beautiful! That was my son, and I got to see him vault at his first track meet! I didn’t miss it after all. I watched him vault again a few more times, but he was unable to clear the bar as he did that first time. We ran to the van and warmed up. Then we got some Arby’s and drove home. He wasn’t angry at me at all, and we had some good quality time together. Most of all, I think he saw that his mom drove across the metroplex and froze her face off to come support him in something that was important to him. That made all the failure worth it for both of us. And when I got home, Ben had put the kids down for bed, and some angels had come helped me clean my house. Thank you YW!!

The good news about parenting and grape vines, is that you get lots of chances to fail and learn and try again. Apparently, it’s really hard to kill a grapevine, so chances are good that I will have many more years to try and fail at growing this one. It is also really hard to kill your relationship with your kids. Kids love their parents. They want us to succeed, and even though we make a lot of mistakes, and maybe some that are pretty bad, we can always try again. No matter how old we are, or they are. If I can face my failures as a parent, you can too. Honestly, you’re probably doing better than I am.

Even though it is has been a rough couple of days for me, I haven’t had any suicidal ideation. That’s some real progress. My counselor was very pleased and encouraging about the way I am dealing with my challenges. I get in that negative mindset where I can’t see anything I’m doing right, but the truth is, I am making progress in real ways doing very hard things. Celebrating those successes and learning from my failures is key to getting through this depressive episode.

Often this is how my path feels. Thankfully, I have the Savior to guide my steps.

It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus Christ loves me. I feel like such a mess! It seems like everyone else has stuff figured out and I am just flying by the seat of my pants screwing up everything. The fact is, he created me in all my scatterbrained, ADHD, passionate, over-analyzing, oversharing glory. For some reason, he loves me. Maybe I give him some comic relief as I live my crazy life! I definitely add some variety to the world. Most of all, I hope I am becoming the woman and the parent God wants me to be, whether or not I ever run a well managed home and schedule.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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