Family Tree

The tree might have been the real reason we bought this house.

A massive Chinese Elm spreading long, graceful branches over the grass and the gravel area beneath it.

To anyone else, the yard might have seemed plain or ordinary. There were no stone retaining walls or peaceful waterfalls; no fancy covered deck with seating areas or fire-pits; and even the plants were non-descript.

But to the mother of a two year-old boy, this yard was a magical place just waiting to be discovered. Somewhere to run or to drive a Cozy Coupe; to be a superhero, pirate, or knight; to splash in kiddie pools and eat popsicles in the heat of the summer.

The tree held this magical place in a massive hug of shade during the hottest parts of a summer’s day.


When you take a little boy who has lived in a small condominium with no yard and unleash him onto a quarter-acre lot his world suddenly becomes quite a bit bigger.

Over the course of the next fifteen years, the tree shaded several kiddie pools, playhouses, and teeter-totters; a sandbox and a fort; countless backyard birthday parties and endless rounds of summer popsicles; two crazy puppies and a little girl reading her treasured books. It has supported pinatas and a rope swing; bird nests and squirrels running amongst the branches.

Two little kids have grown before my eyes in the shade of that tree.

Yesterday my son was outside doing some yard work when he first noticed it.

A huge vertical crack down the trunk of our tree, almost breaking the trunk in half. It was so deep, I could have put my whole hand inside.

This huge branch, such a critical part of our tree, had been trying to split away for some time now without us noticing.

And now, suddenly? This branch was ready to go, the massive tree no longer able to hold on.

Like my son, who had already been busy that morning.

Hey, I thought I might start packing up some things in my room. You know, get a head start for September when I leave for college…

And I was powerless to stop it.

If I didn’t act quickly and the trunk let go too soon, the branch would hit the house and cause a lot of damage.

My eyes were teary. I felt sick inside and certain that we couldn’t save the tree; that this part of our home I had loved so much would be cut down and turned to mulch. Nothing but a memory from here on forward.

Nothing but the memories.

I made a pile of things to get rid of before I leave; you know, stuff I’ve outgrown or don’t want anymore…you can look through it if you want.

The arborist came and carefully examined the split, making notes and giving advice.

It would take all afternoon and a crew of seven men, but he felt that they could save the tree.

Finally I could catch my breath. I hadn’t realized just how much this particular element of our home meant to me.

Where the huge branch once grew now there is a raw scar, glaring at me out the kitchen window. A reminder of what once was, which will heal over in time.

And without it, the tree will still thrive.

I’m taking this duffel bag with me, so I can pack enough clothes for my visits home…

And go on to the next round of adventures beneath it’s shade.


  1. Sherri, you did it to me again. I’m teary. This transition is so hard and so necessary–I love the way you are handling it, with beauty and grace.

    My two year old would love that tree. And we bought a new house last year because we could imagine him growing in it. I hope our next 16 years are as wonderful as your last.

  2. You made me cry again. You have such a gift for bringing up memories and feelings and emotions…and sometimes tears.

    The part about your son saying that he thought he’d get rid of some stuff immediately made me think of the last Toy Story movie…

    You are a brilliant writer. I’m so glad your tree could be saved!

  3. Oh Sherri, what a beautiful analogy! Lovely, as always…

  4. Oh, what a rough, analogous time for your tree to split. I’m glad they could save it. I’m crying just thinking about one branch – and that’s without even factoring your son in!

  5. Oh my, you made the tears come today.
    This is really a lovely, lovely post. 🙂

  6. That’s right. The tree will be different. But it can still thrive. The same for the family. This is a beautiful piece.
    And this morning, as my 9yo son was firing off a description of yet another scene from an imaginary tale involving Jedi Bob and ninjas and other characters that make my head spin, do you know who I thought of? You. And your son. And your post at Sluiter Nation. And I tried a little harder to listen and stay with his endless crazy story.

  7. What a lovely analogy. But oh, my heart hurts, knowing that one day I want my kids to soar away from home but also want to keep them so close forever. I hope when the time comes, I can handle it with the grace you exhibit 🙂

  8. I found this via KLZ on Twitter, and it has me all weepy at work. I have a 9-month-old boy… we live in a tiny condo… so I can only imagine how buying the house with the big tree was so important to creating so many memories. I’m relieved you were able to save it (and glad you raised a boy who is smart enough to know that he’s still going to want to come home).

  9. I am so glad the tree will grow back. What a wonderful shady place to play!

  10. KLZ was right this is sad! But a great analogy. I loved going to my grandparents and climbing in their trees or playing in the bamboo stalks as a kid.

  11. Every time I read your beautiful words, I feel like I learn a bit more about how to be strong and resilient.

    You inspire me beyond words, Sherri.

    The tree will still thrive…it truly will.

  12. I’m amazed by how many metaphors there are for this change attending your family.

    You find them and weave them into your own story…

    And it is breathtaking.

    I am glad you saved the tree and misty-eyed at the scar at its side.

    But what strength it displays. And it still stands tall.

    Hugs to you and the beautiful family your tree has shaded.

  13. The tree lives – hooray! It’s still absolutely gorgeous. And yes, what a perfect yard for kids. Believe, the fancy plants, etc. etc. get TRASHED. Also, as I’ve discovered, that kind of yard is impossible to find in my neck of – literally – the woods.

    So glad everything is continuing to grow nicely chez Tweener.

  14. The tree and your son? Will continue to thrive. And will always be with you in some way or other.

    Such a beautiful piece, Sherri.

  15. This is absolutely beautiful. Lovely, lovely words.

  16. Love your beautiful words and I love that tree!!!

  17. I am already hormonal…crying again!

  18. This? This is beautiful.

    I am having a hard time dealing with my daughter being nine and getting ready to start fourth grade.

    I hope that by the time she starts college, I will be able to handle it as beautifully as you are handling the transition with your son.

  19. I’m all teary of course. What amazing roots you have given that tree and it’s branches.

  20. This post was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one write words like that – and I’m very serious. I don’t have children of my own, so it’s often to really relate to any parent who blogs, but I have a seven year-old (very soon to be eight) sister who tugs at my heart strings this way.

    My closest connection to this post is thinking about her going away to college some day. And, I can’t. I simply can’t picture it happening. Not yet! But, I bet when the day comes, I’m going to feel much like you are now…teary and very much attached.

    But, I like what Jessica said – what amazing roots you have given that tree and its branches. 🙂

  21. Sherri, I am in awe of your power with words…seriously. You inspire me everytime I read you, and you make me “feel”. You are a truly amazing writer, and I hope that one day I can learn to write as you do.

  22. Beautiful writing, Sherri. Made me tear up, as usual 😉

    But I’ve always loved a good tear-jerker of a story.

  23. I’m glad he caught it so it could be saved….for future generations of your own family or for another family, there is a lot of life left in that shady tree. (I’m going to make a note to go inspect my favorite tree tomorrow!)

  24. oh my.

    they grow up so fast, too fast, and yet sometimes? Not fast enough. I’m on the other end, where I don’t have personal space or privacy in the bathroom…thank you for reminding me to enjoy it while it lasts.

  25. You have written down a beautiful thing here. Thank you so much for sharing it with us…

  26. I’m completely teary eyed. What a beautiful piece.

    You’ve given that tree and those roots such a wonderful home to grow in, just like you’ve given your son.

  27. I’m glad they didn’t have to cut the whole tree down. That would have been terrible. Son leaving for college, that is difficult. Strength, my friend.

  28. Sherri!

    I cannot come here anymore!

    I am just but a few steps behind..and I can barely stand it.


    Much love to you, woman.


    Thanks for making me MAKING me milk these last couple of years.

  29. What a beautiful, perfect analogy. I can’t believe he’s packing already. They want to leave don’t they? As much as we want everything to stay the same they need to keep going, it’s heartbreaking.

  30. I love this piece! My sons are preparing for college in the fall. I’m both annoyed that they aren’t growing up fast enough and scared that they are growing up too fast! You said it all perfectly!

    xo Susie

  31. Sherri,

    Wow, what a metaphor—and this makes me think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” which is one of our favorite books. I can’t bear to think of the day when my kids will be grown up enough to leave home, but…you’ve managed to bring it all into perspective for me here. This is haunting, achingly beautiful—and I’m sooooooo happy they were able to save your tree! XOXO

  32. AAAHHH!!! I am crying. I am having an awful, terrible, no-good, really bad, Boy Mom afternoon with my no-napping toddler and now I’m crying because one day HE IS GOING TO LEAVE ME.

    So thanks for the perspective. And the tears.

    And I’m glad they were able to save your tree.

  33. What a touching post. I think that this is a part of life that we’re generally ill-prepared for. It just doesn’t seem natural to let go of what/who we’ve held onto for so long, does it? Somehow, we find a way to get through it, these splitting branches and branching out children. We’re never the same afterwards, that’s for sure. But somehow, someway, somewhere in all of this, we are made the better for it, the letting go, letting them branch out on their own to grow some more.

    I pray that all goes well as your son goes off to school, for him and for your mama heart.

  34. Sherri, I’m starting to worry about you! Can you make it from now to September?! Hugs, Sis!

  35. Awwww, hang in there! My mom says this leaving for college stuff DOES get easier!!

  36. The year my son left for college, our old golden retriever died (the one we got as a pup when our son was 4 years old), and I remember feeling EXACTLY as you do. It is a very tough transition, but all we can do is go on to the next round of adventures. Hang in there! (p.s. LOVE the tree!)

  37. Oh, Sherri. I just love the imagery you’ve painted here. I can just see those pinatas, popsicles and birthday parties so clearly. Makes me want my own little metaphorical tree to stay tiny forever. Such a lovely post.

    On the plus side though… since the real tree is now smaller, that means less leaves you’ll have to rake come fall… right?

  38. OH Sherri, I can’t even do justice to this comment, I am just a blubbering mess. I am sorry, this was gorgeous and real and honest, but WOW, I felt every word with you.


  39. What an incredibly beautiful analogy and writing style. I just LOVE your writing, can’t get enough. And by the way, I will be returning again and again to this post and others you’ve written on the subject of children growing up, one day (sooner than I expect, to be sure.) I’ll have much learning to do when the time comes, and will probably have to learn the same lessons twice since my kids are 5 years apart. Thank you for being a shining example!

  40. this was a really lovely metaphor. and so heartbreaking. i love that he is bringing a duffel bag specifically for coming home to visit. that makes ME happy.

  41. DAng. Now you’ve got me crying all over my computer. I am so sad that your tree lost such a big part of itself, but so happy that you were able to save it. I had a tree like that in the house I grew up in. It felt like a symbol of my entire childhood. Beautiful writing, Sherri. Just beautiful.

  42. You queen of analogy you. Sentimentality aside all I could think about was, “you’ve lived in the same house in NorCal for fifteen years! It must be worth a bajillion dollars!”


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