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Picket Fences

Posted Mar 21 2013 7:00am

  White Picket Fence I live 6 miles down a thin and crooked peninsula.  It is narrow enough that you can see Puget Sound, waters from the Pacific Ocean, at peek-a-boo glances along the drive.  Living on a peninsula means there is one lane home and one lane into town.  I cannot count the miles I have accumulated on that stretch of pavement.

The speed limit is 45 mph- a clipped pace that is regularly exceeded by the teen drivers and regularly under-achieved by their elders.  My generation is sandwiched at speeds in between.  And you might think this is a great allegory for a parenting lesson.  And it is.  But not today.

Today is about the yard of one of my peninsular neighbors.  Three miles south of me is a small, tidy ranch house.  The back fence is tall enough to protect from spying eyes, no matter how curious.  It is the front fence, the section that runs parallel to our road, that intrigues me.

Well, now it intrigues me.  For years it bugged me.  Irritated me.  Why?  Why would a fence draw my ire over and over and over again?  Because of its size.  There is a well-manicured lawn and smack dab in what would be the middle of a long fence is one single section.  It measures maybe four feet wide, and is as tall as the back one.  All by itself. 

The first year the lone fence segment stood, I thought they ran out of wood.  The second year I considered that maybe they ran out of money.  By the third I was inventing new and goofball reasons every time I drove by.  What if they have a target on the other side and use it for archery practice?  The street would be in the background.  What if they missed? 

Now, now I wonder if it is there on purpose.  Did they decide they didn’t want the rest of it?  Not for any practical reason, but for a philosophical one.  A zen koan exercise.  It reminds me of what we do by default:  I am supposed to build a fence here.  But I wonder, and I kind of hope, that they decided they simply didn’t want the fence.  And they want to remember why.  Maybe it is a zen reminder to step away from what is expected, to not hem ourselves in. 

It happens in parenting.  Those moments when we say something to our own children that we promised ourselves would never repeat from our own childhoods.  Or we set a value based on what we think we should be doing, instead of what we actually believe. And yet here we are.  Saying it.  Doing it.  Continuing unintended traditions. 

One of the best things about parenting is that you can always go back.  You can always undo.  You can always say I’m sorry or I was wrong or I thought it over and I’ve changed my mind.  What a lovely model to show our children.  To show them the power of contemplation, reflection, redirection.  You can have a zen picket fence.  What color will you paint it?  Keep me posted. 

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