Back in April, in an open letter to my children called Life Is Not A Palm Tree, I wrote these words to Kendall:
Finally, Kendall, I saved you for last because your crossroads are here, your struggle is so present, your potential new branches fighting hard against the ivy that wishes to contain them, keep you growing like a palm tree. I get it. It is self imposed pruning born of a fierce need to control your path. For years in my young life I intentionally cut off my own branches, intent on thwarting life. I can tell you now, what remains in those spaces are lost opportunities, untapped resources, adventures that were never allowed to unfurl. And regret.
At that time she was facing a huge crossroads and making what, on the surface, seemed to everyone else to be an easy decision. Accept an offered spot at Harvard, or not.
Yes, I know it seems like a no brainer to be offered this all brainer opportunity. But it wasn't.
Ken has had her path set in her mind for years. Her goal, which she will attain, is her doctorate. But in an applicant field of equally amazing candidates, she was pulling first waitlist - bridesmaid, not bride. Encouraged by her boss at UTSW, she applied to the Masters in Public Health program at Harvard. I am not kidding when I say it was her "back pocket" school.
But based on a stellar college CV, a two year stint at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and a nonstop movement forward in being published, the email came. Harvard wanted Kendall.
But could Kendall want Harvard?
We are all very different animals. It's what makes us interesting, challenging, easygoing, or bullheaded. That last one finds many of us pruning our lives to fit a shape we simply will not release from our minds.
Pruning is control. Whether we do it to a literal tree or bush, or to ourselves, pruning forces a shape, a destination, a plan. But real life is not found in the discarded branches. It is found in the leaves, buds, thorns, and blossoms. It is also found in the fear.
She comes by it honestly - I am a blazing example of not wanting to be forced off my path, pushed to detour, or have to alter my plans.
The decision you face now is not deadly, but it may retard growth. It is a branch full of potential, an off ramp you did not plan, and only you can decide its fate. I would love to be your personal gardener, but that time is past. You hold the shears, the choices are all yours. I can only support you. And I do, fully, always, without question.
In this case, supporting truly meant having to step completely back. This one had to be hers - fully, always, without question.
I have raised you all to understand that "screaming at a wall will never move the wall." That sometimes the only path is to go around the wall, take the forced detour. I live in a place now where I see actual trees living that truth - trees as tall as palms, yet with unexpected branches along their paths upward, literal curves in their trunks as they accommodated what life threw, or grew, at them. In them, I see you, Kendall. They are Aspens. They grow, they see, they adapt, they move upward and onward, and they ultimately tower and bloom. They do get where they are intent on going.
When the decision finally came, it was all hers.
I am sitting on a plane, 30,000 feet in the clouds, next to Harvard's newest grad student, and pride is simply not a big enough word.
Growing a new branch is difficult for a tree, and a tree knows how to tree. Growing a new branch when it means uprooting your entire life, saying goodbye to your friends, leaving a job you loved, and agreeing to keep a love alive long distance, can seem impossible.
But she is doing it.
Almost 25 years ago she came into this world pissed off because it had not been a time of her choosing. But soon enough she adapted, took her place, and began to grow. As with her siblings, it has been humbling to have a front row seat to every adventure, crisis, triumph, setback, laugh, and tear.
Leaving her in a few days will feel like the first round of college all over again - a feeling shared by so many across this country. But I have one advantage. I have seen what happens when she plants herself and roots begin to grow, buds emerge and flower.
The final words in that April piece were these:
As you each continue your growth, my breath remains held for your happiness, your health, your well being, your successes. And my heart wishes you the firm knowledge, born from the experiences of unexpected lessons, that your lives are not palm trees. Let them grow where they may, seek the sun through the shadows, and branch as fully and freely as they can.
I cannot wait to see your new branches reach out and be embraced by the Ivy League.
But for now, at 30,000 feet, I am just happy to be sitting beside you, along for the ride, choking back tears of pride, joy, and immeasurable love.