Doing the right thing makes me feel good about being a human being sharing this planet with others. It makes me feel good about me. I try to do the right thing even when it’s not the convenient or easy thing. And, I certainly teach doing the right thing to my children. Frequently, my children teach me about doing the right thing.
We recently had just that experience with the added twist of another important life lesson. Unfortunately, doing the right thing doesn’t always end up the way you want it to. My 4-year-old identical twin sons have Down syndrome and attend an integrated preschool some distance from our home. During my 3-hour daily commute to and from the boys’ school, we cover a lot of parkway ground. For the summer, I’m now joined by my precious old soul who chose Mommy time over summer recreation… “More fun” she said. On our twice daily return trips, Olivia noticed a fallen Christmas tree on the side of one of Long Island’s busiest highways — the Cross Island Parkway. There, roots prone, Olivia sobbed each day that we had to save it. “Bring a shovel Mom and we can dig it back into the ground.” Me being the Mom that I am, I packed the shovel the next morning with a wink and a promise that “we’ll TRY”!
And, try we did. Planned out in my head right down to how I’ll explain to the police if they question our motives, I pulled over just past the southbound Hillside Avenue exit, grabbed my shovel and the old soul’s hand and trekked 100 yards up to the fallen tree. What appeared to be MAYBE a 6′ tree doing a 60 mph drive-by was actually a 10-12′ tree up close and personal. The tree’s major feeding roots were still intact though pulled and strained so it was still alive and kicking. We dug in, Liv’s foot on one side of the shovel and mine on the other in what she called a “double dig”. We dug deep despite large rocks meant, I think, for water run off during the tree’s original planting. And we dug under the trunk to try and cantilever the tree into the hole. Twice we stopped to push it up into position but could only get it to a 45 degree angle, precariously balanced on MY FOREHEAD before we had to lower it down again… unsuccessful. I needed a strong second pair of hands.
Two hours into our dig, I was dismayed at the fact that not a single person, police officer or highway worker, stopped to assist… or at least inquire what a woman and child were doing with shovels, digging up trees on the side of a public highway. Olivia assured me that several police vehicles passed on the northbound side of the highway. We even waved at a 4-truck highway [grounds] maintenance crew caravan who slowed to see what was going on. The last truck had its passenger window open so I yelled, “We’re trying to right this tree!!!!” The unshaven, glorified lawn guy gave me the thumbs up and kept driving. NOTHING!
I was hoping for a police man to stop so I could talk him into lending a hand… “Here, just hold the tree up at this 45 degree angle while I get down low and push it the rest of the way into the hole!” Suddenly I realized we could get in trouble if the scene was misinterpreted. What if they thought I hit the tree and drove away, returning to the scene of the accident to undo the damage! No, my car was unscathed… I could talk my way out of that. And no, we weren’t stealing the Christmas tree… totally out of season. Besides, Olivia could talk us out of that explaining the real reason we were there. Believable? I’m not sure. But, worse case scenario, they call the “Sarg” to confirm the old soul’s story and he’ll say, “Yup, sounds like something my wife and daughter would do. Sorry for your trouble officer! Could you put my wife on the phone please!” (I think scenes like this is why he married me. I keep life interesting… And, keep him guessing about what’s next!) Then Olivia says, “Mom I think I see police lights flashing through the trees just a little way down the highway.” We take a little walk just far enough from our tree to clear the trees and, sure enough, there’s an NYPD police cruiser behind a motorcyclist — Police officer with ticket-book in hand. We wait for the real police business to be done standing like that photo of the old farmer and his wife holding a pitch fork — only it’s the modern day version with Mother and daughter holding a shovel, standing on the side of a busy highway. The motorcycle slowly maneuvers back into traffic and the police car cruises right up the exit ramp within 25 feet of Olivia and I…. NOTHING! I mean, he looked right at me and then quickly looked away. Clearly, he didn’t want to be bothered. I guess helping two damsels and a tree in distress doesn’t count towards the non-quota of monthly revenue-generating tickets he needs to write. (Ooh, the skeptic in me rises to the surface.)
Feeling quite alone again on one of the most crowded roads in NYC, I explain to Olivia that we just can’t do it ourselves. “But Mom…” she whines and I quiet her…
“Doing the right thing doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. Sometimes you try and you don’t succeed. That doesn’t mean we didn’t do the right thing by trying. And, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again or try the next time an opportunity to do the right thing is presented to you.”
We pack up the shovel, knock the dirt off the bottoms of our sandals and climb back into the car. All the while, I’m listening to my old soul list all the people we could maybe call to come out here and help us… Lisa? Nope, she has a baby. Daddy? He’s working. Nicole? Another kid. Grandpa? Too old. The list goes on. None of these folks, mind you, would be willing to do so with the exception of a friend who lives 6 hours away. “Call him!” she says, “We can wait until he gets here and try again!” Meanwhile, in my head, I’m thinking of ways to right the tree too. I can get a pole and prop the tree up at that 45 degree angle so I can get down and give it the final push myself. Or, maybe I can tie one end of the cargo strap in my car around the front bumper’s towing hook thingy and the other around the tree then back up slowly… pulling the tree into the hole we dug. Hmmm??? Wait. We’re getting a little crazy here. That last idea could be dangerous. This might be getting out of hand… Getting?
When Daddy got home, Olivia relayed to him our failed attempt at righting the poor, felled tree and asked if he would help us… (His name came up earlier but he’s not the “pull over on the parkway and help a tree” kind of guy. I’m not even certain he’d pull over if he was one of the passersby and saw his wife and daughter struggling mightily with the 12′ behemoth! LOL) But, Daddy tells us, perhaps we can call 311 which is the parks and highway maintenance “hotline” and report the tree down. Maybe… MAYBE… they’d be willing to go out there and remove it. “WHAT? I don’t want it REMOVED. I want it REPLANTED! Mommy, get a big pole or a stick (did I say that out loud or is she just a chip off the old block?) and put it in the car. Ask Grandma to help us. She’ll do it. She loves trees.” “She’s right!” Daddy laughs, “Your mother would help you!” Olivia goes on, “We’ll do it ourselves. We’ll try again!”
So, for now, there it lays! On the side of the highway. Still being fed by it’s major roots. Surrounded by the BIG hole we dug. Waiting for an extra pair of strong hands to tip it back into existence.
Today, when Olivia saw it still laying there, she cried, “Mommy, I can’t take this much longer!” Maybe tomorrow I’ll put that metal pole in the car along with the shovel and see what we can do. Another good lesson… If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try again!
P.S. Grandma said she would help when Olivia told her about our escapade.