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There’s a tree growing out of our deck, a great big poplar that has been getting taller for the twenty-five years we’ve been here. I was charmed by its placement the first time I saw the house. So we’ve kept trimming the boards around the hole it grows out of to accommodate its increasing girth, but it is getting so large that to let it go much longer will require a bank heist to fund its inevitable removal.

So on a Sunday afternoon phone call recently we casually mentioned to our son whose down in Ecuador about our plan, and he hit the roof.

“That’s the coolest thing about the whole house. You can take that tree down!”

The longer our man-boy is away from home the more we see he actually likes it here. And he is reporting that he likes us too. He is on month nine of a ten-month exchange trip to Ecuador and I cannot wait to see what kind of kid I get back. We practically kicked him out the door as he left last August, so glad we were to change things up a bit. He’d grown up in our house and had just graduated high school, but the sense of entitlement we’d somehow fostered during that time was not very attractive. He wasn’t terrible but he clearly was in need of a look around at some other people’s lives.

Since he left he’s had experiences I could not have dreamed up if I’d tried, to inspire a sense of gratitude for the life he’ll be returning to. My favorite story is of him translating between dental students on a mission trip from the US and poor Ecuadorian children unfamiliar with dental hygiene brought in to have most of their rotted teeth removed. But he’s also learning about being a gracious guest, about managing his money, about giant extended families that get together regularly, about being an ambassador of America, about the privilege of knowing where he comes from, about the privilege of having an education, a home and healthy food to return to, and all of this is a joy to witness.

Hearing him say he loves the tree in our deck makes me think it represents something more to him than I realize. At this point he is not above saying he misses us and home in general, so we’ll just wait a few more weeks for him to return before we get the cherry picker out here to start dismantling the tree that has been outside his bedroom window for the whole of his life.

Maybe then he will tell me what it is about it that matters to him so much. Maybe then I will point out that whatever that thing is, I feel confident it is not going anywhere when the tree comes down.

Check out Andrew’s blog on the link at the bottom of this page, on the left. Just click on the picture of him standing in front of a volcano.