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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 24, Sep/Oct 2007

"The Old Pepperina Tree", by Veronika Sophia Robinson

During the summer, my daughter Eliza wanted to show me how good a climber she’d become, so I watched her go to the top of a cherry tree in our village.

I was struck by how confident and agile she is ~ rather like a monkey, but without the tail! ‘When did she learn to climb like that’, I wondered. ‘What was I doing that was so important as to miss this particular milestone?’

Most of the children in Britain don’t get unsupervised, spontaneous play. My children consider the village to be their back garden and go playing for hours. That’s where they learnt to climb trees after they graduated from the plum tree in our garden.

Although I spent a lot of time up Enid Blyton’s Magical Faraway Tree, my own magical tree was the imposing pepperina in our front garden.

My childhood surroundings in Queensland, Australia, were a paradise for tree climbers ~ hundreds of acres, including mountains covered in eucalyptus, pines, wattles and pepperinas. There were the occasional wild apricot and lemon tree, too.

Despite being the middle of eight children, I spent the vast majority of my childhood play-time on my own, captivated by my imaginary friends and the world I invented for myself.

The pepperina was a sanctuary; a place to escape, day dream, create, write poetry and love letters for undeserving school boys, and, last but not least, a place to spy on my siblings!

My bird’s eye view gave me a 360 degree lookout and afforded me ample camouflage from the outside world. The tree’s willow-like leaves disguised me time and time again.

If I was ever in trouble with my parents, which, given my mischievous nature, was rather a regular occurrence, I’d head straight for my other home.

It was, without doubt, one of my favourite places in childhood. I couldn’t have claimed it as mine, however, unless I’d taken the risk to climb ~ to move away from the safe and familiar earth beneath my feet.

I had to risk falling, being hurt, being told I was reckless, scraping my knee, getting covered in sticky sap, breaking an arm, meeting a tree snake or being bitten by a wasp. I don’t remember actually ever giving much thought to these possibilities ~ my focus was always on navigating the hard-to-reach bottom branches so I could journey to the very top.

My beloved pepperina tree is a metaphor for my life as a parent. By choosing to climb up and away from the familiar parenting culture of our western world, I discovered a new view. At the top of the holistic living tree, I found I could birth my baby in water, at home, by candle light. My mother carried the candle up the tree for me, by birthing her last three children at home, unassisted.

By sharing the tree with my mum, I knew that breastfeeding was the only option for my children. I learned that I could breastfeed my daughters until they’d had their fill ~ which they took advantage of for seven years apiece! Society didn’t like this one little bit. They called me sick, selfish, stupid. Ah well, never mind. From my tree-top look-out, I could see things that were impossible to witness from down on the ground. One day more people will be brave enough to climb the tree. And then they’ll know...

My daughters didn’t get sent off to nursery at three years of age ‘like all the other children’. I ignored the voices manically calling to me from the bottom of the tree, and chose to let my girls ‘wake up gently’ to this world.

George Bernard Shaw said that trying to explain vaccination to a doctor was like discussing vegetarianism with a butcher. So I didn’t invite the doctor anywhere near my children. At the top of our tree of life, we nurtured our girls through love, an optimal in-arms gestation, child-led weaning, pure water, slow parenting, plant-based whole-foods, cranial osteopathy, chiropractic care, and quantity time.

Life at the top of the tree isn’t to be confused with being on a pedestal, or up in an ivory tower. Far from it. Choosing this way of life comes with its own set of challenges. It is, indeed, the road less travelled, or the branches few choose to climb. A perfect life is not guaranteed. And, it can be very, very lonely.

I doubt I’d have absorbed the enormity of what our culture does to us had I stayed on the ground, or even the bottom branch. There’s simply no scope for perspective unless you can see the whole picture.

Climbing up, and away, and literally going out on a limb, is an absolute pre-requisite to conscious parenting in this modern world. We may be more technologically advanced than in any time in our known history, but we couldn’t be more backward or more blind, as a culture, if we tried!

I’ve found the view from the top, at times exciting, exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, and, at other times, downright depressing. At the top of the tree we see how brain-washed people are by the media, health ‘care’ systems, institutionalised education and government diktat.

The ascent can be challenging, precarious, and, for some, rather scary, but unless you do it, despite everyone at the base of the tree calling you back down, you’ll never know how liberating the complete trust in yourself, and your family, can be. The most beautiful part is when you feel confident enough to reach to another, and give guidance along the branches..

I’ve often felt that parenting has stopped me taking risks; that I’m no longer the girl I used to be ~ the one who’d fly to a new country, on a one way ticket, with less than a tenner in her pocket, just ‘knowing’ everything would be ok.

My mum’s advice throughout life has been “Just jump, the angels will catch you”. And you know, I believed her! My mother was the perfect mother bird, guarding her nest at the top of the tree, knowing the right time to push her little chickadees out …“Fly”, she’d say.

I often hear her voice in my head, and upon reflection, I realise I’m no less of a risk taker now than I ever was. My day to day choices are seen as risks, to modern culture, but to me, well, they’re just part of everyday life, like breathing. Stepping away from mainstream thinking is as big a risk as we’ll ever take. Personally, I think it’s a far greater risk not to step away.

Tree climbing is an interesting experience upon which to draw strength and belief in one’s self. It’s perfect that this happens in childhood.

It’s good and right that my girls have learnt to climb trees without me nearby wondering if they’ll fall down!

I don’t know if my magic pepperina tree is still standing, but I’d love to think another child spent time there, hearing the Divine Whisperer beckoning “climb higher, my friend, climb higher”…

Until our paths cross again, climb high!

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