Maturing is learning and adapting in some way, maturity itself is inevitable and malleable by an individual’s experiences. Fruit matures as it receives nutrients, it grows and becomes a delightful thing that pleases others. Fruit that matures too soon is already past its prime during the time at which it is intended to be picked and serve out its purpose. Fruit that matures too late is found later by idle workers or is a delightful surprise and the nostalgic final harvest. The ideal time of maturity is the time at which all the peers will similarly accompany the individual fruit. Children are not too different from fruit; now for this analogy to function without mass amounts of speculation, the proper fruit must be chosen. I propose a clementine.
Clementine’s mature and ripen, this can vary from fruit to fruit; nutrients affect its rate, and taste, the fruit’s environment changes may cause the fruit to grow in ways that were not intended. The experiences the fruit will have may change the taste, rate, or prevent growth altogether. Does the variation from all these factors mean that some blossoms on some of the trees are set up for failure? This is possible, and not at all uncommon; however, there are still successes for these fruits, as well as troubles. The fruits will grow and be presented, but not every clementine will be the top choice. Does this make any fruit less valuable because it matured too slowly? Or too quickly? Because one is more bruised? Or one has a tough rind? Not at all.
Positive nutrients in this metaphor are the nurturing things that a child needs in its youngest stages of development. This is very broad for the sake of my essay and includes but is not limited to: encouragement, emotional guidance, validation, and other kinds of imparting wisdom. Where there is a deficiency in nurturing growth will be uneven and challenging. For example, a home with a single parent. The children may lack quality time from their single parent, and not have access to a person experienced in life to help. The child that comes from the home of a single parent is often still experiencing this lack later in life. More examples of lack of nurturing can be as simple as a child that did not have enough structure, had parents that worked full time or was not watched closely enough. The lack of positive nurturing leads to negative impact, but this impact is small in comparison to the effect of negative nurturing. Negative nurturing can be insults, invalidation, emotional neglect, or exposure to things beyond their current maturity level. All in all, nutrients and nurturing can be simplified as input. The correct amount and kind of input can help to raise an emotionally well-rounded child. Nutrients are now well defined for my metaphor, and I can now make my point: it is nearly impossible for a child to be surrounded by people that understand and provide the perfect amount of “nutrients.” The nutrients will never be given to a child perfectly, and yet, we see people in the world that have overcome this later in life, that have become wonderful, sweet people.
This metaphor relates a clementine’s experiences and environment to traumatic events, and as I say experiences, I intend to convey that I mean any variety of trauma. I will work through the metaphor to make my next point and explain it as weather that acts on clementine trees. Blizzards or hurricanes can rip up roots of the trees, prune branches and blossoms before their time, and freeze the budding fruits. Someone may see the growing fruit and think that they are frozen beyond help. While it is difficult, the tree can be recovered and even produce fruit that grows to be just as sweet as any other. The process of this clementine growing is longer due to the freeze, requires extra care for its tree, but in its final state, it is no more or less valuable than a clementine from the healthiest tree and ideal climate. The final product of the clementine is a thing that can do good in someone’s life and bring joy to others, regardless of the place and time it grew, or the nurturing that it had received.
Ideal nutrients, environments, and experience for a child have become the biggest illusion to parenting, and modern mental health. Children cannot be raised perfectly, there is no such thing as a perfect childhood. The idea of a perfect childhood is quite unhealthy. This illusion is the basis of the inflation we have given to the term mental health. I can best explain this through a parable, taught to me by my teacher Mr. Ranieri: a child will walk through a wood full of snakes, with their parents who chop off the heads of the snakes along the way. Once the time for the child to walk through the woods alone comes, they can then chop off the snakeheads on their own. This analogy does not have the perfect experience or environment for the child or parent, but the child sees the parent and follows their example later in life. The circumstances surrounding the child and parents are not their fault, but they still find solutions to get through the woods.
Removing all obstacles and hard things in a child’s life does not help them discover God’s world or their place in it; as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says: “The man who has not suffered-what could he possibly know, anyway?” Suffering is a part of life and is key to development, sharing in suffering builds community between a person and God, as well as a community between a person and other people. Suffering constructs an empathetic person who relates and sympathizes with the pain of the world. Suffering creates a loving person who extends the most difficult and most meaningful love that is possible: Christlike love. Christlike love is taking on another person’s pain and suffering with them, much like Jesus took the sin and pain of the world on himself as if it were his own.
In some way, I have written this essay with parents in mind slightly more so than children and young adults who may read this. Now I will finally begin to relate my analogies to the point I would like to make. To the parents I say: like a clementine, your child will experience harsh weather, they may get more sun than water occasionally, they will not have a perfect childhood despite any efforts a parent can make. Please do not be discouraged by this but be relieved. I mean to imply that your children are more resilient than you think, and they will have a purpose to live out in their lives. I implore you of course to continue in the efforts of protecting their innocence by impacting how they mature, leading by example, and caring for your children. In short, continue to care for your children to the best of your abilities, and prepare yourselves and your child for the day they will encounter snakes and be the ones responsible to protect themselves, and take on the snakes of others as if they were their own.
My second piece of advice to parents is to expose your child to good art, help them establish community, and help them grow into their faith so that once your little clementine is ready, they plant a seed to create a plethora of good fruit. Damien Freeman writes an article imaginatively experiencing paintings and persons. This article summarizes to say that the value of life is gained by being exposed to art, and great literature. Freeman believes that if one views strong art, one gains an awareness of one’s relationships, “looking and imagining in our experience.” When we view art and literature it “can enable us to grow in our experience of other people.” This article provides clarity on how art can and should help them grow their relationships. Peter Kreeft writes in Doors in the walls of the world about the effect of art, and how it affects the soul. “Eucatastrophe is the form that the art of breaking hearts takes in the genre of narrative. It happens in fiction because it happens in real life. We understand it much better in art than in life. That is why art is so educative to life. And that is why great novels are much more effective than any books of theory in making us good psychologists, good counselors. Or even good friends” (Kreeft 107). Finally, try to grow a community for your child. “We find life’s meaning, as we find our own identities, only in the presence of other persons, that is, in relationships” (Kreeft 61). Community and good art or literature are important to give to your child; through these things, your child discovers where they will best fit into the world before them.
Finally, my message to the young adults who may read this; I am aware that I have compared you to unripe fruit, and I ask that you do not take offense to this, as I am still an unripe fruit myself and mean it as no offense. To my fellow unripe people, I ask you to extend grace to your parents as they attempt to carry out the same functions that a clementine tree must carry out to produce fruit, and often fails to do so perfectly. God has created clementine trees, these trees do not give each clementine everything it needs, and the environments surrounding these trees can aid or diminish the development of the fruit; despite the clementine’s development not being perfect, the clementine’s are still eventually ripened, and still serve a purpose in one way or another. In many of the same ways, you will be like that a clementine and your parents will be your tree. I also will say this: be humble as you have not ripened yet, observe your parents and the adults who lead you through the woods full of snakes and do not be discouraged by what seems like disparaging odds. You will turn out all right. I ask that you try to expose yourself to good art, a relationship with God, and bring yourself into a community with others. The goodness of God, community, and art that performs a “eucatastrophe” in your soul is what creates the sweetest reward. I know that at an early age viewing and inviting these as good things into your heart is a task that seems trivial or ridiculous in some ways; however, I hope I can convince you that inviting the highest form of goodness into your life can never and will never disappoint.