In these lovely musings about parenting, Kaitlyn Teer considers Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and ecologist Suzanne Simard’s research on “mother trees” and the interconnectedness and communication of old-growth forests. What does it mean to give, to be useful — as a mother, but also a neighbor, or a natural resource? How do we help mothers, forests, and but also whole ecosystems not just survive, but thrive?

Whether you’re a mother juggling work with raising a child, a person wondering what “community” or “sustainability” really look like, or someone questioning what it means to be happy, Teer beautifully weaves insights that might resonate with you.

Hearing this, I thought of the forest ecosystems under threat as climate-exacerbated droughts and heat waves make for longer, more intense wildfire seasons. I thought of the boy who grew up to be a man who took and took from the tree he loved. And I thought of our society’s focus on the isolated nuclear family, how mothers in particular are pushed to the brink of collapse by extractive structures, how difficult it is for mothers—especially single parents, women of color, and immigrants—to flourish.

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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.