Ever been up close and personal with a lemon tree and noticed how cool they are? I never had until I moved to California. Now I’ve got my own dwarf Meyer lemon and I can tell you that tree is an underrated miracle of nature. Right now, November 21st, it’s got teeny flower buds, heavenly smelling blossoms, baby green fruit, and ripe golden orbs, all at the same time. On a cosmic level, the lemon tree is constantly manifesting its entire life cycle, simultaneous living its past, present, and future! How cool is that?
One might assume straddling the time-space continuum causes internal conflict for the tree. Like maybe an undeveloped puny green guy eyes a juicy yellow beauty and gripes, “Damn! How come I’m not more mature?” Or some blossom whose petals flap in the wind, whines about how unfair it is that she’s no longer taut and firm like that sweet young bud over there. But noooo. The tree has evolved to a point where no phase of life is any better or worse than another. In the realm of lemon trees, there are no complaints, only total acceptance. What is, is. Lemon embraces all of it with equal acceptance and grace.
We humans on the other hand are hardwired for complaining. Even (maybe especially) those of us who have pretty soft lives compared to most folks on the planet. Adults often evaluate things in terms of what’s “wrong.” So how surprising is it that our kids frequently complain? The older they get, the more likely we are to find fault in what they do or fail to do! In addition to what we’re teaching them through negative modeling, teens are already incredibly judgmental. After all, they’re grappling with some key questions of their own:
Am I cool enough? Am I hot enough? Am I good enough?
The less confident they feel (from their own self-doubt and from the feedback piled on by their “friends” and parents), the more likely they are to complain. The more they complain, the more we complain about their complaining. Ugh.
Now I’m not advocating an all- Zen-all-the-time approach to living, where we make damn sure we never find fault with anything. That’s too tough to be practical. Besides there are certain situations that are inherently faulty. Like when the cottage cheese has gone off. No amount of Ohmmming is going to make me smile when I lift that lid and get a whiff. So yeah, life serves up plenty of unacceptable tidbits. When you’ve got one, just do something about it. Complaining is never a prerequisite for action. Nor is it a substitute.
When a family member presents us with something unacceptable, rather than exploding and losing control of mind and mouth, try this instead: “This cell phone bill of $1,000 is unacceptable. You will pay this, not me.” That’s not a complaint. That’s a simple directive. When we whine less and fill our sentences with more verbs (calls to action), we might get more cooperation and less complaining from our kids. At the same time, we are teaching them that a positive attitude helps us deal with life’s inconveniences more effectively than complaints.
On that positive note, I want to report that last week I picked all the ripe lemons from the tree and made lemon marmalade. Not to complain or anything, either the recipe was wrong or I misread it. Either way, the results were . . . uh . . . not edible. Fortunately the tree’s still got plenty of green babies. In another month or so, I’ll take another shot at it.