The Apple of My Eye, Mary Ann Christie Burnside, Ed.D.

I wonder if you’ve been apple picking yet this season with your children.  We’ve gone every year since our oldest daughter (who is now six ¾) was two years old.  I remember the first time we took her like it was yesterday.  I had just found out that I was pregnant with our second child only days before.  I was equal parts thrilled and surprised to be pregnant at 43, given that conceiving our first at 40 was not easy.  I was well aware that this was not only our first apple-picking adventure as a “three family,” but our last.  So I found myself in a kind of moment-to-moment awareness that many of us usually reserve for our most precious events – when we are purposefully paying an exquisite kind of attention, so as not to miss a thing.  Not one single thing.

The entire afternoon, I reveled in the joy of our “three family’s” first experience in the orchard.  My husband lifted our daughter up to pick the apple she wanted (again and again) and she twisted them off the branch (as we had taught her so as not to harm the tree).  She was determined to carry the booty all by herself, even as the afternoon wore on and both she and the bag were beginning to drag a little.  I remember talking with her about how we would need to wash the apples before we could eat them.  “First we wash them then we eat them!” she’d repeat every time she’d pick one, joyfully walking along and stopping to look at every tree (and I do mean every tree).

When she could fit no more in the bag, she handed it off to my husband.  Off we went to the washroom to clean some apples.  We later sat on the porch of the orchard’s store for a snack.  I held my daughter while she chose the biggest, reddest apple she could find.  Although she had an impressive vocabulary for a two-year old, she didn’t say a word.  She just looked at her apple for a while.  A long while.  She turned it this way and that.   Finally, she held it up to her mouth and took a bite.  Lots of smiles, giggles, and crunches with her little baby teeth.  In the next moment, she held it to my mouth.  We looked right into each other’s eyes as I bit into her apple.  We laughed as we both felt the apple’s juice touch our faces.  We ate the entire apple this way.  To this day, I still think this was the most amazing apple I’ve ever tasted.  And my husband captured this magical moment in a photo, which now hangs on my refrigerator.

So why am I writing about something that happened over four years ago?  Because this is one of those rare experiences when I was drawn into present moment awareness with no effort of my own.  I fell into it through sheer joy.  There was nowhere to go and nothing to do but be in that orchard, watch my little love do her thing, and share it all with her and my husband.  My memory of these few hours is as fresh and vivid as if we had only just returned.  I try to remember this story whenever I need reminding to take in every part of my experience, especially when I’m with my children.  Now that I have two young daughters, I can use all the reminders I can get.

And it’s not just me.  Sustained present-moment awareness as a way of being is a rare experience for many of us, especially those of us with children.  But we can cultivate this mindfulness with intention and practice it regularly to the benefit of ourselves and our children.  A good way to begin in any given moment with your children is to watch them.  With a gift for embracing their everyday experiences, they can be our best teachers.  And the more we practice being and staying present, the more skilled we become, which is a good thing.  Research suggests that mindful awareness helps us cope better under stress, strengthens our immune system, and is believed to alter the way our brains respond to emotion (reducing activity in the parts that register negative emotions and increasing activity in the parts that register positive ones).  So here are a few intentional ideas on falling into present moment awareness in an apple orchard.  And remember that you can purposefully fall into the here and now wherever and whenever you are.

  1. Use all of your senses. Many times when we’re doing something, we’re moving too quickly to notice the whole of our experience.  When you go apple picking, see if you can notice what all of your senses take in and model for your children how to do the same.  For example, as you enter and move around the orchard, don’t rush.  Let your eyes really take in what there is to see.  Your nose will probably be awakened to the smell of apple cider or cider donuts but if it isn’t, check in with your sense of smell.  Again, stop and notice what there is to notice.  Listen to the sounds around you, including the likely laughter of your children.  When you pick an apple or help your child to do so, take a moment to feel its texture.  Even taste, which we assume is always available to us, can benefit from mindful awareness.  Eat slowly.  Savor it.  Notice what it feels like in your mouth and in different parts of your mouth.  If you are like me, without mindful awareness, you might be eating just to be finished so you can move on to the next thing.  Instead, try to eat the apple for the joy of eating it.  Eating to get to the next thing and eating to enjoy what you already have are two very different experiences (remember this next time you are trying to get your child to come away from the kitchen or dining table).
  2. Wonder Aloud. So often, when we have something in our hands, we are unaware of how many other hands or how many moments went into creating it.  We think “I want an apple” and in the next moment, we have an apple.  So it doesn’t seem terribly complicated.  Wonder aloud with your children about how these apples or pumpkins or cider came to be here (many orchards will do a live demo on making cider; see if you can observe that while you’re there).  Ask open-ended questions like “How did this apple get to be in your hands or on this tree?  What had to happen before today for it to be here now?”  Ask each family member to share a thought or two.  There are many possibilities, such as preparing the ground, planting the seeds, tending the tree, and so on.  If no one mentions the seeds, cut an apple open and take a seed out for your children to examine.
  3. Share the reward. Pass the apple or a slice around to each family member and say one thing you are thankful for about this day.  Pass it around again to speak to something you notice about this place with one of your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).  If there’s still some apple left, pass it around once again and have each person say one thing they like about this time of year.
  4. Relive your experience. Savoring or relishing our experience is a kind of mindful awareness that amplifies our pleasure and improves our well-being.  So long after you are home, you can still savor your apple picking day (as I do) by recalling your experience.  Families and very young children might also enjoy a lovely children’s book called “Mia’s Apple Tree” by Nancy Jewel Poer, which parallels the growth of a baby and the growth of an apple tree.

Note from  don’t forget to key word search “apple” on Ziptivity’s search page to find all things apple picking here in the Boston area and beyond.

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