One of my favorite family Christmas stories is something that happened when our daughter, Rachel, was little. It was after Thanksgiving, the world was decorated for the holidays, and as we were driving one day, we passed a produce market with evergreen trees lined up, just like in the picture above, ready to sell.  I said, "Rachel, look at all the Christmas trees!"  She was dismissive.  "Those aren't Christmas trees," she said.  "Those are just trees."

Rachel in her limited wisdom of the world at that time couldn't fathom that what she was looking at were Christmas trees.   In her mind, Christmas trees weren't Christmas trees until they were illuminated with lights, decorated with tinsel and shiny, colorful ornaments, with angels on top.  She was pretty sure she could recognize a Christmas tree, and those didn't qualify.

Adults, however, have had many years' experience seeing the potential in bare evergreen trees.  We are aware of the destiny for which they were grown, and we have imagination to see them in their full glory.  Picking out a bare tree to adorn for the holidays can be a demanding process.  No detail is overlooked.  Is the tree fresh?  Is the height tall enough for that big room or small enough for those low ceilings?  Does it smell good?  Is it the type we want - cedar, cypress, fir, pine or spruce?  How about the cost - is it an amount we are willing to spend?  The perfect tree for one house may not be the perfect tree for next door.  The perfect tree when the kids were home may not be the perfect tree for empty-nesters.

We are experts in seeing the potential in bare evergreen trees, but as a society we seem to have a lot of trouble seeing potential in other places.  I was at Grandparents' Day yesterday at the school of Caroline and Charlotte, where a relatively small building was inundated with their regular students through 5th grade plus one, two, maybe three or four grandparents in tow for each child.  It was quite a scene!  As I watched all those kids, I was impressed with what I saw of the teachers.  It is always my hope that teachers will be able to see the potential in each individual child and be able to tap that.  Rachel, all grown up now, is teaching gifted and talented students this year, and one of her goals is to help teachers realize that gifted/talented kids are not always the stereotypical smart, well-behaved kids.  Sometimes they are the daydreamers who can't focus on their work.  Sometimes they are those who are problem students, who misbehave because they are bored.  Others don't even look like they could succeed anywhere (Charlie Brown tree, anyone?). There is a whole variety of gifted/talented kids who, to reach their full potential, could benefit from extra specialized learning and attention.

The same is true for all kids, whether gifted or not.  Just like a bare tree destined for glory, each child is unique.  Some can reach their education potential by going to college.  Others will fulfill their life's dreams by manning a lobster boat.  Others will thrive in trades such as electricians, carpenters, and plumbers.  Some will feel called to help society in different ways, such as being social works, ministers, firefighters or police officers.  Others will spread beauty and love in the world, through music, art, drama, and literature.  To look at an undeveloped child, full of raw unrecognized material that is waiting for someone to help mold it, is to look at a bare tree and trying to figure out exactly where it belongs and where it can develop its potential.  However, this is not one person picking out a tree and making the decision on where it should go.  This endeavor involves our whole society, and not only school teachers, but parents and other family members, friends, neighbors, medical providers, etc.  In real life, everyone is a role model and every person a teacher.  Everyone who comes in contact with that child has a beneficial or detrimental effect on encouraging learning, curiosity, discovering his/her passion, and helping the child find direction in life.

It won't be long before many of us will be heading to the market or the farm to pick out, as Rachel said, "just trees."  But we will see the potential of what they could look like, what environment will bring out their beauty, and where they could shine the brightest.  I hope society gets to a point where it is able to do as much with our precious children.