Friday, July 11, 2008

the wish tree

The Hirshhorn Museum has a lovely sculpture garden of modern and contemporary art that's simply fabulous. I liked it a fair bit better than the more renowned sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art. One of the pieces of art was Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree," which allowed for "audience" participation. The exhibit invites participants to write a wish on a small piece of paper and then hang their wish on the little dogwood tree. Periodically, the wishes are collected and sent to Yoko Ono, who then uses them for some other piece of art the specifics of which unfortunately I've forgotten. One can walk around the tree and read the wishes of folks, some signed and others unsigned. The wishes I read ranged from the ironic and witty and snarky ("I wish people would stop abusing my leaves and branches"--signed, The Tree) to the politically bitter ("I wish geo. w. bush would resign asap") to the pitiful ("I wish I had friends") to everything in between. I only read about twenty or so of these wishes (there were hundreds), but my favorite wish was so very human that I couldn't help but instantly love the person who wrote it ("I wish for delicious fat free pizza. And world peace."--Andrew.) I hear you brother Andrew, I hear you.
The wish shown above hit me in the gut when I read it. A little confessional here (too confessional?), but I think my oldest daughter sometimes feels this way. I know we cut her two sisters a little bit more slack than we do for her, and I can tell that she is keenly, if most of the time silently, aware of this disparity in treatment. We can't seem to help using a higher standard on her--and not just an age-appropriate higher standard--than we do for the others. Maybe it's a common parenting hazard for raising (rearing?) first born kids. Or maybe it just reflects our own tendencies. Both my wife and I are the last-born children and we tend to react very negatively to bossiness in any form. And let's be honest: first born kids tend to be bossy, just as latter born kids tend to be slackers (but also amusing. And charming. And downright wonderful. And nearly perfect, if we get right down to it. And certainly more modest.). Our first born child's personality is in keeping with this particular first-born tendency at least with respect to her sisters, and we constantly remind her to be more loving to her sisters. In the meantime, her littlest sister is rascally--but incredibly charmingly so--and so we latter-born parents naturally tend to cut her the most slack of all.
But the point (which I nearly lost sight of) is that my dear oldest daughter sometimes feels that she cannot live up to our expectations no matter how hard she tries. And the fact that her feelings are probably not completely delusional makes me feel like a rotten father because this girl, who we do love furiously and desperately, is such a blessing to us. She is an interesting and thoughtful and quirky (always a good thing, no?) and clever and good child--well, she's just just more of everything than we could have ever hope for in a daughter.


justcurious said...

i don't know whether to laugh at you or myself. I have to confess that we have, on occasion, told our oldest to behave more like your oldest when it comes to interacting with her younger sibling.

justcurious said...

btw, we love the wish tree also. it's so revealing. i wonder how the homeowners assoc. would feel about one in our front yard. can't you just see one of those little real estate info boxes next to it with the pencils and tags, along with the sign explaining that, once collected, they get sent to, i don't know, a blogger in ga? why should yoko have all the fun? and what's she doing in reykjavik, anyway?

Technoprairie said...

Even first born parents tend to be harder on the first born children. I guess it is because we expect them to "get it" quicker. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the golden rule to sink into their heads.

I heard of a definition of last born children that I've never forgotten. It was from one of those birth order books. It defined last born children as natural born communicators who were so charming that they could successfully sell dead rats.

Michael B said...


first of all, let me say this. SO glad to have you back!! the good writing. the sharbed barbs. the wit. the great insights. the thoughtful arguments. all of these i've missed.

the occasional puncturing of my ego? that, not so much.

still and all...


re your posts. who says you can't laugh at the boths of us? my kid can definitely turn on the good or doting behavior toward her sisters when adults are around. it's when she's in the "i don't think adults are in earshot" mode that the hidden dictator emerges.

the wish tree really is interesting, isn't it. here are my questions prompted by your front yard hypothetical. if there were lots of wish trees everywhere, would the wishes change very much from place to place? and does a kind of "group think" have an influence on the wishers if people first read lots of the wishes and then write their wishes?

so...imagine you read a wish tree at, say, liberty university, and then you read one at the university of wisconsin. at liberty, a typical wish might run like this: "I wish that our college wouldn't sponsor an activity such as the wish tree that clearly promotes paganism." and at the u. of wisconsin, it might read, "I wish that all trees, not just you, dear wish tree, received the love that you're getting. oh, and i also wish that the paper i'm writing on came from recycled materials."

Michael B said...


it's funny, but really what i'm trying to teach her is the golden rule. but i'm ashamed to say i've never really used that term. seriously, maybe having a label will help her a little. again, not to stress that she's a rotten kid. she isn't, right. she's great. but with her sisters, well, she thinks she's too cool for school compared to them.

i just read a short article on the web from a reputable news organization that reported on a birth-order study that had virtually nothing but good things to say about first born kids and lots of bad things to say about last born kids.

what a bogus study.

the wikipedia entry on birth order ( seems pretty fair. except the part where it says that research shows the first born kids typically to be the smartest of the bunch. that part just MUST be wrong. the thorough and scientific research that i've conducted conclusively demonstrates that the last-born child gets an extra ten iq points for every older sibling. no, make that twenty.

Steven Taylor said...

Actually, it wouldn't be that hard to set up a virtual "wish tree"--indeed, it might make for an interesting experiment...

Technoprairie said...

I've also heard that first borns buy the birth order books and that last borns have the book given to them by their first born spouses.

Well, if your children's IQ reflects their parents, I know that the first born is the smartest. Because I feel a lot dumber with four than I did with one! With one, I could still carry on a conversation and with four, I have trouble finishing a sentence. I think the constant interruptions does something to my thinking patterns.

justcurious said...

well then first, let me say, aww shucks, you're too kind. but i certainly thank you.

next let me say, how the heck am i supposed to hang out online all day with 6 kids (that's what it feels like)stampeding by every couple minutes wanting food and that kind of stuff? one moment while i grab their school calendar and see when this nonsense is over...

great food for thought with the varying wish tree locations. you've got to be absolutely right, of course, about the effects of geography and social environment. in fact, the hirschorn itself is hardly a garden for all the people, is it? i would guess that there's a fairly describable segment of the population that purposefully makes its way through there. really, yoko should set up trees all over the country to capture a much wider demographic, but then, i guess that begins to be more scientific and less artistic!

the virtual tree? brilliant, stephen. i like it even better than the six word biography site.

Michael B said...

i'm sorry that three dimensional life is impinging on your virtual world.

here's my take on the web.

it will destroy the human race, true, but at least as we move into extinction we'll all be smiling. it will be a good kind of mass death, i think.

my guess is that the folks who visited the wish tree listen to npr more than they do rush limbaugh. what guess you?