It’s interesting that the older that I get and the stiffer my body becomes, the more I realize I have no choice but to be flexible.

I allow my younger children to do things that I would never have allowed the older ones when they were that age. I think my eldest was 3 before he even knew what I probably said no more than I said yessugar was—let alone white bread or any treats that weren’t fruit-based!

I probably said no more than I said yes.

Bedtime was set in stone.

Maybe it was because I was nervous or afraid so I held on tight, where now I just let go.

My older ones raise their eyebrows and give me that look of, “We could never do that!” as the little ones dance in their pajamas at late hours.

The older I get the more flexible or “lax” I become, or at least it appears that way on the outside. But if my older children could look deep inside, they would actually see that the older I become, the stronger I am and more firmly I have become planted in my values and beliefs.

I have learned with time and experience that when one doesn’t bend, one breaks, but at the same time, if not firmly grounded, it’s only too easy to knocked off your feet.

And so, in exasperation, I once told a good friend: “I have such strong-willed, intense kids!” She smiled and raised her eyebrows.

“Well, Elana, you and your husband are strong-willed and intense!”

I laughed because she knows me well, And she’s right.

It was a morning of strong will and intensity, and we were late, which always seems to make everything more intense, doesn’t it? I didn’t feel well the night before and got up late, and it had a domino effect. My eldest son was late, and so instead of taking the bus, my husband took him to school. This meant my husband ran late, and subsequently, my two little boys were going to be a bit late to their school since my husband drives them there.

One of my sons was anxious. He didn’t want to be late, but there was nothing I could do.

The minutes ticked on the clock. We were waiting for my husband to return. My son huffed and he puffed, and I thought that he would blow our home down. He threatened that he was going to leave and go by himself (he was 8 at the time, and his school was a good 90-minute walk away), or ride his bike or take a bus.

I know this child. He meant it, and a fight between the two of us was brewing like a hurricane that begins from the ocean winds and dangerously approaches the shore. I realize that with him, the more I push, the more he pulls away. And the louder I raise my voice, the more he stops listening.

So I relaxed my muscles, made my body supple and loose, and stayed steadfast in my own determination to remain calm; yet I was firm in my refusal. No bending to the request. I reminded myself that this son of mine was just a strong-willed little boy doing what kids do. With G‑d’s help, I didn’t break, nor did I get angry. I was actually relaxed and self-regulated. There was no fighting. My husband came home and took the boys to school. And that was it.

A few years ago, I don’t think that I would have been able to do that.

So with my old age, am I getting more flexible or more stiff? Maybe both.

The Torah likens humankind to a tree (Deuteronomy 20:19). I think I know one reason why.

When a heavy storm comes, trees with weak roots are swept away, uprooted. A tree has to have deep, strong Trees with weak roots are swept awaythick roots to survive and withstand. From its roots, it receives nourishment, strength and stability. We don’t see the deep roots, but they are surely present. They must be there.

The roots of man are our heritage, our values, our priorities and traditions. Just like the roots of a tree, our “roots”—our value system—need to be thick and go deep. They anchor us, keeping us grounded and alive during difficult times.

But when a heavy storm comes, so, too, come strong winds and fierce air. A tree with branches that are hard, unmoving and brittle will break in the wind; its branches will snap and fall. But a supple tree with a bit of flexibility will sway to the right, sway to the left, and eventually still stand tall.

I want my roots planted firmly in the ground. I want the peace of mind that comes with clarity about what my values are and what my purpose is. Many times I ask myself, “Elana, what is the value here? Find your clarity, is it worth it?”

If it is, I hope I will stay strong, but I still need to be calm, even when everything around me is storming. I need to be a master of myself, because I am the only one in charge of me and the only one I can control. So I need to be flexible. I need to know how to incline and “bend,” so that I won’t fall and break myself, or fall and hurt anybody else.

When we think of the new year, Rosh Hashanah comes to mind, for it is written that on Rosh Hashanah that each person passes before G‑d in judgment (Rosh Hashanah 1:2).

But there is another new year we celebrate; it’s on the 15th day of the month of Shevat. It is the new year for the trees. I think that in a certain way, it can also be used as a day for individuals to reflect and evaluate. Where am I standing, and what kind of person do I aspire to be? Can I stay strong and firm, and at the same time, be relaxed and calm in my impulses?

I close my eyes and imagine myself as a majestic, strong, swaying, growing tree.