Saturday, March 23, 2013

Leaving My Garden

I have taken some time off from blogging the last few weeks.  As we entered into escrow on our house, the desire to continue to cultivate my garden waned.  Besides, there was work to be done.  There were boxes to build, fill, and tape closed.  We held a garage sale - an event I don't think I'll repeat until the next time I move.  We went shopping for new appliances, called the county about switching our utilities, and worked with the cable company to get us set up right away.

Last night was our first night in the new house and there is still a great deal of work to be done before this place even begins to feel like something close to home.  It's a weird time in our lives.  The place that had been our home for more than a decade is empty except for a few brooms, a mop, and some dog hair we still need to vacuum up.  It doesn't look or feel much like our home anymore.  But this new house is filled to the brim with boxes with suddenly cryptic markings on the outside.  When you move into a three-bedroom home, simply writing "Bedroom" on the side of a box isn't actually that helpful.  It's also a good idea to decide ahead of time which room you and your spouse are going to call the living room and which is the family room.  

I think because there was so much work to do I was able to shut off a lot of my emotions related to moving. I couldn't finish what needed to be done if I allowed myself to wallow in nostalgia.  I don't think I realized this until I took my daughter over to the old house today to check the mail and pick up a few things the movers missed.  We walked around the backyard together.  She noticed the 'Snow Fountains' weeping cherry tree in the corner of the yard.  How could she not?  It had burst into bloom in the last few days and was now a shower of white.

I planted that tree in her honor the week after she was born and I took every opportunity I had to tell her that it was her tree.  I don't think she realized until then that the tree hadn't been taken to our new house.  She asked me why not.  "The new owners expect us to leave all the trees in the ground where they were sow we could only take the trees that were in pots."  She seemed to accept this answer so I went back to looking for overlooked pot risers while she meandered.  Because I was preoccupied I didn't see what she was looking at, I didn't notice the looks on her face, or register the change in her body language.  But when I finally took my eyes off the ground and saw her, I knew something wasn't right.  She had her hands in her pockets, she was standing as close to the far wall of the house as she could without actually touching it, she was looking so small in that empty yard.

"What's the matter, Sweetheart?" I asked her.

"Now I won't have a tree anymore, Daddy."  And then she cried and fell into my outstretched arms.  I felt her little body shake with sorrow.  I felt her arms tighten around my neck as if holding on tighter was the only thing that could make the sadness go away.  I think that I could have said something right away to cheer her up.  But it felt like she just needed to be sad for a few minutes.  And I needed to be reminded that no matter how busy we get, no matter how businesslike life becomes, that we are still emotional beings and a good cry once in a while is exactly what we need most.

I once heard someone say that if someone needs to hug you to get some comfort, you should let them dictate when it's okay to pull away and end the hug.  I thought of that while my little girl clung to me.  And kept clinging.  I worried that her crying was just going to snowball out of control so I pulled away just far enough that she could see my face and I told her that I was sorry but that this tree would always be hers.  I told her that we could go to the "flower store" and buy any tree she wanted and we could plant that in our new yard and that tree would be her new tree.  She liked that.

She has so much to learn about saying goodbyes to people and things in the years ahead.  It's going to be hard for her as it was for all of us.  I knew this all along and I have feared that pain for her.  Until today though, I didn't know that I still had so much to learn about goodbyes or that my daughter would be the one teaching me.

We walked back into the house to lock up.  I saw her pause with a thoughtful look on her face.  "Daddy, can my new tree be in a pot?"

"You bet, Sweetheart."  Just because I know she has to learn to say goodbyes doesn't mean I won't do everything I can to delay it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stopping In My Tracks

On Saturday mornings my daughter has a gymnastics class that has become part of our weekly ritual.  We go and sit in the bleachers with our coffee while she learns to somersault, walk backwards on a beam, and perfect the art of making her parents freak out every time she slips.  This is good practice for all of us, I’m sure.  Each week she gets a little more comfortable and a little more coordinated than she was before.  She is growing incrementally and the change is so slight it is hard for someone to see it.  But once in a while she will say or do something that (both literally and metaphorically) stops me in my tracks and I will see her in a new way.  The child I once saw as merely a reflection of her parents has somehow trasformred into a thinking, opinionated, humorous little girl. These changes and these moments are worth remembering.  That’s an easy thing to write and probably an easier thing to just read over.  But these moments in our lives really are worth remembering.     

I normally drive by myself to gymnastics so that I can go home afterwards and start my yard work while the girls do the things that girls like to do when they don’t like to garden.  This past Saturday, as I drove back to our house, I was struck by how swiftly the signs of spring had come to Sacramento.  Many of our trees are in flower, daffodils are nearly finished blooming, and the sun is warm.  I had noticed these changes a little and even snapped a few photos of trees in bloom last month.  But then, just like with my daughter, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks . . . this time my car's tracks.  I actually said, “Wow” out loud when I saw this:   

This is on the corner of a very busy street in town and the entire front yard is walled in by the white-washed stucco wall.  I have driven by this house a thousand times and I have never noticed it before.  I felt lucky to have noticed it that day and I thought it would be worth remembering so I pulled over and took a few pictures with my phone. 

Although the picture above was worth posting on its own merit, I was inspired to put fingers to keyboard this morning because a third thing happened to me that stopped me in my tracks.  Clearly, I am in a time and place in my life where I am feeling compelled to stop and take note of what is going on.  This third event happened to be an e-mail I received.  I have infrequently written about the Library of Congress' weekly e-mail column called American Life in Poetry.  This week's poem has a gardening theme so I think it is appropriate to be shared here and I hope that it finds you in a place where you can stop and consider why we garden and what that says about your life as it did for me this morning: 

Cement Backyard

My father had our yard cemented over.
He couldn’t tell a flower from a weed.
The neighbors let their backyards run to clover
and some grew dappled gardens from a seed,

but he preferred cement to rampant green.
Lushness reeked of anarchy’s profusion.
Better to tamp the wildness down, unseen,
than tolerate its careless brash intrusion.

The grass interred, he felt well satisfied:
his first house, and he took an owner’s pride,
surveying the uniform, cemented yard.
Just so, he labored to cement his heart.

-Lynne Sharon Schwartz