Monthly Archives: February 2018

The language of flowers

I have always had a general reluctance towards flowers. Not so much an aversion as a mistrust. Very possibly it comes from the fact that they purport to send one message, but oftentimes end up sending another. I mean, there are books on flowers and their meanings. A black locust, for example, means platonic love. A buttercup; wealth, a daisy; innocence; a rose; love, desire, passion.   But do you think people nowadays have any inkling what they are sending? Highly doubtful. In all likelihood it’s not so much that I dislike flowers as that I have always poorly  understood human nature to the point of knowing that someone may say one thing but mean another. Seriously. Most women know by a certain point in their life that a flower isn’t just a flower, but rather, a symbol with some message attached. And unfortunately, that message isn’t always the cute, flowery one that FTD would have you believe. Couple that with some pretty traumatizing associations to flowers and you have a recipe for dismay.

For starters, my grandmother died when I was 14. She was obsessed with flowers and so, prior to her death, she arranged to have a gazillion flowers at her funeral. There were daisies and tiger lilies and begonias and whatever else, and the whole funeral parlor was popping with yellow. I loved my grandmother dearly, but the smell of all those flowers paired with the smell of embalming fluid? Not good. For years every time I walked into a florist’s shop I thought of death.

Then there was high school. Every February there was a carnation sale. And depending on how much money your parents gave you, whom you were dating at the time and how many friends you had, you could buy carnations till all three ran out–friends, sweethearts and parent’s money. Then, on Valentine’s day, the teachers during homeroom would call out your name and you’d go up to the front desk, where everyone would see you, and you’d collect your carnation. Most of us received one, maybe two carnations with a little note attached that generally said something like “BFF,” and that would be the end of it. But then, there were the popular people. The cheerleaders. The football players. The jocks. The preps. They’d get some ridiculous amount of carnations, somewhere upward of twenty or so. And you’d have to watch them all day, carrying these carnations around, struggling down the hallway, fidgeting with them in class. Of course, they never put the damn things in their lockers. No. It wasn’t that easy. These people rubbed your nose in it. Literally. You didn’t just brush elbows with classmates in a crammed hallway on V-day. You had carnations smashed into your face. Oops. Sorry my forty-seven carnations just whacked you in the head. All this, to the point where you found yourself sneaking around the gym locker room or looking in trashcans for discarded carnations to claim as your own. Who can get over that level of trauma? I didn’t. To this day, any time I see someone giving out carnations on the side of the road or something, I want to ram my vehicle into their plastic bucket and drive off.

Thankfully, I was able to recover from my botanical complex, if only for a short while. But, it was only a matter of time before I too, hater of anything with a stem or a bud, fell victim to that ancient and perennial commercialism of love, which states that if you do not receive a flower from a man, you have no worth.  My life changed at this point. I suddenly adored flowers. Not so much for their beauty as their ability to define me. And most likely because I’d never received any. And by the time I hit my twenties I felt I was something of a freak. If society validated a woman by the flowers she received, I must have been an alien.

Until S.

I was 22 and dating this Air Force police officer named S when I lived in Greenland. We had fallen in love, and despite my leaving to return home, we remained in touch. For my birthday he sent a dozen yellow roses. They were stunning. Everything I had imaged they’d be. It was the first time I’d ever received flowers. And I probably have every petal saved in a box somewhere up in my attic, that’s how amazed I was at the idea of flowers.

He drifted into the past, of course, but his flowers were possibly the last I’d see in a really  long time.

Throughout my first marriage I only received one bouquet of roses from my ex-husband. He never bought me flowers for anything. Not Christmas. Not Mother’s day. Not any holiday whatsoever. Not even on the days I gave birth to either son, or the day I graduated with high honors from Rutgers University, after 16 years of trying. I don’t believe he even gave me flowers when my father died. Like I said, I only received one bouquet from him. Back in 1999, when I was about four months pregnant with my second child, I found out quite to my dismay, that he had sent some girl down in Georgia a dozen white roses. It would be the first of many more, ahem, awkward moments in our marriage. Truth be told, I was most annoyed that he sent a strange woman flowers and had never given me so much as a dandelion. Anyway, shortly after this, I came home one day to my own bouquet. Out of guilt or embarrassment, who knows, he had sent me the clichéd dozen red roses that I still affectionately refer to as the “I fucked up” bouquet. I can still remember throwing those things out long before they died on their own.

After the dissolution of my marriage, flowers sent to me took a continued downward spiral. In fact, they became downright insulting. There were the occasional carnations wrapped in plastic from Wawa that my dad or boyfriend G would pick up out of obligation on days like Valentine’s day or my birthday. No card attached. There was the “I’ve been neglecting you to go party with friends” flower from S. It was a lily (isn’t that the flower of DEATH?). I planted it in my front yard and the squirrels ate it. And finally, there was the “we just started fucking and I want to move out of my parents house and in with you” roses from M, which, admittedly, were quite beautiful. Yet, they came with such onus that every time I looked at them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were an omen of impending doom.

The truth is, my history with flowers (and men) had been grim. Until D.

I won’t go into detail but I fell in love with D in winter. When I was the most alone I had ever been and yet, strangely, the happiest. A time in my life when, for the first time ever,  I wasn’t looking for hidden messages in flowers nor having (unrealistic) expectations about the men giving them. In fact, I very specifically told D a month into our relationship, “Don’t bother with flowers. I don’t like them.” And so, when our first Valentine’s day rolled around, a holiday I typically try to ignore, I played it off and made other plans.   OK, well, it was easy. It was a week day and he was working. At any rate, I went into the city by myself and walked and walked and walked down Pine and Spruce and then over to Walnut to revisit a few of my favorite antique shops. I bought a little vintage tin sign for the bathroom.  I had tabouli at Sahara’s. And I strolled around looking at windows and doors, which I love to do. I thought of virtually nothing all day except maybe the temperature and how cold it got after a few days of unseasonably warm weather. And, when I got home, sitting on my front porch step, there were flowers.

There were twelve red roses (no, not long stem. These babies were cut), encircling a spray of extraordinarily green tiny buds, which rested upon the lip of a cylindrical glass vase with smooth, black pond stones at the bottom.  I brought them inside and sat them on my countertop and I stared at them for a good 10 minutes. I breathed them in.  I walked around them. I determined that I liked them. A lot.

And then, I actually found them to be quite beautiful.

I opened the notecard. Of course they were from D. And he had scribbled—in his own handwriting—this little “xo” on the card. Just that. Nothing more. No “I’m sorry,” or “Last night was great,” or “I’m giving these to you because if I don’t, you’ll think I’m lazy and cheap.”  Just “xo.” It was possibly the purest, plainest, most direct language of affection I had ever received from a flower, or a man, in a lifetime. A bouquet that actually came with the message it intended.

How rare.

I can’t say me and flowers will ever have the kind of relationship that say, Georgia O’Keeffe has with flowers, but I can say, I’m no longer opposed to them. D and I have been together 9 years this January, and while he doesn’t buy me flowers as much anymore, his steadfast love and the memories of those early bouquets mean far more than the actual flowers of which they were made. Real love, I’ve learned, isn’t complicated. It doesn’t die on the vine or send unintended messages. It just is.  Umberto Eco wrote, “the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.” And I suppose that’s true. But like I said, it’s what’s behind the flower; both in the giver and the receiver. It is this that speaks more loudly than anything. It is the underlying current of love, or lack thereof that can wilt a daisy, or make it bloom eternally.

Before you became a parent…

Before I became a parent, no one told me anything about parenting. They told me I was “blessed” and that I was “lucky” and, of course, that my whole life was about to change, followed by a karmic “Ha ha ha.” But (pregnancy horror stories and terrible two warnings aside) no one ever really gave me the lowdown on the emotional impact parenting might have on me. When “real” parenting began and when it ended (hint, it rhymes with “never”). Heck, now that I think of it, I’m sure my mother told me. I probably just never listened. At any rate, here’s a sliver of what I wish I had known…

…that yes, it’s true, you might poop in front of your team of nurses and doctors when giving birth to your new baby boy. And that that would be the first indication of the often humiliating and gut-wrenching job you’ve just signed up for.

…that you will think you’ve given birth to the next Einstein but chances are more probable that you’ve given birth to the next John Smith. And he’ll be super cool and just as wonderful anyway.

…that that seemingly independent, super intelligent eight-year-old, eleven-year-old, sixteen-year-old still needs your guidance and still needs to be reigned in, and still needs to be told what to do. And when you question if your job is done once they can finally tie their shoes and finally get up for school on their own and finally do their own laundry; when you think, “Well, at this point, I just need to be present,” that’s when your job actually gets harder.

…that you will think your love for that baby will last a lifetime, uninterrupted, but in reality, it will wax and wane like the moon. Trust me, when he crashes your car, spills black paint on your new carpet or gets his girlfriend pregnant at 19, your love and adoration will be tested. OK, so, maybe you will always love him, but you might not always “like” him.

…that you will lose, as if like a death, that sweet little boy you have come to know so well and fiercely call your own. Right at about age 14 he will physically disappear. And by 16, even if he still lets you kiss and hug him, he will be gone and this new person will have taken his place, with only the shadow of the little person he once was. You will see those long lost qualities in him as if you are looking at his offspring. Watered down, and only 25% of you.

…that those gazillion baby pics you took of him when he was picking his nose or falling into his toy box or holding up a frog–those pictures that everyone told you were too many, that everyone laughed at your over-enthusiasm for taking, Like, really? You need another picture of your kid in that ridiculous Halloween costume?— those pics will fade within 15-years time, and they will look like an old Polaroid from the 70’s. And half of them will somehow disappear. And every single stinking one of them that’s left will be worth holding on to.

…that your job description as a parent is not a simple check list of tasks you must accomplish or hats you have to wear or titles or positions you have to carry. There’s no real satisfaction of completion, seeing a project from start to finish. You’re job is more like a researcher who conducts long term studies on human behavior and has to wait 40 years to see if the experiment even worked.

My sons in 2017, Julien (17) and Daniel (19)

…that his love for you is in direct proportion to your attention to him. That he will need you to be less his teacher and more his biggest fan. That discipline, guidance and parenting aside, he will need you to love what he loves. Even if it’s Minecraft or his off-key singing, or soccer, or his horrible choice in music. 

…that he will most likely fail and struggle the same way you did when you were his age. But he’s not you. You don’t get a second chance.

…that he is your best investment. Not your job. Not your new fiancé. Not the book you’re publishing. Not your retirement fund. Not the millions of poor people you donate to each year. Your child is. He is the end result of who you chose to be in your lifetime and all your actions leading up to this point. All that will come back to you for better or worse. So, invest wisely.

…that you’re allowed to make a certain but undetermined amount of mistakes with him. He will forgive you for most if not all of them. But, he will eventually tell you at some point that you ruined his life. At some other point, typically when he has a child of his own, he will retract those words and tell you that parenting is tough and he recognizes you did the best you knew how at the time.

Released

I hate myself in winter.

I am as cold and silent as a leafless forest, with an underbrush of timid dry sticks and invisible

moss.

I went to Sedona on a vision quest many months ago. I sat in a prayer room filled with the smoke of  tobacco, juniper and sweet grass. A man moved the smoke around us with an eagle feather and I saw spring.

A savage green spring so far in the future it felt like a date I will never live to see.

He handed us a pouch filled with the unused tobacco and told each of to release it back to the earth. It represents your worries.

Drop it in a river, he said, or toss it off a cliff on a windy day. It doesn’t belong to you. It was on loan. And now you must give it back.

It sat for months on my dresser. Willingly giving. I didn’t want to let it go. I was the bad friend who borrows a book and never gives it back.

But, winter’s filled with worry, so, what’s a little more. I gave it back.

I tied a piece of jute string to it, grabbed a ladder from the basement and hung it from a limb of an evergreen that I can see from my great window.

And there I watched my worries, from a distance, through glass.

I watched as birds flew near to catch a glimpse of the new, yellow object dangling from a limb. Like a jewel it sparkled against a backdrop of gray sky. The cold, hazy sunlight nudged through the grayness and said, There you are. And the wind and sun took back its possession and set me toward spring.