Spring has settled in, and the crocuses, daffodils, buttercups, tulips, hyacinths, dogwoods, rhododendron and violets all unfurled themselves in order as usual.
I love flowers. I love driving to work in late summer and seeing cornflower blue and goldenrod lining country roads. When traveling in tropical places, I can’t help but soak in the flowers perched on top of gates and growing alongside cracked sidewalks. In the desert, I’m blown away by the tough, resilient flowers that bloom in spite of dry crumbling soil. Flowers are powerful symbols and spiritual earmarks. They teach me about fresh starts and rebirth; about trusting God’s provision and creativity; about the frailty and temporal nature of life. Flowers also remind me of my mother.
I hadn’t really thought about it before this year, but I know how to identify more flowers than I realized. It’s a surprise skill that snuck up on me. I’m not an expert in horticulture by any means, but I do seem to have a hidden flower vocabulary tucked somewhere in the folds of my brain. As April showers gave way to May flowers (and an excessive number of May showers if you live in Ohio), I recognized where this vocab list came from: my mom.
Gerber daisies, hydrangeas, bleeding hearts, gladiolus, amaryllis and lilac. This vocabulary can be traced directly back to mom. Back to Meadowville and our house nestled on a grassy hill. I didn’t necessarily spend hours and hours by her side tilling the earth or reviewing flora flash cards, but she spoke the language of flowers and I listened. She told me that she carried red tulips for her wedding, the perfect choice for early May. She taught me that violets are edible, and I remember plucking them from the yard to taste them for myself. In fifth grade, I chose to paint a grape hyacinth at school when other 11 year olds might have chosen a daisy. I know the language of flowers for the same reason I use the words “rain slicker” and “tea towels.” They’re words she uses.
This is the work of a mother, of a parent. When I reflect on my childhood and adolescence, I think less about the big, difficult conversations that inevitably occur between children and parents. Instead, I think about the simple ease of spending time together. The slow shaping process that takes place day in and day out through reassuring smiles and daily conversation. The actions and reactions of daily life. Some people may be more suited for this work than others. On this Mother’s Day, I am so incredibly thankful for the beautiful, reliable, joyful approach my own mother has taken.
Recently we sat in my living room on a rainy afternoon and I pointed to patch of tall, purple flowers clustered in the backyard that I never noticed before. I asked my mom what kind they might be, and without missing a beat, she knew they were allium. She compared them to the flowering chives I know so well from our days on Meadowville. Once you learn a new flower, you start to see them everywhere. And now I can add these allium to the list of elegant, blooming reminders of my mother’s love — planted in places I never even knew I needed.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and the grandmas I love so much. I also want to wish happy Mother’s Day to women everywhere who do this work of mothering in unconventional ways — thank you for nurturing, guiding and teaching the people you meet along the way.