Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Choosing the Right Time to Bloom

There are marigolds in my front yard. Vibrant, hearty, sunshiny marigolds. It's a common enough sight, as this ordinary flower can be found just about anywhere. But my marigolds have taken on a special significance as I've watched them unexpectedly bloom.

We have two flower beds in the front yard, one up next to the house and one in the middle of the lawn. We added the beds the spring after we first moved in, but it took a little while longer to actually fill them. The flower bed along the house and by the front door is full of bright flowers, lush ground cover, and a weeping Alaskan cedar, my favorite thing in the yard. Almost everything but the tree was donated by a neighbor, who not only gave us the plants but came over and helped us plant them. (Have I ever mentioned how incredible the people in our neighborhood are?) We've done a pretty good job of maintaining this bed, weeding it and keeping the plants trimmed. But the other bed? I'm sorry to say it has been sadly neglected.

We could never decide what to put in that front flower bed, the one that sits like an island halfway between the house and the street. Several years ago we planted a miniature spruce that we happened to find on sale, and then added a few irises donated by my parents. We also planted some petunias and a small handful of marigolds donated by Aaron's parents. The petunias flourished that summer, but with no other vision for the bed or money to fill it, the rest of the flower bed was left to its own devices.

Eventually the perennials dried up and died, and gradually the weeds won, choking everything that came out of the ground. Even the spruce was no match for the insidious morning glory. Every now and then we'd work our way through the flower bed, half-heartedly clearing room and adding a plant or two. But in the end, well, we just plain gave up.

The flower beds really got into a state last summer while I was pregnant, and this year was much of the same. It was on our list of to-do's, but it just never got done. Until a month or two ago, when our neighbors again came to the rescue.

The Relief Society sisters of the ward descended on our yard with trowels and spades and gardening gloves. Perhaps they took pity on me, the busy mama of twins. Or perhaps they were just tired of our white trash yard bringing the property values down. Either way, their help was exactly what we needed, and in less than an hour the bed was cleared of all weeds — even all traces of morning glory. The spruce could not be saved, but a few indian paintbrush plants finally had room to bloom. And to my great surprise, we found something else in the long-neglected flower bed: marigolds.

It's been several years since we first planted those hand-me-down blooms, and they haven't been seen since. It wasn't until the suffocating weeds and dead roots were torn up and cleared out that the marigolds surprised us and flourished once again. And flourished they have, with strong stems, hearty leaves, and bright yellow blossoms. Without the petunias crowding them out, they've grown to more than twice the size they were that first summer.


There is, of course, a metaphor here. There are several, in fact. There's the lovely reminder to bloom where you're planted, or one about needing the help of others to break free and bloom, and perhaps the one about being able to thrive despite the attempt of others who try to hold us down. But the metaphor most resonating with me today is one about choosing the right time to bloom.

Throughout my life I have always been an overachiever, hungry for stimulating experiences and bursting with energy to try new things, more things, all the things!! This appetite served me well in younger years but inevitably got me into a heap of trouble when my bipolar disorder went unchecked. After a harrowing and painful crash, I spent the next two years rebuilding a life reduced to ashes. My appetite had been checked, though never fully satiated. I had learned to pace myself, somewhat, or at least bide my time.

Then came marriage and children and the busy life of a full-time mother to three little ones. I find myself in new territory, as I never in all my days expected to fully abandon my career to become a stay-at-home mom. It's a confusing place, even if it were something I'd planned on for years. I constantly find myself torn between hard and harder-to-make choices, mostly about how to spend my time. I still have so many passions I want to pursue, and I still keep a vague hope of resuming my writing career in the not-too-distant future. But when you have a 3-year-old and 7-month-old twins, most of your day is spent feeding and changing and putting to bed and loving those endearing but needy little creatures. From sun up until sun down I give them nearly all of my time, all the while wondering if it's too much or not enough, if I'm spoiling them and neglecting myself or vice versa, only occasionally stopping long enough to pine for all the things I'd rather be doing than changing my 12th diaper of the day.

I try not to look too longingly at all the passions I've had to let fade. I know in my heart that this is where I am needed, and the work I am doing as a mother is absolutely vital and that this time I spend caring for my children will lay the crucial foundation on which they will base their entire lives. Despite the exhaustion it is incredibly fulfilling, helping me grow in ways I never could have on my own. But it's hard not to mourn the paths I've had to abandon and the journeys I never took. It's even harder to think of the writing career I chose to end right when it started to take off. I worry that my skills will fade and when I choose to return to it (assuming I ever do), I won't have what it takes and the dream will have died. Most of all, I worry that I'm letting the stresses of motherhood drain what precious energy I have left for me at the end of the day and spending my alone time on worthless endeavors instead of following my passions — because if that's true, I have no one to blame but myself. Not motherhood. Not bipolar disorder. Just me.

That's why, in the midst of all this uncertainty, the marigolds are speaking to me. When I stop to look and listen they say, "Hello, there! Here we are! Did you ever think you'd see us again?" If we were to sit and talk a while I imagine they'd tell me, with grandmotherly wisdom, about choosing the right time to bloom.

"There will be times," they'd say, "when you'll see the sun and feel the warm air, and your heart will ache with a passionate yearning to go out and meet the spring. But if you sit still a while you'll hear your wisdom coming to you in a whisper, telling you that the time is not right. It will remind you that your roots are too shallow and the weeds above are too thick. It will remind you of the work yet to do and tell you to send your seeds back into the ground, to keep them warm and to wait."

The marigolds will say to me hazily yet pointedly, as if walking backward through a memory, that no matter how bright the sun may shine, if you know in your soul it's not yet your season, the days ahead may feel cold and dark.

"You will feel lonely, under-nourished, perhaps even cheated, forgotten while all around you the flowers begin to pop up one by one," they will say. "But then, when your work is done and the sun comes again, when you know it is your time to bloom, how much brighter your blossoms will be! How strong your stems and how deep your roots! To all those who may have forgotten you, how great will be their surprise to see you rise again — vibrant, yes, but grounded, and oh so wise."

I will nod slowly, thoughtfully, because I'll know what they're saying is true. I know that the season for following my own passions has gone, but it will return again when the time is right. For now I must bury my seeds and set about work of a different kind, one that will strengthen the burgeoning blooms given to my care. I will do my best not to ache for my own bit of sun, for I know that by nourishing the seeds around me, we all will have our time to bloom.

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