When my son was four he brought me a fistful of flowers he had gathered from the backyard under the hot summer sun. The bunch consisted of azaleas, lilies, daisies, and a few weeds I couldn’t identify. Sweat beaded around his temples as his blue eyes looked up at me, presenting his gift proudly in front of our kitchen sink. Dirty dishes were stacked and I was elbow-deep in dinner preparation.
I looked at the bunch and knew that some of the flowers were not meant to be picked. To start with, the lilies had been transplanted from my grandmother’s garden and this was their only bloom until next season. Many were weeds. A yellow dandelion stuck out tall from the middle, its heavy head drooping already. Surely the little garden spot I was trying to create was now barren, the heads lopped-right-off of the ones I had tended so carefully.
But a smile crept across my face and my arms circled my little man, still a toddler in so many ways. He reached for a paper cup in which to place the flowers, but I insisted on the crystal vase from the cabinet. We arranged them together, he and I, right there in the middle of life strewn with the everyday chaos of a family. Dandelions and weeds in crystal.
Maybe these dandelion moments best describe the relationship between a mother and her children. The tiny, backyard, everyday offerings of tradition and weeds that look a lot like grace and forgiveness. The standing in the kitchen or school hallway or hospital room, hands clenched together. The millions of ways we grip tight and the let go, nod a yes, lift a chin, accept the handmade gift, find the lost sock, or bring the lunch money.
I am grateful for the times my children overlooked my flaws and offering me a dandelion, a flower of grace that they found peeking out of the cracks on this path of motherhood.
Because in truth, the largest gifts my son and daughter have given me include loving me through all kinds of terrain: bouts of doubt, the failed cookie recipe, and the dozens of times I was late to carpool line. What a bud of mercy they hand me when they remember the time we danced in the kitchen instead of the notes I forgot to sign for school, the snap of anger that flew, and the nights I didn’t hear them crying in their rooms or tend to their hurt feelings.
What a gift my daughter’s words were when she offered “it’s ok mom” when she was seven. I had watched her board the bus in her oldest, ragged camping clothes, not wanting to argue that Tuesday. Thirty minutes later she called me from the school office distraught that it was picture day. Only she and I know the glances of understanding that we exchanged as I handed her a skirt, blouse and shoes to change into in that hallway bathroom. I told her she looked beautiful while I fixed her hair. I told her I was sorry I had forgotten. She smiled for the school photographer and today you would never know that 30 minutes prior she had whispered desperate to me over the phone to “just please come.” But we know.
Motherhood is in the showing up. And if we were perfect at it we wouldn’t be moms, we would be Jesus.
So this Mother’s Day I’m thinking a few flowers from the backyard are the very best kind. Maybe we don’t need FTD florists and Hallmark cards. Maybe what we all need the most is to keep choosing the dandelion bouquet moments, the ones we each got right. And remember them as fiercely as the stubborn backyard weed that comes back every year.
My friend Laura Brown published a book that begs us to start these grace conversations. Her words are a sort of journal, a catalyst for converation between mothers and their children of all ages.. And (spoiler alert!) I have purchased a few copies for the moms in my life.
Find Laura’s book here. Her essay is featured today on Slate and I’m smiling wide, because the whole world need to read this. It’s a beautiful tribute of the everyday qualities that make up every mother. I challenge you to list your “Fifty Things About My Mother” like Laura did. I’m working on mine.
My dandelion memories and Laura’s book have reminded me that there is beauty in every mom’s story.
And usually we don’t have to look any further than our own backyard.