The patience of a crocus

If you’ve seen my “About Me” page or spent any time around me, you already know I love to garden. I love the feel and smell of dirt. I love the sore muscles derived from a day of tilling, planting, pruning, and raking. I love the planning, watering, and nurturing of shrubs, flowers, and vegetables. I love the tastes and smells of freshness that can never be found in a produce department. I love witnessing the springtime rebirth of my yard as the weather warms and days grow long. Yep, gardening has long nourished my soul.

This past weekend, I worked hard preparing the yard for its renewal. I raked up the blanket of fallen leaves. I yanked away the withered vines from last fall’s squash crop. I pruned roses and shrubs. I checked garden fencing and purchased manure. I felt the sun warm my back and the songs of birds fill my ears. I celebrated with my younger daughter when our 10 cent goldfish was found still alive in the freshly cleaned pond. I smiled at the 3 yellow crocus huddled in the corner of the yard and listened as my daughter shared with me the order of their arrival.

I love the cheerful nature of the crocus flower. It stands out against the back drop of fading winter browns, smiling brightly at the careful and not so careful observer. So small, yet so bold it appears before the mighty tulip or the graceful buttercup of a daffodil. It fearlessly  blossoms while the threat of snow still looms. It shouts a cheery hello to the trees not yet leafed out. It is a simple flower, captivating in its beauty. Without need for a calendar, it emerges when the ground thaws. Its tiny stature announces the arrival of spring, the season of renewal.

This morning, I awoke feeling agitated, not angry, not upset, just agitated. My skin feels too tight. My fingers tap too hard at the keyboard. There is a river of discontent rushing beneath the surface of my skin. I feel unsettled as I struggle to focus my thoughts and quiet the chaos in my mind. I grimace at the inventory of chores that await me, though I know it is not chores that disquiet me. Life has had its share of upheavals recently, but even those aren’t what gnaw at me. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I do know I don’t like feelings of unease and confusion. Answers offer me peace, but answers elude me. I stare out my office window searching the snow-covered mountains for peace.  I watch the horses graze in the field of the neighbor’s farm. Visions of tranquility and, still, my skin crawls. I push away from my desk… I shake my hands… I flip through  pages of a book without seeing the words. I grow impatient with myself. My pattern is to push through feelings of restlessness, not sit with them. I want to isolate what stirs within me so I can fix it, so I can release it and return to my work. I fail and resume my stare out the window.

My eyes scan the freshly turned earth below my second story window. I see the timbers laying in wait for placement. A lattice made from old sunflower stalks waits for the peas to vine up its poles. A bird perches atop an empty feeder in anticipation. Bird baths stand dry. Trees sway gently in the wind waiting for the young buds to mature into leaves and new branches. The tops of the tulip and daffodil leaves emerge bit by bit as their flowers develop in the darkness beneath. I listen to the water trickling into the pond and the call of a hawk.  Pots have been gathered on the potting table. I hear the rooster crow, a tractor roar and watch a large cow and calf wander out to graze. I let my eyes rest upon the three bright yellow crocus tucked beyond the swing set. There is no urgency in the small flower, no desire to push through the discomfort of another bloom. I breathe in the patience I am surrounded by and release my agitation. 

As my eyes survey the yard, it occurs to me that springtime is more than just a season of rebirth; it is a season of transition. It is that gentle time that moves us gradually from the harshness of winter to the scorching days of summer. Dormant trees slowly bud new growth. Faithful perennials awaken from their slumber as bulbs burst forth from the leaf covered earth. Freshly tilled gardens are prepared for a new assortment of vegetable seeds. Snow can turn to rain and back to snow on a single day.  The cobwebs of winter’s neglect are swept from patios and fresh air blows in through opened windows. Wardrobes transition from sweaters to summer tees, birds begin their nests, and weekends usually include at least one trip to Lowes. Baseball bats and soccer balls return to the fields as children grow restless with school routines. The lazy days of summer are in sight. And still, springtime refuses to be rushed.

From the quiet of winter, new beginnings emerge, but nature does not rush new growth. It patiently waits as the days turn longer and the ground softens. Each plant and creature moves to individual rhythm of transition. Though the crocus flowers early, the Columbine waits for warmer days to bloom. It does not push to flower sooner, impatient with the weather. And, every gardener knows the consequences of sowing seeds before the planting season has arrived. Growth is a process that cannot and should not be rushed, regardless of its discomfort.

When feelings of discontent stir within me, I usually hurry to settle the waters. As I look around my yard, I see no signs of the rushing I feel within myself. I see ease, a willingness to just be in a period of unsettled transition. The early spring bulbs, the budding trees, the empty vegetable garden all mirror this chapter in my life. The bulbs, forever consistent in my garden, share only a brief season with me; the trees prepare to branch off in new directions; and a newly turned vegetable garden sits replete with possibility in its emptiness. Each a special part of my garden, and each in a state of transition. Just as I am.

As I come to the end of this writing, I have found peace. I still don’t know what agitated me this morning, but I trust I will have the information I need when it is time for me to act upon it. For now, I will not force, nor rush. I will just be. In my garden I have a plaque that reads, “In my garden, the answers come.” Very often that is where my answers do come. Today, I learned a lot from a crocus.

Happy springtime, everyone!


How do you describe an alien?

When I first became a mother, I was given a piece of parenting advice from our pediatrician that I lived by; it was simply, “Catch ’em being good.” In other words, be on the constant look out for places to praise my child. I could communicate my expectations and reinforce good behavior by drawing attention to it, and in turn my child would behave well through the positive reinforcement. For the most part, it worked well,  and we were able to save the “time-outs” for the times they were really necessary.

Then came the teen years…

Recently, I munched chips and veggies with a group of parents of teens. We compared notes on teen dramas. We vented frustrations. We exchanged discipline ideas. Though not expressly, I think we all agreed that our teens seem to have been consumed by aliens leaving behind people we don’t always recognize. Gone are our agreeable girls and boys, once free with public displays of affection and desires to please. Today, the bedrooms we furnished seem occupied by strangers plugged into iPods, cell phones and laptops, many rebelling against longstanding house rules and expectations.  Collectively, we confessed our longings for the days past when we picked out our children’s clothing, we stood tall upon pedestals, and it was easy to catch ’em being good. 

As a discussion point, we generated a list of adjectives that often describe teens.  Descriptors such as: emotional, unpredictable, and impulsive were blurted out. We continued: curious, questioning, and creative. There was also: selfish, moody, argumentative, self-absorbed, sneaky, manipulative, rebellious and so on. Negative descriptors became verbal bombs dropped in rapid succession. We called them “descriptors,” but, truthfully, I think these labels easily become the expectations we (as parents and society) have of teens. I was glad when we changed our focus to discuss the lighter topic of  the issues our kids are facing. 🙂

On my way home that evening, I began wondering about the role labels might play in parent/child relationships. From their very first days, we describe our child’s personality and behavior in positive and negative terms. When our children are young, we label them as bright, caring, easy, or as defiant, difficult, spirited, to name a few. In essence, we are communicating our expectations of their behavior. (Oh, little Susie is such a good girl, so caring. OR  That Susie has always been so spirited–I don’t know what to do with her!) 

 I ruminated on the list for several days. I rolled the words around in my mouth and said them aloud while picturing my daughters’ faces. It was uncomfortable. I felt my muscles tense as I mouthed the combative labels. I recognized the familiar feelings. I have often braced myself for war before any battleground was declared. I owned the guilt of viewing my own children as stereotypes at times. 

Many of the words thrown about that evening were stereotypical. Teens are often portrayed as rebellious and confrontational.  We, ourselves, may have been called rebellious and confrontational during the teen years. As parents, we may label our teens with the same terms when they challenge our authority. This led me to question,   “Could these stereotypical descriptors have an impact on the ways I both treat and react to my children and on the ways they respond to me–especially if I anticipate the negative? Do we, in some ways, create a self-fulfilling prophecy in the teen/parent relationship when we expect to ‘catch ’em being bad?'”

 I asked my girls for their opinions about the words used to describe teens. Whereas both agreed the list did describe teens, they also felt the list was unfair, limiting and discriminatory. It left both girls feeling judged and defensive. They felt convicted without having “committed a crime.” Understandably so.

A week or so later, their father and I asked them to create a “typical” teen’s list of descriptors for parents. It included: controlling, over-reactive, forgetful, busy, and, finally, loving. As parents, we felt judged and defensive. Understandably so. But, it also opened a dialogue with our children about the effects stereotypical labels might have on our relationships.

As a family, we discussed the roles media, friends, and our own experiences play in our relationships. In the media, parents and teens are commonly portrayed in battle  or as dismissive of each other. Sibling relationships are shown as contentious and burdensome. Teen friendships are typically characterized as more valuable, understanding, and fulfilling than family relationships. In general, a teen’s mission seems characterized as “a battle for freedom from the repressive forces of family.” Friends commiserate. Hands are thrown up in resignation and frustration, and the cycle continues. Outside influences, we all agreed, can significantly impact the various family relationships, often by further muddying already muddied waters.

Our family conversation led me to question my perceptions of the teens in my world as well as my parenting style. Had my parenting changed with the teen years? Had I turned my energies to maintaining control and my focus to correction? Had I lost sight of “catching ’em being good?”  In considering my own teens, I pondered ways I might positively impact our transition years. I began by creating my own list of descriptors for them; one that is honest, yet primarily focused on their positive attributes: unique, creative, funny, loving, bright, spontaneous, unpredictable, smart, curious, stubborn, independent, compassionate, testing, challenging, exploring, exhausting,  imaginative, and perhaps above all, confused and confusing.  

The teen years are confusing–for both parents and teens. These years bring a flood of physical and emotional changes. As they attempt to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world, we are trying to figure out how to best parent during these transitional years. How do we maintain our authority while allowing them to mature? What is normal and acceptable? How do we keep them safe? How long do these years last, again?

It seems my girls became “teens” as spontaneously as the tears turn to giggles in a 2-year-old.  Though a 12-year-old birthday cake should have offered fair warning, I was still caught by surprise when our house rules were first rebuffed. I know that testing boundaries is a natural process; the toddler does it when he pulls a hand away and the teen does it when talking back. Though neither may be acceptable, it is how our children learn to take flight and separate. No parent likes to feel disrespected or rejected by their child. Nor does any child by their parent. However, rules and boundaries must be established and maintained. As a parent,  learning to choose wise battles, as opposed to all battles, takes practice as well as stamina. 

I’m grateful for that conversation over chips and veggies. It helped me re-evaluate my approach to parenting my own girls. It reminded me that my teens are children in transition to adulthood, a time filled with confusion and frustration. Guiding teens through these years can be emotionally and physically demanding for all involved.  Sure, we have had our battles, and I trust there will be more before the empty nest years. A butterfly’s metamorphosis, though beautiful, is not without struggle. 

I plan to post the list I made so I can see it daily. My hope is that if I keep reminding myself to catch ’em being good, (which may, at times, include boundary testing) I can  enjoy the teen years as much as I did their toddler years. And, that perhaps one day the aliens will return my children, along with my sanity.

Previously known as

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