Photo by Dr. Julie Miley Schlegel
Last week we went to Northwest Arkansas. Driving through the Ozarks, I was fascinated at the onset of spring. Coming from Houston, where we don't have drastic seasons, I took it all in. My eyes kept finding trees with white blossoms all over, usually against a backdrop of wintery foliage that had not yet shown signs of life.
I called my dad to ask him about the trees, since he grew up in the area. “Oh, the apple blossom trees? I think that’s what you mean.” He then proceeded to send me an article about the trees so I could read up.
What was notable to me about these trees is that they are covered in white blossoms when much of the foliage around them is still winter-dead. In the landscape of brown-gray sticks and trunks and groundcover, the white flowers boldly and proudly proclaim hope for the coming spring. They bloom in their own time.
I guess because I live in Houston, I think of seasons like the photos in a children’s book. When I imagine seasons, it’s like flashcards: winter (white snow), spring (flowers), summer (green and hot) and fall (red, orange, and yellow leaves). I think of everything blooming or dying at the same time, perfectly posed for the picture.
Unlike the childhood flashcards, though, the blooming and dying happen on a continuum. The foliage gradually comes alive in spring and gradually shuts down for winter. This is one of those things I know but don’t know — it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind until I got a visual representation of this lesson in the form of white apple blossom flowers in a winter-tree grove.
Much like the trees and foliage, we go through our own seasons of parenting. As parents, some of us are still cold and gray while others are blooming. Likewise, our children will bloom in their own time, as well. Sometimes parent and child are not in sync. Sometimes parents and other parents are not in sync. And both are ok.
I look back at my earlier parenting seasons with nostalgia and knowing. It took surviving the infant years, the toddler years, the elementary years to look back fondly and “remember when.”
My niece told me she missed a March Madness game today because she is in the younger-child-birthday-party season of her parenting. Ugh, I remember that one, I thought. Another parent this week hasn’t slept in the first four days of his newborn parenting season. Ugh, I remember that one, too.
Last year I was grieving my firstborn leaving the nest, as I see many parents of seniors experiencing this year. This year, though, my family has adapted to its new normal, with my daughter coming in and out of our daily lives. I have moved to the next mini-season within the teenage season. Spring always follows winter.
My own dad played air traffic control this week as all three of his adult daughters traveled on the same day, checking traffic and weather and flight reports until we safely arrived. Someday (God willing) I’ll be monitoring my own adult children from afar in that season of parenting.
Getting out of town and seeing those white blossom trees made me return to Houston with fresh eyes, looking for signs of spring in my own neighborhood. There it is in my friend’s beautiful garden with the tree with purple flowers. Even my live oak trees have tiny green leaves that look fresh and new.
The truth is that we are all in our own seasons, and next year and next decade our seasons will change. Much like the white apple blossom tree, we will bloom as parents in our own timeline, and our kids will do the same. If we are in a brown-gray season of despair, we just have to hold on long enough for the seasons to change.
The apple blossom tree just decided to bloom at the time that it did. Something in that apple blossom tree said, “yep, today’s the day to wake up and make the white flowers.”
“But it’s still cold in the mornings. It still freezes at night,” the stick tree next to it might have said. “I’m not blooming yet and risking it.”
“Fine for you,” the white flowering tree answered. “Today is my day to bloom. I’ve waited long enough.”
The rhythms of nature fascinate me. The internal messages and drives and motivations of the trees surely must be in us, too. I mustn’t box my children into the season I think they should be in. They will bloom and grow in their own time, when they are ready.
The message I must give them is this: whatever day you choose to bloom, even if there are bare trunks and branches around you, just lift your head high, puff your chest out, and show the world what you’ve got.