Yesterday, I re-watched Steel Magnolias. Before the movie began, I knew that re-watching this film would make me cry, and I almost opted out of racking myself with that painful experience again. But I took the plunge, and I began to think about my own life. Julia Roberts died in Steel Magnolias, and as a mother, I was tormented by the mother’s grief of losing her child to death. But I also began to consider that many parents lose their children in ways that do not involve dying. Children simply move on. They leave to marry and to begin their own homes or they leave to begin their own careers somewhere else. The bottom line is that our children leave. and as parents, we are left gripping the reality that we had simply been loaned a set of children–for just a short period of time–and that eventually, we were forced to let our children go.
“You can never go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe is correct in saying that once a child leaves, he can never really return to his childhood home again. Although most children keep in touch with their parents after they move away, they can never really return, and a decent mother doesn’t want her child to do so. But in some nagging, longing way, mothers remember and we ache for the days that we wrapped our children in soft, cotton blankets and brought them home from the hospitals. We remember their first steps. We remember baby food dripping from their chins, their highchairs, and from their hands and hair. We remember bathing our babies’ silky bodies and drying them and then laying them on top of our hearts–where we could feel them as they breathed. As mothers, we also remember slipping into our child’s room at night and at marveling at the sweetness of our sleeping child. We recall our children’s innocent but profound comments–the ones that allowed us to recall viewing life as only a child can view it. We remember the drawings and the paintings that they made as children, and we remember their going to school.
When my oldest child went to school, I grieved. Somehow I knew that both of our worlds had permanently shifted. For the first time, I realized that my child was not a doll. She was not mine, to keep. From that moment on, my child began slipping away from me and into herself. The transition has not been easy. I have discovered that it is often necessary for people to get mad before they can completely sever themselves, and that has happened in my family. I long for the day that my family can close its angry chapter and go to the next. That is the way that it is supposed to be: Our children are supposed to have their lives, and we are forced to have another. We know that, but still, we remember the fleeting moments that God loaned us our children, and we long.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet….
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears….William Wordsworth
Jacki Kellum Garden May 2017
Although many mothers always long for the hours when their children were living in their homes, a wise mother will transition, too, and they will find another home where they will live into old age alone. I am thankful for the years that I was a parent, but I am also thankful for the ever-renewing well of life and for my ability to continually find a new life without my children nested around me. My garden has become my solace.
Jacki Kellum Garden Gate in 2015
“When the hornet hangs in the hollyhock, And the brown bee drones i’ the rose, And the west is a red-streaked four-o’clock, And summer is near its close It’s Oh, for the gate, and the locust lane; And dusk, and dew, and home again!” – Madison Cawein
Jacki Kellum Garden
“I divined and chose a distant place to dwell …
I pick leaves to thatch a hut among the pines
Scoop out a pond and lead a runnel from the spring
By now I am used to doing without the world
Picking ferns I pass the years that are left.” Han Shan
Jacki Kellum Garden
Yesterday, my friend shared a slightly bent version of an old Chinese proverb:
If you want to be happy for a night, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for a year, get married.
If you want to be happy for life, plant a garden.
Relatively speaking, our years on earth are few, and hours that we spend agonizing because we do not feel accepted or appreciated or loved are simply hours lost. Because living can become painful and toxic, we need an antidote and a place to heal. My garden is where I go to be restored, and even during the winter, nature is my solace. My sunroom overlooks my side courtyard, and my greatest winter joy is to sit by my fireplace, watching the birds dipping into my oasis for food and water. Anytime that I can sit alone in nature, I am truly home–the home that will carry me through life.
“I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-gray, And Winter’s dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires.” – Thomas Hardy
©Jacki Kellum June 9, 2017