Amidst a tangle of weeds and forgotten fall leaves, my daughter discovers a lone lily of the valley. She spots the tiny bells peeking out from the debris and immediately abandons her bubbles to reach for the stem of white flowers.
“No!” I bark before her small hand can pluck the delicate flower. I immediately place my hand on her shoulder to offset my harsh directive; however, at the same time, I am desperate to save this flower from her four-year-old death grip, so I gently pull her back.
She watches as I kneel and carefully clear the area around the wide leaves, inhaling deeply. I think of childhood walks down a city alleyway. On one side, weeds and a dilapidated house. On the other, a patch of grass and a disorganized row of lilies of the valley. With my hand in my mother’s, we always took time to pause, lean close, and breath in the fragrance.
Now, as my own daughter sniffs the flower, I explain, “Your grandmother loved lily of the valley.” When my husband and I bought our house, I planted my own crooked line of lilies of the valley. I wanted to remember those childhood walks. The scent of spring. My mother’s hand.
Although I waited for years, the flowers never bloomed. Eventually, I forgot to watch – chasing toddlers kept me too busy to spend time gardening. Now, seven years later, one catches me unaware.
My daughter loses interest and runs off to play, but I feel there is a message waiting for me in this single bloom. Like many motherless mothers, I am constantly searching for signs from my mother to pass along to my daughter. Anything to connect my past to her present.
So, I pull out my phone and research how to grow lily of the valley. It all seems so easy. How did I fail? In fact, I read that the flowers tend to wander and don’t conform to borders. They often spread wildly, freely.
I look up to see my daughter roaming toward the untamed part of our yard. She, too, loves to wander and does not conform to boundaries.
An explanation I read in several articles intrigues me. Apparently, underneath the dirt, the shoots of the flower form an extensive network. Each shoot connects to others, allowing the flower to spread and cover more ground. All shoots can be traced back to the mother plant.
I think of my daughter’s hand reaching for the lily of the valley, its strength hidden beneath the earth. I think of the roots of my own family tree, a line of ancestors my daughter never met. A network of women underneath her surface: Mary, Audrey, Helen, Estelle … A line that ends with my wild, strong, and delicate girl.
My daughter, now covered in dirt, wanders back to me. I hold her hand and lead her back to the lone lily of the valley. We will search for more.
Sarah Clouser is a former high school English teacher and current stay-at-home mom. Instead of lesson plans and grading, she now stays busy chasing her two young kids around the house and writing. You can find some of her thoughts on parenting and children on her blog, onemilesmile.wordpress.com.