When I left my lonely life of accomplishment behind, when I first moved with my husband to this house, to my stark empty-handedness, I called my mother soon after. She had raised three independent daughters, three whiz kids, and I had never said the words that tumbled from my blubbering lips:
I need you.
She came to visit, but before then she sent me a houseplant. It was the kind of plant sold at grocery stores and florists, just a pot of common ivy and indistinguishable indoor greenery. For decoration, it had a slender spike stuck into it with a bluebird on the end of it. I’ve had it since then, all 12 years, in one spot and then rotated to another. I treated it like a talisman, and then a memorial, thinking to myself:
This is my mother.
About a year ago it started to fade. The ivy yellowed and dropped off. The other stalks shrunk. Little remains but the spike with the bird on top. It seems to have bugs now, or some kind of blight. I know it’s time, and so I moved it to the patio. As part of every morning service at the Zen Center we chant this line, and so I chant it now:
The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother.
It’s time to let the old girl go, to let it all come to rest. My mother is telling me to go, to take flight, to sing my own song. A few weeks ago I heard myself say, as if reading my own heart, “I don’t want to write about parenting any more. Motherhood is about so much more than the kids.” Yes, it’s true the kids are part of it, I said, pounding my chest, but my life and work have moved to a larger purview now. Like what, you might ask, if I haven’t lost you in this pile already. And so I tell you: