There is a parasitic plant attached to a palm tree on the outskirts of our yard that we call our “shy plant.” Most of the year it is a tangled, prickly and ugly thing that wraps its cactus-like tentacles around our tall palm tree, its appendages growing thicker and longer with each passing season. A long time ago my mother-in-law did some research into it and found out that the plant is not harmful to the palm tree. Both coexist happily. It’s just, well… an eyesore. These summers as a family, we see the plant.
For about three weeks every summer though, starting around June 5th, something pretty incredible happens to this seemingly homely plant.
And not just here or there. It blooms gorgeous, full, white flowers that are bigger than your hand — to the tune of over 100 blooms by the time it is all said and done. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this process is that each individual bloom appears just once — starting to open around sunset — and shrivels up by sunrise. It seems our plant is content being unsightly, and keeping its secret beauty hidden from the world.
I love this little piece of property trivia. I enjoy seeing the first signs of the cottony blooms popping through the tightly-woven snarled arms, and heading outside with my kids just before bedtime with a flashlight to see which ones have decided to open up that particular night. There are no streetlights near our home, as we are considered “too close” to the ocean for too much artificial lighting that could confuse nesting sea turtles (for the record, we aren’t THAT close… but I don’t mind the darkness our radius affords, either).
That darkness makes shining a flashlight or smartphone light app on the stunning blooms even more breathtaking. There’s something about stepping out into the hot dark night, on our quiet street, and wandering barefoot on the cool concrete down our driveway to that blooming parasite, kids chattering excitedly about how many blooms we will see that night, that instantly brings me nostalgia for what has become my favorite season of all: summer.
4 Summers as a Family
This month kicks off the fourth summer I’ve made the three-week-long evening pilgrimage to check out the blooming plant. I remember my husband sending me photos of the flowers, trying to sum up exactly how beautiful they were, during the summer before we got engaged. I remember walking hand in hand with him to see which ones had bloomed on the night my dad, daughter and I arrived late after a 19-hour drive from Indiana, just six days after my husband and I got married. My in-laws often text us to see if it has started blooming yet, and we send pictures in return. It’s become a ‘summers as a family’ tradition — one that starts off our summers.
Perhaps more impactful than the actual flowers themselves are the memories they bring flooding back. I think about that first summer as a combined family, when I eagerly bid on writing work from home in between beach trips with my daughter and two new stepkids, trying to adjust to life as a married mom of three in a small town where I knew no one after I’d lived in downtown Chicago and worked in an office as a single mom to just one. My husband and I were full of enthusiasm, but short on everything else it seemed (money, patience, uninterrupted time together).
The song “Good Life” by OneRepublic was on the top 40 charts that summer, and on the days when I felt homesick for the friendly Midwest or overwhelmed by the scope of my new responsibilities as wife, stepmom and small business owner, I watched my young family play and listened carefully to the lyrics of that song.
Hopelessly, I’m taking a mental picture of you now, ‘Cause hopelessly, The hope is we have so much to feel good about; Oh, this has gotta be the good life, This has gotta be the good life, This could really be a good life, good life…
Then there was the second summer, when my little spitfire Erinn was a newborn who appeared to be struggling at every turn with her new life outside the womb. Many nights during that three-week blooming span, when even holding my baby tightly in my arms in our home would not calm her crying, I’d carry her out to that blooming tree and just breathe. At the end of some of the darkest days I can recall, sleep-deprived and seriously doubting my mental fortitude, those flowers reminded me of all that was bright, all that was beautiful, in my life. There was a promise somewhere in the midst of that mess of prickly branches that with time, there was always a payoff — even if no one else could see it but me.
These last summers as a family was calm, compared to the previous two. I slept more than I had in summers past, and kept busy setting up playdates with new neighborhood friends and planning our first official family vacation to Indiana. My kids were happy. My business was booming. My husband switched to a daytime schedule, giving us most evenings together as a big, happy family. The flowers were faithful, once again, producing more spectacular blooms than I remembered from the previous years. I didn’t view them as a comfort then, but as a gift given on top of an already pretty fantastic life.
This summer as the blooms begin in full effect, I view them with mixed emotions. Passing the three-year mark at this address this month is a milestone for me — it is the longest I have lived at one address, ever, in my adulthood. My once lonely street is now full of people who have become neighbors, young families from the school and friends. Many have asked us about our plant, and we’ve even found another family who has a similar one. There is a sense of ownership that comes with those flowers now — an entitlement rewarded to us for working hard all year long to maintain a modest but comfortable way of life for our kids.
I also feel some trepidation this year as I take in the beauty of those blooms, hands resting atop my growing tummy. There will be one more making the trip to look at the flowers next June. With my business’ success has come a certain level of financial responsibility that I worry I will be unable to keep up with when this little one arrives. I worry about the impending addition of another car payment to our family budget (one that is a necessity) during a time when we will need to find ways to get by on less. I worry about my brother-in -law, who is in need of a kidney transplant. I worry about my own brother, who is in the throes of an epic battle against addiction. I worry about his young wife, and two little girls. I worry about his (my) mother.
But with each worry comes a wave of peace, too. Just as these flowers loyally return every summer, fulfilling their purpose, I’ll be back too — with a new set of accomplishments, and triumphs, and joys to celebrate. And I actually have an advantage over this prickly plant. Its flowers bloom in limited isolation. I’ve been blessed to live my life fully and in daylight, with an amazing family by my side every step of the way.
The story of this and future summers as a family is still being written. It’s with confidence that I believe that those stories will always have flowers, though, surprising us with their blooms, even in our darkest moments.
Summers as a family: What traditions do you keep up?
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