One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How it Begins

Our theme for this week: Home

Weeds with shallow roots are the easiest to pull.

I learned this at a very young age, pulling weeds in my mother’s garden. She taught me how to dig around the long, deep-searching central spike of a dandelion plant, and that pulling up the small shallow roots of plants that haven’t grown very far down into the soil was easier than letting them go for another hour, another day, another week. She also taught me that sometimes the frailest looking plants are the most resilient. Field bindweed was her favorite example. A delicate, clinging vine with white blossoms that looked like morning glories, it was harder than hell to pull out of the garden. It was deceptively frail looking, but had a network of shallow, webbed roots underground that drove us crazy.

Whenever someone commented on how quickly my mother’s children were growing she would reply “they’re growing like weeds.” It was her way of acknowledging the rapidity of our change. And, I think, her hope that like the dandelions we were forever tearing up, we were putting down good strong roots.

These days, I’m feeling a little like the small weeds that keep getting turned over and pulled out before they have a chance to take hold. I’m packing my house to move for the 15th time in seven years. I still have boxes I haven’t unpacked from my move last summer. After all, it seemed stupid to settle into something I knew was only temporary. Despite my Bohemian gypsy roots, I’m tired of packing up my possessions at the end of every nine months and shipping off to a different apartment.

Two weekends ago I went to Milwaukee. Ostensibly, I was there to retrieve a friend and bring her back to Minnesota for a wedding. I was happy to be of help to her, but I was even happier to be able to return to Wisconsin and see my family. I don't make it back to their house very often, and it was good to see them there. We spent a lot of time on their deck, watching the birds on the feeders, drinking beer, water, or coffee, and talking.

I went home because I desperately needed to see my parents, to feel some semblance of normality again. I went to be reminded of the fact that I am not rootless. If nothing else, I come from a definite place, and have definite people.

I am tired of living out of boxes, of packing and unpacking my entire life every twelve months. I'm rethinking my decision to re-apply to Ph.D. programs this year and am suddenly cognizant of a number of other things I want to do with my life. Many of these things (buying a house, becoming an Oblate, spending more time in Wisconsin, becoming a major gifts officer in a non-profit) are in direct conflict with spending the next five years pursuing a Ph.D. These realizations have put me more than a little off-balance and I needed to get some perspective on things.

One of the best and simultaneously most infuriating things about my parents is their uncanny ability to provide perspective. They are the most rooted people I know, both living just a few miles from their siblings and a few more from the houses where they grew up. They have a house and a dog. Three adult children making their own way in the world. Their roots run deep--less like the dandelion and more like those of the maple trees in their back yard. They are sturdy and pragmatic. Utterly and unexpectedly beautiful but able to take what nature throws at them. This was one of the occasions in which their rootedness was welcome. They asked me a number of questions about exactly what I want in the next few years, didn't contribute their own opinions, and encouraged many of the decisions I made. They commiserated about low-paying jobs and a poor economy and talked about the small pleasures of their own lives: 30,000 pounds of landscape block converted into a terraced garden; two of their three children at home for dinner; the hot weather finally breaking. Together we sat in the warm twilight and laughed about childhood antics, complained about our baseball team's losing streak, and slapped mosquitoes.

When I returned to Minnesota on Monday, I had no more answers than I had when I left. But those few hours we spent together nourished my own roots, reminded me that sometimes, even plants with shallow roots are tough enough to survive.


How It Begins

Here you are, twenty-two and waiting for your life to begin. And this is how it begins. You have no money and make stupid decisions with your credit card. You date and have sex and get your heart broken. Maybe break a few yourself. You might meet the person who makes you think that maybe bars and late nights aren't all they're cracked up to be. You might not. You'll pay down student loans and wonder if all that education was really worth it, if maybe you wouldn't be happier making copies and answering phones or fixing motors and wiping grease from your hands. And then you're thirty and perhaps you start to save for a house, hopefully you've started saving for retirement already. You could have a kid or two. Adopt a dog. Stop moving every twelve months. Plant a garden, even if it's just in a window box. You'll fight with your love about money and bills, whether or not to buy that new car. Get a promotion. Lose your job. And then your kids are growing and adolescent and hate you for reasons neither of you can explain. You buy a car, a motorcycle, maybe find an affair. Maybe just wake up at night next to the one you've always loved. Then the kids are gone, the dog has died and your hair is gray. You've stopped working one day, and then the next it's grandkids, and sleepless nights for no reason and suddenly jaw pain and a tingling in your left arm. But that's all still far away, almost light-years in fact. For now, it's just about a job and bills and sex and moving. Waiting for your life to begin.


  1. Good Lord, KMP. Amazing all around! Pffft to the max!

  2. I held my breath while I read this poem. Beautiful.

    Cynical? Maybe. Depressing? A little.

    But real? Yes.

  3. Kelly that's exactly what happened when you came home but put into a very eloquent read. You are not a weed but more like your little tree in the front garden that grows slow but beautiful each year it grows making me happy love mom