When I was a child – maybe six years old – I had this brilliant idea. I wanted to grow sunflowers. My mother agreed. So, I crawled around out in the family garden and I poked holes in the soil. I dropped seeds in those holes. I then watched in awe as massive sunflowers exploded out of the black dirt. I can still smell the mulch. I can still feel the dirt under my nails. I was beaming with pride as my sunflowers grew bigger by the day. I set out on a mission. Mission accomplished. At such a young age I felt I had done something huge.
I was reminded of my family garden recently. Driving into Smiley, one has to admire the big sunny faces of the “sunflower welcoming committee” gathered along the roadside. Whenever I see a sunflower I am reminded of my childhood. I am reminded of Hanover County and a little town in central Virginia. I am reminded of rivers and lakes and mountains and beaches.
Bigger and more vivid than any of the Virginia vistas I have carried to Texas as memories is the love I hold for my son. Only a mother can know this profound love.
When I was a young mother, Julian and I often enjoyed Sunday afternoon adventures. We would go to movies and share popcorn. We would wander around the mall and wind up in the arcade. We would go to the park and feed the ducks – making sure every single duck got at least one bite. On one specific Sunday outing we were searching out a specific bottle of perfume for my mother. It was Mother's Day. The excursion took us a while longer than expected. We ended up driving out to the piney woods of East Texas, forging right into the setting sun – which was by the way beautiful.
We were both tired. It had been a long day. With perfume in tow we were almost there. The radio was turned down low. Sometimes it would be up. Loud. Sometimes we would vigorously sing along. Not that Sunday though. That evening it was quiet. I rolled to a stop. I looked over at my son. He was – and still is – the most handsome guy. He has a perfect cupid's bow pout. He has almost black eyes. His smile is like looking in a mirror. I love that he shares at least one of my features.
Julian started the conversation.
"Mama, you have sunflowers in your eyes," he said.
I was, of course, confused. I had no idea what he was talking about.
"What do you mean, baby?" I asked.
Then what he told me confirmed in my heart that he loved me equally. He saw me. He noticed my details.
"Your eyes are blue; but in the center they are yellow – and in the center of the yellow they are black – like sunflowers," he said.
At this moment he held my gaze. I do not remember who looked away first. Probably me. We were in traffic. I felt such a rush of emotion. I rounded a corner and came to a stop on a side street.
"Mama, why are you crying?" He asked.
"Because I love you so much," I assured him.
"I want you to be happy," he said.
"I am happy. How could I be unhappy when I have sunflowers in my eyes?"
"But you're crying," he said.
"My sunflowers needed water."
After the impromptu eye rains subsided we were back on our way. It was quiet again. One look and I knew he was thinking. Julian was – and still is – one of the most pensive people I have ever encountered.
"Mama, what do I have in my eyes?"
I answered him with a blank stare. I was on the spot! What do I say? The panic!
"Really?" He asked. But not in that rude way people tend to use the question nowadays.
"Yes. You are so sweet your eyes look like little pools of melted chocolate."
"I like chocolate," he said.
That was the end of our conversation. He never mentioned it again. I tried to get him to describe my eyes to my mother, to no avail. I asked him if he remembered. He did not. I have carried that little conversation in my chest, like a treasure, for 15 years. He turns 21 tomorrow.
When little things blossom – in every sense of the word – it is amazing. Just as I remember how proud I was watching my sunflowers grow. And keep growing. Nearly to the eaves of my childhood home. And since, I have watched my baby turn into a man. In those short moments on that Mother's Day – and in many moments since – I am so proud to be his mom. To be in his presence. To be seen – in detail – by someone. Someone so special. Someone so amazing.
How did I deserve such a gift? How did this blessing come to be mine? It's simple. I set my mind to a task. Unknowing of the reward. I poked the holes. I planted the seeds. I watched him grow. Again, I accomplished something huge.
Happy Birthday, Julian.