Just keep moving forward.
The first time I saw the bluebonnets that year was on my Facebook feed. In an attempt to find a lifeline to other adults during a day where demands from my four children reached an epic high, I logged on and found the Texas state flower. Bright blue with the ability to blanket entire fields causing them to look like a reflection of a dark sky, they were everywhere, a sign that a new season had crept into my life overnight. Since they bloom in large batches in spring, families rush to the locations where the flowers are dense and place their children in the middle, tiny heads bobbing above a sea of cobalt.
I scrolled down the page, saw pictures with the hashtags #bluebonnets, #flowerday, #familyfun, and wondered why I had never taken a picture of my children among the fields of flowers.
“I don’t even try,” my friend said later that week. “Anytime I try to stage a picture with a particular outcome in mind, it doesn’t work. You have to be in the right season of life for those things to happen.”
I nodded, understanding her sentiment too well. “You never know when the easy days are going to happen. They absolutely cannot be planned,” I responded. “And the easy seasons, I can’t remember the last one we had.”
“Where are we?” I asked my husband after the kids were tucked into their beds. “I mean, in terms of phases.”
My husband looked at me, shook his head. “Uncharted territory?”
I hesitated before admitting, “I’m afraid you’re right.”
Our kids at the time ranged from ages 2-7, the youngest two identical twins.
“We are not first-time parents, but I don’t feel like I know what’s next,” I confessed.
“It’s different with four, with twins, with everyone moving through different stages.”
“I keep thinking there will be a magic age when the youngest suddenly become very reasonable and I will have enough of me to go around without being tired.”
“Me too. But I don’t know,” my husband said. “This does seem to be a particularly challenging stage.”
“So you’re still banking on hope for the future?” I asked, only half-joking.
He didn’t answer immediately, contemplating every possibility. “The oldest don’t argue as much as they used to, so that will probably continue to improve. And four is a good age. Maybe when the youngest are four.”
“That’s over a year away,” I said, sinking my head further into my pillow.
“I’d prepare for a bumpy ride.”
I saw the bluebonnets on the way to Costco lining the road near a playground the kids enjoy. We needed food, the kids were cranky, but I found myself pulling into the parking lot and telling the kids we were going to the park.
“When we’re finished at the park, we’re going to go see the bluebonnets,” I said optimistically, wondering if I could get a shot with everyone looking at the camera phone at the same time.
There was a situation with the swings, though it was completely made up by my youngest daughters. While swinging, they each convinced themselves that I was swinging one higher than the other.
“Please don’t yell,” I tried to respond calmly. “I’m swinging you both the same.” The sound of toddlers screeching, “Push ME!” didn’t let up. My oldest daughter became distraught because a boy at the park laughed and she was convinced it was at her. My son was put off by the wood chips making their way into his Star Wars sandals. The ill-fated park adventure ended early when I realized I couldn’t put out one fire before another one started blazing.
As we made our way towards the car, I spotted the blue field out of the corner of my eye and abruptly changed directions. What if marking this accomplishment off my list could turn the day around?
“Maybe we can make the bluebonnets still. I’d really like to get a picture of you all in them.”
They followed behind me, the twins still occasionally erupting, though I believed they’d long forgotten why they were upset.
“Come on!” I said, enthusiasm pushing me forward as I imagined accomplishing a task I set out to do despite the challenges of the day.
From behind me I heard a cry, distinct in nature because it was from pain. I turned to see Asher, the youngest child by 15 seconds, face down on the concrete and I leaned down to check the damage. As I picked her up I saw a trickle of blood like a tiny stream make its way down her chin, the result of a busted lip. I held her close and propped her on my hip as I stood.
“Well, that’s it for today. Let’s go to the car,” I said, which brought on a chorus of boos as the bluebonnets faded into the background.
“I’m experiencing anxiety parenting in public,” I told my husband later that week.
“That makes sense.”
“It’s hard. Keeping up with all four of them is a challenge. Dealing with tantrums from the youngest and occasional sass talk from the oldest is jarring. But we don’t do well holed up in the house together all day long. It’s a catch-22 situation.”
I shared the story of the bluebonnets with him, the opportunity I didn’t know I cared about lost in the midst of what we now considered everyday chaos.
“It’s a simple thing. Get a picture. It is accomplishable. Everyone else seems to be able to pull it off. But I can’t. Something this small is making me feel completely out of control of my life. It’s a sign of bigger control issues I’m having, obviously.”
We talked into the early hours of the morning, the dark a blanket that helped me feel safe about expressing the truth: this was not my favorite season. It wasn’t for lack of love for my children. It was lack of love for a time where the only thing I knew that would universally make each one happy was sugar.
“I want their memories of me to be haloed. It’s unrealistic, but I still want it. And right now all I do is snap, bark, or sigh. And I can’t even get a picture.”
I fell asleep and dreamt of bluebonnets blowing in the wind, a final taunt at the end of a defeating week.
We passed the bluebonnets every week on our grocery trip. They swayed in the wind and hung over limp after rain. I never considered stopping again that spring, flashbacks of our last attempt a deterrent.
Months later everyone was fed and happy, the twins singing along to the radio as we headed west on Eldorado. The twins screamed “Costco!” and my oldest kids laughed at their enthusiasm. A debate raged about which chips were the best for snacks, and we didn’t come to an agreement before reaching the turnoff to the park.
I glanced to the left and got ready to put on my turn signal as I decided this would be the day we did it. Everyone was moderately clean and content, it was hot but not scorching, and I felt like more than anything I could handle the failure should my plan not come to fruition.
As I glanced to the field, I was shocked by what I saw. The short intense bluebonnet season was over, the field now green with grass that would only live until the over 100 degree days took their toll. While I was looking away, that time and place disappeared to be replaced by a completely new landscape, beautiful in its own right, but never the same. Disappointment built in my chest at the close of a season I somehow missed even though I was living within its confines.
I slid back into traffic and made my way to the store.
“Mom, why were you slowing down?” my oldest daughter asked from the back seat.
“It’s not important,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t realize where we were headed and ask to go back. “Right now, we just need to keep moving forward.”