Years ago one of my friends tried to give us raspberry bushes. She was trying to get rid of some of hers and wondered if we wanted them. To me it sounded like a great idea – raspberries in my own backyard? Um, yes, please! I had no experience growing anything and really no interest but I could get behind the idea of free raspberries. I can’t remember how exactly the idea got vetoed – I am pretty sure it was my in-laws lobbying hard against us taking them. Oh, you don’t want raspberry bushes, trust me, said with such a sense of foreboding that it scared me a little. They are like plant connoisseurs, so when they said woah, we listened.
I’ve written a lot lately about being stuck, about being confused as to where my life is headed, and more so – where it should be headed. The possibility of my long-term dream job was axed swiftly and suddenly and brought with it such a sense of disappointment it wiped completely out my motivation to pursue it since. I leaned hard into writing but upon experiencing some success, particularly in the form of a viral post, quickly realized I have zero interest in becoming internet famous. Or any kind of famous for that matter.
I have fluttered between various life pictures and found fault with all of them.
Last night I listened to a podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain called “Getting Unstuck”. The idea was introduced that we spend so much of our time trying to figure out The One Perfect Way our life is supposed to go that it gets us stuck. An expert suggested envisioning three possible life paths you could take and imagining what your next five years of life would look like. Then he suggested trying one. Doesn’t work? Don’t like it? Move on to the next.
As I listened it was like something unlocked inside my brain, an a-ha moment which seems so obvious it’s a little embarrassing. The One Perfect Way our life is supposed to be is a myth. It’s a figment of our imagination, a construct in a story we tell ourselves. I suddenly understood that there isn’t a playbook somewhere where some God-type-being is keeping score making sure I follow the perfect path or else I will lose it all. There’s no such thing. I am often paralyzed by fear, pressure, feeling like I SHOULD KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WANT AND WHAT IS BEST FOR ME. I have spent literally hundreds of hours ingesting books, podcasts, meditations, articles, videos by experts telling me “you need to start with knowing what you want” imploring me to get crystal clear on my goal and that would guide all the “right” decision making. Listening to this podcast snapped the light on instantly for me – I don’t know what I want because I can’t decide which thing I want is BEST.
I can easily envision those three possible life scenarios, they are waiting there at the tips of my fingers at all times: 1) Go back to work in the traditional sense, work a job where I get to use my education and credentials full-time in an office with a juicy salary and benefits. 2) Freelance writer, working from home, following my intuition, writing about what I know. 3) Stay at home mom – focusing my life around my family and home, making my work creating the best, coziest, richest life experience for us all. I see myself in my old office uniform, in high heels and skirts and blazers and expensive purses and diamond studs in my ear. I see myself writing in coffee shops, curled up around my computer at home typing in early morning hours by the window watching the sunrise. I see myself in trusty, comfortable yoga pants and high ponytails and leaning hard into mom-life.
I clearly see the pros and cons of all these options. And believe me, there are some intense cons with every single one. As well as some shiny pros that if I make another choice will not follow me there. The fact is, I am currently doing a very watered down version of all three. And its ok for now, but sometimes I long for the commitment to one thing above the rest, instead of everything pushing at me to give it more attention. Sometimes I long for that spark of passion for a path– that something I am supposed to follow whole-heartedly. I assume that spark must be something productive, must lead to something that can make money, can take care of my family. All other sparks are useless – this is what I repeat to myself subconsciously, day after day.
When our daughter was still a baby, my husband and I bought our first flowers. He cleared away a space in front of our house and we planted poppies and rose bushes and a few geraniums at nap time on a sunny day late in May. I didn’t know I wanted to do it until we were doing it. I am not an outdoors person by any stretch of the imagination – I don’t like dirt or bugs or being out in the elements. But that first little taste sparked something in me, and every morning I would peek out our window to see how our little plants were doing that day with awe and building joy.
That fall we added tulip bulbs and the next year we added new bushes, a tree, flowers encircling it. We added all kinds of bright blooms to the flower garden and my joy increased exponentially. Our first Spring and Summer at our new house were spent with a new baby and we watched the seasons change and the perennials bloom. We planned our next summer with delight, and this month we created our first vegetable garden in a tiny raised bed in our back yard. We planted cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, cerranos, banana peppers, onion, garlic, carrots, and potatoes. We bought a blackberry bush and strawberry plant. And we searched for damn raspberry bushes wherever we went with no luck.
My friend had since moved to a new home, sans raspberry bushes, and I was strangely, deeply upset that we weren’t adding a raspberry bush to our little garden. I tried everywhere in town, my hope dwindling with each nursery I visited lacking raspberries, until I’d seen them all in our town. I had purchased a small garden of succulents and on Mother’s Day I sat outside in the shade of our trees arranging them in a new planter. As I sat there I couldn’t help thinking about the raspberries. A memory flashed in my mind of a text my dad had sent the past summer, red raspberries galore in his hands, inviting us to come pick all that we would like from the plants he had at his home. I quickly picked up my cell phone and crafted a text – did he have any raspberry bushes he needed to get rid of?
Turns out – he wasn’t trying to get rid of any, but he was happy to share. He invited us over that day to pick one up. He handed my husband a shovel and a big black planter and told him to start digging as our kids ran around the field next to his house. My dad leaned over to my daughter and said “You know, your mommy helped me plant these.” I looked at him blankly as I had not a single recollection of planting anything before adulthood. “I did?” I asked. “Yes,” my dad nodded – “these are your grandma’s raspberries.”
My grandma Connie. My biological dad’s mother. The quintessential perfect grandma you think of when you picture the word. She was tiny and Christian and lived in a teeny tiny town in the mountains with my Papa. We’d visit in the summer and although I’m sure my childhood memory has romanticized a lot and everything seems bigger and brighter through a nostalgic lens, I still believe trying to describe it here will not do it an ounce of justice. But nevertheless …
We’d walk on dirt roads during the golden light hour to neighbors’ houses where they had gardens and chickens and other farm animals. They’d hand my grandparents various bounty from whatever they were growing as we passed by. There were gorgeous mountains all around which seemed within arm’s reach, towering leafy and pine trees that made the winding dirt road to their home constantly shaded and only dappled in sunlight as we passed through. But their home was in an open green pasture, horses roaming just a stone’s throw away. There were literal golden fields that moved in one fluid movement with the wind. I swore they were made of actual gold, and as a high schooler I vowed I would get married right there in one of those fields someday. We’d take a drive up deep into the mountains and visit the most gorgeous lake in the world, icy crystal clear and sparkling, ringed by mountain peaks and tall majestic trees and larger than life boulders stacked next to eachother that my sister and I would scramble up for pictures. I remember running and playing with a foxtail ball on summer nights in their huge open fields with the clean, wet, cool country air and feeling pure, simple, childhood bliss. As a child, you take for granted beauty like that – you assume that’s just what the world is, that beautiful, that stunning. But even then I felt magic going to my grandparents’ house.
My grandma was the most incredible cook – I have memories so vivid they make my mouth water even now. Breakfast spreads set up around their little wooden table by the windows where the hummingbirds would hover of all the most amazing from scratch goodness you can imagine – pastries and coffee cakes and streusels I still think about in my dreams. Fresh fruit and marinated steak and chicken that I still hold the recipe to and can never get enough of. And in their back yard – a sprawling garden full of veggies and fruits and flowers galore.
My grandma died when I was just nineteen. I was too young to have really gotten to know her in the way I should have, too selfish and self-centered to think about asking her the questions I would love to ask her today. My grandparents lived hours away and we only saw them if we were lucky, once a year. The only memories I have of my grandma are over-the-top rosy – of her coming to stay with us when my parents had to go out of town for my grandpa’s funeral, how she let me play with real makeup and played Barbies tirelessly. I remember her buying me the prettiest little mini tea set, covered in tiny pink and yellow tulips after I saw it and fell in love at a gift shop in town, even though they were far from rich. I remember her soft voice and her laugh and how her eyes sparkled. I remember how she liked salt on her watermelon and how when I was just ten I decided I needed to start following a beauty regimen of Noxzema and lotion every night before bed and how she didn’t giggle or roll her eyes at me or tell me I was too young to need to do that but just nodded solemnly and told me that as I got older I would add more “rituals” to getting ready for bed and the thought of that made me supremely excited to grow up.
I never had the chance to know her as an adult, to ask her if she had regrets about life or if she ever hated her kids or thought about running away. I never got to ask her what she was the most proud of in her life or what brought her the most secret joy, what her favorite thing was to do when nobody else needed her. She was deeply spiritual and religious and I’m not sure we would have agreed upon much ideologically now that I am an adult. I often think of conservative Christian housewives and stay-at-home mothers with a hint of prejudice and wonder if that’s really what they want to do with their lives, if they’ve permitted themselves to explore the idea of a life other than that, if they are really happy with the idea of being a “good and faithful servant” and putting all others above themselves. But when I picture my grandma, I have a hard time looking at her with that same critical eye.
One night at dinner at their house I remember my mom trying as hard as she could to lessen the burden my grandma took upon herself of the elaborate meals she would cook for us all, and I remember my grandma stopping her and saying with what I can look back on and only recall as borderline pleading “Please, Kim. It really gives me so much joy to be able to do this for you all.”
As my husband dug up those little bushes in the back of my dad’s house, I felt my eyes stinging with tears behind my sunglasses. I am thirty-two-years-old, its been thirteen years since I last spoke to my grandma or got to hug her or taste that kuga streusel she perfected. But sitting in my backyard is a generation of raspberries that came from the land that she tended to, many hours and many miles from my home today, from that sweet soil we’d run on and scream with glee as children. From her garden, what I only imagine might have been one of her happiest places. I won’t ever know for sure – it’s possible she hated that garden, possible it was exhausting to her and perhaps the raspberries were aggressive and overtook everything and she would curse them gently in her mind. But they came from her. From my magic, ordinary, otherworldly, human grandma with the green thumb, whose joy was taking care of us at her dinner table.
I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I am finding a deep joy that I have a hard time articulating in things I never thought could house such strong emotions from me. From dirt and sweat and taking my daughter out and pointing to the buds and just being in the presence of new life I am helping to grow. People say raspberry bushes are like weeds, you can’t kill them. They just keep coming back. They say it like it’s a bad thing, and I get it – but I don’t know. It’s got to be something to be in the presence of something so tenacious.
I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I know today, right now, I am growing her raspberries.