Our tulip tree is especially beautiful at dusk, when the pink blossoms glow almost purple through the window. The real tulips in the yard are just starting to open, too: a ring of deep red blooms around the dogwood’s trunk, and orange and pink and yellow ones cropping up in beds we never planted.
The flowers on our tree aren’t really tulips, of course, and the truth is, it isn’t really a tulip tree. It’s a saucer magnolia, its pink flowers setting it apart from its orange-flowered cousin Liriodendron tulipifera, the “true” tulip tree.
But who cares? Tulip tree belongs with this bright beauty. I dare you to stand in front of it and call it a saucer magnolia. There’s no other word to describe the hopeful, upward tilt of the blooms on its branches, bare of leaves, in the soggy gloom of late March. And there are enough fools like me who make this mistake that the misnomer persists.
I am thinking about the tree and about hope and naming things while I’m waiting for my daughter to finish ballet class. I’m walking the wet sidewalks of early spring and she is rehearsing for her first recital, something that alternately concerns and delights her. At first she didn’t want to do it, and then she learned about the costumes the dancers would wear, and that her dance class would tell part of a larger story that all the dancers— the four-year-olds all the way up through the teenagers— would be telling together. She decided to try.
I never know what mood she’ll be in when I pick her up. There are girls in her class who pick up the steps faster than she can, and some nights she’s in tears, frustrated with herself. Other nights she skips down the sidewalk and shows me what she learned in class. When she grows up, she wants to be a dancer. Sometimes she says she wants to be an acupuncturist like me.
But I’m not an acupuncturist, I often think to myself. There are students in my class who memorize point categories faster than me, who already seem to have developed their own style of treatment. In the middle of three back-to-back clinic shifts last week, I ducked into the laundry room to clear my head between patients. I was tired and a little overwhelmed by my life outside the clinic. I could feel my thoughts being tugged toward worry, self-doubt. What if I’m not supposed to be going to school right now? Why do I think I can do this, now, with three little kids at home? What if I can’t pass the boards? What if it isn’t enough, my best effort? While I folded sheets fresh from the dryer, I felt tears prick at my eyes, and I tried to ground myself in the warmth of the sheets, the smell of eucalyptus hand soap, the sound of the washing machine. Lord, I prayed, I cannot do this on my own. Please do this work in me tonight. I have nothing left. I’m running on empty.
I stepped back into the treatment room, carrying the stack of sheets, still feeling discouraged. A patient I’d treated earlier signaled to me and I went over to unpin them. As I finished removing the last needles, they smiled at me, thanked me and told me how much community acupuncture was helping them with their pain. It was making a difference in their life and they were thankful. This is for you, they said, and handed me a small keychain they’d made with resin and glitter. POCA PUNK it read, and my eyes welled up with tears again. POCA is the People’s Organization for Community Acupuncture, and a “punk” is the affectionate term for a community acupuncturist. This patient was giving me more than a keychain. They were giving me a name, telling me they already saw me in the role I want to play, affirming my belonging in the larger story of community healing I so want to be part of. It was the patient’s love and gratitude speaking, and it was also the Lord, calming the storm of my anxious thoughts, reminding me to have faith. This patient clearly did.
Cherry blossom petals float onto the sidewalk where I wait for my daughter, turning the keychain over in my hand. There is life and growth everywhere this spring. Just like my daughter, I doubt myself and get discouraged as I grow into a new shape. Imposter syndrome is a phrase that has always puzzled me, calling to mind that part of old Scooby Doo episodes, when the team pulls off the villain’s mask to reveal who they really are.
I wonder if it’s like this: when we step into a new role, stretching toward the skills we hope will blossom in us, we reveal a little more of who we really are, the person God made us to be. Even if it feels like just a costume at first. Even if everyone knows it’s not your real name.
Tonight when my daughter emerges from the classroom, she is beaming. It’s a glowy spring night, and she dances down the sidewalk, showing me her balancé.
You are a dancer! I tell her, dancing with her to the car.
What I’m Reading
“Like many moms, I’ve assumed the role of the “family manager,” and sometimes, the weight of this mental load—the fact that I am The Keeper of All the Things—feels heavy.”
Border stalking. I’m finally reading Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura. I’m about halfway through this thought-provoking book on the necessity of beauty and the responsibility of artists toward cultural stewardship. One of the ideas I’ve become fascinated by is “border stalking,” the idea that some people are meant to occupy the liminal space between cultural groups, bringing ideas and values from one side to another, and fostering community. As a writer who often straddles the line between different cultures, I find this concept so liberating. As a neighbor and citizen, I feel hopeful when I imagine a role for the arts in the movement to restore warmth and connection to our increasingly polarized country.
“As I sit here, pondering the way I feel about myself as a mother and a writer, I wonder if there is a similar, antithetical relationship between acceptance and control. Because really, aren’t acceptance and forgiveness two sides of the same coin?”
Field Notes. My friend Kaitlin recently launched her first newsletter. She is a gifted writer, and you should subscribe. Kaitlin writes about a lot of things, but she especially loves travel writing and writing about motherhood, and she weaves the two together in this newsletter in such a wonderful way. Each Field Note includes an essay, a roundup of her recent writing, things she’s loved reading, and travel tips. I loved her first issue, especially her opening reflection on the rollercoaster of motherhood and returning to travel after years of pandemic living. Sign yourself up here.
“Still, as I moved around that day, feeling the soreness every time I lifted a toddler or turned the steering wheel, I couldn’t help but think about the irony: that 30 minutes was such a hard workout, but all I did was punch the air.”
What I’m Making
Finishing things. I got tired of making a snail’s progress on my yellow dress, embroidering one tiny flower a week while waiting to pick up Sky from dance. So I doubled down and worked on it every night for several nights in a row, embroidering and sewing until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It felt so good to finally finish it, I read an acupuncture text I’d been putting off for over a year, and took an old cell phone to a recycling kiosk. And I finished a blog post, Loaves and Fishes and Mothers, that had been in my drafts folder since February 2021. Have you found some springtime energy to make progress on a put-off project?
Tahini Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 2 dozen small cookies
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
3 tbsp ground flax
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup melted butter or coconut oil
3 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup hemp, sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chocolate chips, or raisins
Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Combine dry ingredients (except seeds and cranberries) in a bowl and set aside. Using a hand-held mixer, beat tahini, butter, honey, and brown sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and beat to combine. Add flour mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Fold in seeds and berries.
Roll into small balls and space about 1 inch apart on baking sheets, then flatten slightly with a spoon or fingertips. Bake 10-12 minutes and let cool on pan for five minutes before eating several, then transferring the rest to wire rack to cool completely.
Melissa! So kind. Thank you for sharing <3