Never boring, however familiar the scene

Posted by jdg | Monday, April 27, 2009 |

In the seven years I spent on Michigan college campuses, I don't think I ever noticed a flower blooming. After months of trudging through snow among hunchbacked, goretexed students of indiscernible gender, the only sign of Spring that ever mattered was the day every March or April when---in an act of collective behavior as mysteriously coordinated as the generational awakening of cicadas or the emergence of bears from hibernation---every girl on campus woke up and put on a tank top and then decided to leave their sweatshirts at home. The delirium of that magnificent day eclipsed all other signs of seasonal transition; I cannot recall ever admiring a flowering forsythia or taking the time to notice buds on the branches of trees, because, you know, suddenly boobs were everywhere.

Now that I'm old enough to walk around a college campus on a Spring day wondering only whether those girls fathers' know they are leaving the dorm dressed like that, I find myself paying much more attention to ornamental trees and flowering shrubs. My wife and I wander our neighborhood admiring cherry blossoms and monitoring the progress of our lilac bush. After all those years in the perpetual spring of San Francisco, we are acutely attuned to every change in the foliage. "Were we just too young and stupid to notice how beautiful all this is?" we ask ourselves, unsure if our increased interest in flowering plants isn't some evidence of our increasing irrelevancy on earth, shuffling along as we are to that Byrds song towards the cold, inevitable grip of cursed Thanatos. Before we know it we'll be buying track suits and identifying with Wilford Brimley's angst in Cocoon: The Return.

There is no doubt having small children has been a big part of this newfound interest. My daughter is at an age where every flower is the more beautiful than the last, where every bud on every tree is some magical sign of unexpected renewal, and where the first opportunity to go outside without a coat was an ecstatic experience eradicating the gloom of a long winter. I have to admit her vernal joy is viral. To go outside with my children this Spring is to understand how Mozart felt humming out notes in the SchloƟpark; how Wordsworth felt in that field of daffodils. The cold is a retreating army cut down by a thunder of cavalry; the birds and the wind sing the tulips open; the new leaves deaden the sound of scrappers stripping the abandoned building across the street. I almost believe my daughter when she tells me something this magnificent can only be the product of fairies.

My 14-month-old son's reaction is simpler but equally enthusiastic: he cannot go outside without shedding off all his clothes. A year ago he couldn't hold up his head and now he's combined the skills of running and stripping at the same time. By the time we get back to our front door from a walk he is usually wearing only shoes and a cloth diaper. And the diaper will go as soon as he learns how to work the snaps. Until then, I'm thinking of buying him a little velcro bowtie.

But one of the most important developments around here is that pink is no longer my daughter's favorite color. I know that might not seem like such a big deal, but if you'd told me a month ago that my daughter's favorite color would soon be something other than pink I'd guffaw and be more likely to believe that the Israelis were abandoning the West Bank or Lindsey Lohan was giving up cocaine. But it's true. Thanks to the daffodils, her new favorite color is yellow. I'm so happy I could buy a yellow unitard and choreograph an interpretive dance called Blessing of the Narcissi.

Just to be safe, though, we're bringing six bags of pink clothing to the thrift store before she notices the begonias.