Some writers struggle to come up with ideas for things to write about. I’m so grateful to say that I am not currently one of them. I am FULL of ideas. What I’m not so full of is time to write. Now I’m not saying this as some sort of self-declaration of my skill set or as a woe is me complaint about my schedule. I just accept that things are the way that are right now until some publisher sees it fit to offer me plenty of money in advance to develop the projects in my heart and my mind. I have an editor in New York waiting for the next two chapters of my book and here instead I am writing a blog at midnight. What can I say? I may need to re-prioritize, but since I’m thinking about the big advance, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before it happens! Thoughts become things! I hope that time is shorter rather than longer.
For this week’s entry into the Fatherhood at Fifty sweepstakes I had two very strong ideas pulling at my heart. For those of you who are unaware, one of the typical progressions of a blog post for me is to think of an idea and a title and then sit down and write the actual blog. It truly works for me. The title inspires the content. I realize in journalism school that they teach you to write the article first and then write the headline second. I guess that’s why I didn’t turn out to be a journalist. I can’t follow that program!
So the two titles that were burning a whole in my writer’s purse of pencils this week were:
#1 – Fatherhood at Fifty – Daddy’s Little Girl
A story about how Christiana and I came to know that our first child would be a daughter much as we originally suspected….and how that information filled my heart. Very touching and sure to get a lot of social media play!
#2 – Fatherhood at Fifty – Grandpa’s Vote
A story about how my Mom got a message from my deceased father from the other side of the veil about the gender of our unborn child and how my Dad once again touched our hearts with his powerful spirit. A little risky from a mainstream reader standpoint but really cutting edge and fun.
So how did I decide which story to share? The choice was easy. Given that I will be making this post on the exact 20th anniversary of my Dad’s passing there was only one story that was screaming to be told. My own story can wait. It’s grandpa’s turn to tell his story and oh what a story it is!
As most of you know, we hosted a gender reveal party in our Chicago home this past Sunday. A wonderful group of local family and friends came over to the house and watched football, tossed bean bags, ate chicken wings and waited for the big reveal. As we moved through the day, Christiana and I did our best to speak in gender neutral pronouns and hoped that neither of us would give away the big secret before we intended to give away the big secret.
We had pink and blue soft drinks, pink and blue balloons, pink and blue cup cake toppers. We even had a board where our visitors could place a vote about the gender of our unborn bundle of joy with a pink or blue heart. After much debate and consternation, the final tally on the votes was separated by a just one vote. There was really only one vote that mattered at the end though, and that vote came in the most unique and special way.
As we got closer to our 5:00 pm reveal time the excitement in our little home began to grow with increasing intensity. At 4:00 pm we posted a little tease on Facebook to peak the interest of the many who would follow our live stream. At 4:45 pm we made a last call and told our in person guests “that the polls were closing.” At that point my Mom, who had already cast her own vote with a pink heart told us that she had another vote to cast. She said that the vote was from my Dad who died almost 20 years ago; in fact twenty years ago minus two days. My Dad (via proxy of my Mom) also voted for a girl with a pink heart and my mom told us that she would tell us why and how he had voted that way after the big reveal. Needless to say our curiosities were peaked. I mean we already knew the answer. Now we were intrigued as to how grandma and grandpa knew the answer also?
So let’s turn the clock back just a bit here. Let’s go back about 85 years into the past for a moment, to the summer of 1932 in Westchester, New York. My father – James Henry Herbert- is a five year old boy and the older brother to his younger fraternal twin siblings Hank and Anne Herbert. Their parents – Jim and Dorothy- are arranging the landscaping at their new home in Pelham, New York at 256 Pelhamdale Drive. Among the plantings they choose is a Sedum Stonecrop – a hearty ground cover succulent that can really survive the test of time.
Many years later on one of our family visits to Pelham in the 1970’s when the Sedum is already nearly 50 years old, my parents take a cutting of the hearty succulent to transplant to our new family home in Farmington Hills, Michigan where it lives on for many years as I grow up and discover my own place in the world. Shorty after I go off to college at the University of Michigan in 1982, my parents make the decision to move to Naperville, Illinois to be closer to my Mom’s family. My parents take a cutting of the Sedum Stonecrop and transplant it to their home in Naperville, Illinois in 1986 where that plant then goes on to live for many years in their backyard. About two or three years ago my Mom gives me a cutting of the Sedum Stonecrop which I put in a pot and split between my Chicago home and my New Buffalo, Michigan cottage. Both cuttings have survived despite a general lack of any special attention and more than a few harsh winters. The will to live of this particular family of Sedum plants seems to be unusually strong.
Despite that fact that this now Octogenarian strain of Sedum plants has been healthy enough to travel across at least a dozen state lines and preserve through countless harsh midwest winters, there is one thing that has never happened. No cutting of the plant has ever bloomed a flower. Not in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Not in Naperville, Illinois. Not in New Buffalo, Michigan. Not in Chicago, Illinois. Not ever. Not once. Not yet, that is until just a few weeks ago.
The Sedum Stonecrop in my Mom’s backyard has been mostly contained through the years. The one I took to Michigan has offered a few “volunteers” as new off shoots have sprung up around the yard, but in my Mom’s backyard the plant had pretty much held it’s own ground. This spring though a new growth appeared. It appeared at the foot of a tree that my father planted in the backyard of that Naperville home many years ago, long before he was even sick.
My father loved trees. He planted new ones as often and possible and wherever he could. This new sprouting of the Sedum Stonecrop fought its way through a bunch of other ground cover to survive, much like my father battled through three dances with cancer before finally crossing over in 1997. Like I said, where there is a will….
Just a couple of weeks ago, as Christiana and I were struggling to use non-gender specific pronouns as not to give anything away, my Mom noticed something very special in her Naperville backyard. That tiny little five leaf, half eaten by rabbits, new volunteer of Sedum Stonecrop had done something that none of its elder Sedum family members had ever done in the many years since it had left Pelham, New York. The little Sedum that could had offered a bloom – one solitary pink flower. A vote from the Heavens in the most magical way if you will. In that moment in time my Mom instantly knew what Christiana and I had always know in our hearts….that our little bundle of joy would be a girl. A baby girl who already knew the spirit of her grandfather that she would never meet on this earth in this lifetime. Sometimes only one vote is needed. That vote from the Spirit side is all knowing and decisive; untainted by our human fears and emotions and doubts.
Christiana and I have been hoping for a girl since conception. We of course were delighted with the prospects of being parents to any soul who chose us as parents and of any gender, but let’s just say that the message was strong…
Aquarian or Pisces female. It is in the Divine plan!
Over the first 21 weeks of our pregnancy we have been subject to all of the emotions and wandering thoughts that are possible to humans no matter how strong their beliefs might be. At first we were certain that we were pregnant and then the first two tests came back negative. We were always certain that our child would be healthy, but still awaited the results of the two rounds of genetic testing in order to take a sigh of relief. Then when we finally knew that we were pregnant with a healthy child, we were certain it would be a girl… until we questioned ourselves before the ultrasound and genetic testing affirmed what our hearts had suspected all along.
In the end….the truth is….all we need to know is always there for us to know. The answers are written down in the most surprising ways. Sometimes they are written in the stars. Sometimes they are written in our hearts. And sometimes they are written in the leaves of a well traveled family of succulents that bridge a connection with its own ancestry both horticultural and human. If we tune out our fears and listen to the messages written in the in the seeds of nature, we will always know the truth.
Thanks for stopping by again dad. It’s been 20 years and I feel like I’ve never been apart from you at all. I must say I owe that to your spirit more than I owe to to my own faith. I pray that you will watch over your little granddaughter with the same love and attention you have always watched over me with on both sides of the veil. Why should I have any doubts? You’ve already given her flowers. I’m sure there are many more bouquets yet to come…