Someone chants magical words: Cymbidium, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium. Incredible blossoms appear, in all the colors imaginable, from a reddish purple that is nearly black, through lavenders and oranges and pinks and goldens to rich red. Orchids, orchids that you wish you could present to your mother as a gift on Mother's Day.
Mothers are like orchids. Amazing, but never the same. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes so strange one can hardly believe they exist. People will tell you that their mothers, like orchids, are easy to deal with and grace you with stunning results. Others will tell you that mothers, like orchids, are labor-intensive, and that it is hard to get them to bloom.
In some areas, orchids enjoy living outside, under the dappled shade of a tree, not too cold at near-freezing, not too hot when the temperature soars to a hundred. "Adapt to your surroundings," mothers tell their children, "and try not to complain if things get rough."
"Drink plenty of water when it's hot, but don't sit around in wet clothes." Mothers and orchids alike will advise you of these precautions: it is good for orchids to get plenty of water in the heat, but the medium in which they thrive is not soggy earth, but light woody chips that allow water to drain away quickly.
Mothers are complex, like the patterns of color on this orchid; blossoms on the same stem but subtly different, each petal is a work of art in itself, just as the eyes of our mothers reflect experiences we have heard about all our lives, and flicker with adventures we will never even suspect. Each season brings changes; orchid lovers know that the bloom will show them changing moods of the plant, whether it has been nurtured or neglected, over-fed or starved for nutrients. The faces of our mothers look at us with emotions ranging from joy at our triumphs to concern and sadness at our crashing mistakes.
"My mother is an artist, and her house is filled with stuff she's created that you couldn't even imagine," says the daughter.
"My mother was a nurse in World War Two, and my God, the stories she told us when we were kids," says a friend.
"Mama came to the United States on a boat with a couple of her stepsons, lived in a flat with another family until she got a job at a delicatessen, and re-married, married my Poppie."
"Mom came here from England. She was supposed to go fill out some form every year because she never became a citizen, but she stopped doing that about thirty years ago. She's eighty-seven now, and wants to go back to England for a visit to see her sister! Can you believe it? She's an illegal alien!" Laughing, the son relates, "I told her to turn herself in, they'll deport her, and she can save the air fare! She says she's thinking about it!"
Mothers, so different.
Orchids, too. White and airy as a flock of angels in the choirs of heaven, or saturating the view with richest reds, beguiling purples, stunning near-blues -- how could one kind of flower have so many radically different faces with which to make the world stop to look, to wonder?
In a store, when the potted orchid no longer bears blossoms, it is marked down to a lesser price, or in some cases, discarded as unable to be sold. That's as sad and ridiculous as saying that a woman is no longer a mother because her children are grown. Always an orchid, and capable of new blossoms in times to come, the plant simply needs care and time. In a similar way, simply because the little ones are now adults does not mean that motherhood ends. The preciousness of the flower may fade, but the future holds a potential for unique beauty.
Children, be kind to your mothers. Remember them in their best moments, when you could see the love in their faces, feel the tender grasp of their hands. Reach out to them and encourage them to rejoice in their children; admire their beauty just as you would admire the stunning blossoms of an orchid. Forget the stereotypic orchid corsage with the pink petals surrounding a pinkish purple trumpet and baby's breath with a ribbon holding it all together -- remember that orchids, like mothers, are all unique, and that each one is as different as every child hopes his and her mother to be.
Happy Mother's Day, moms.