My oldest daughter, Ellie, clutched my hand. Her four-year-old eyes peaked over her mask, wide with anticipation. After a year of pandemic living, I finally agreed to bring her along on an errand and her excitement was palpable, just like my nerves. I took a deep breath, reiterating to myself that the nursery and plant supply store was almost entirely outside, and therefore had to be safe. The gravel parking lot crunched under our feet as we shuffled at her pace, trying our best to stay clear of both cars and other shoppers.
“You’re doing a great job, baby,” I said. The assurance, meant for my daughter, also served as a self-reminder. “Let’s be nice and kind to our neighbors by giving them lots of space.”
We rounded the corner into the entrance, and I exhaled, letting go of her hand. The neat rows of manicured trees and shrubs provided a welcome and familiar sight. Ellie and I spent many mornings here in our pre-pandemic life, the aisles giving her a simultaneously safe and adventurous place to roam. I wished my mask would let in the comforting aroma of freshly watered soil I knew filled the air. Ellie ran from plant to plant, exclaiming over the colors and naming all the flowers she could identify.
“Red roses! My favorite flower and my favorite color!”
“I know what these are—poppies!”
“Hey, we have this one in our yard, but I don’t remember what it’s called.”
Her delight drew kind, amused glances, and I gave her a few minutes to explore before calling her back with a smile. As much as I longed to relive those mornings of aimless wandering, our trip today had a purpose.
“Come on, Ellie, we need to find the seed section,” I said.
My husband, David, and I sat in a sea of Lego Duplos one Saturday evening in mid-2021, basking in the victory of a well-executed bedtime. I began to collect the toys scattered across the living room rug and he re-opened the conversation we started that morning.
“I’m sorry we won’t get to baptize her again this year,” he said in a low voice, placing blocks into their bin.
I paused my movements and looked at him, taking in his rueful expression. The introduction of this difficult topic brought about a swift change in both our moods and the feeling in the room shifted from triumph to longing. Fighting against my initial instinct to smile and wave off my feelings as no big deal, I chose to answer honestly.
“I’m really sad about it,” I replied.
“I know,” he said. “Me too.”
This was far from the first time we’d had this conversation. Our exchange mirrored a discussion from a year before, when we first talked about baptizing our youngest daughter, Lauren.
Our church marks Easter with infant baptisms. For David and I, the true beauty of baptizing our children lies in the commitment we make in front of our church and family—a proclamation of our
intent to do our best to raise them in our faith. I have looked forward to experiencing this milestone with each of our children. I have especially looked forward to sharing it with those we love.
At the end of 2019, before Lauren was even two months old, both my mom and mother-in-law were diagnosed with cancer. David’s mom called on his birthday. She delivered her celebratory greeting just before telling us the skin spot her doctor thought was harmless turned out to be melanoma. Then my mom called a few weeks later, right after my final postpartum doctor appointment, to break the news of her breast cancer diagnosis.
While our church prepared for Easter in early 2020, our moms were several hundred miles away, in the throes of treatment.
“Did you see Pastor Daniel’s email about the infant baptism class?” I asked David one night after dinner, bouncing five-month-old Lauren on my hip. Easter was just a few weeks away.
“I did,” he drew out his words as he cleared the table, his face growing serious. “What do you think?” Deep silence hung heavy between us—we both knew the answer. We both hated the answer.
“I think–” I ventured with a pause. “I think Easter Sunday will be hard. It will be bittersweet to watch other children be baptized while we wait.”
“I can’t imagine doing this without either of our moms with us,” he agreed.
When Easter arrived, no one baptized their children. Instead, the global pandemic and stay-at-home orders kept everyone isolated. The worry I felt for my mom and mother-in-law already sat constantly in the forefront of my mind—clouding my judgment and evaporating my patience daily. The added pressure of a deadly virus, of which we knew very little and were all at risk of catching, amplified that anxiety until it was almost too much to handle.
I had dreaded watching the baptisms take place that year, but I found myself wishing for it and all the emotions it would bring as I watched Easter service from the couch. Feeling left behind is far preferable to fear of the unknown.
“We won’t be able to drive up and help with your backyard this spring, like we planned,” my mom’s voice—upbeat, but effort-laden—came over the phone one overcast December evening in 2019. “We’ll still buy you everything you need.”
I leaned against my kitchen counter and planted a smile on my face, an attempt to force my tone to match hers. I thought about her current rounds of chemotherapy and her surgery coming up in March.
“Of course, you can’t travel right now!” I assured her. “Thank you for giving us the supplies anyway.”
My mom is a professional gardener. I mean that quite literally—she owns a flower farm. I am the exact opposite. If I so much as look at a plant the wrong way, it dies. But my daughters appear to have inherited their grandmother’s love for all things bright and beautiful, so I try to overcome my “black thumb” for them.
During a previous visit to our house, my mom had identified the perfect spot for a raised planter bed. She suggested purchasing a galvanized steel water trough and filling it with either flowers or
vegetables. Images of yards from HGTV flashed in my mind as I pictured how beautiful the sad little corner of our patio could look. Pleased that I was happy with her vision, my mom promised to supply both the materials and labor for our Christmas gift. This, of course, was before the cancer diagnosis.
We hadn’t planned to have my extended family together for a Christmas celebration that year. But plans change when cancer is thrown into the mix. My mom had her third round of chemo on Christmas Eve, so we decided to celebrate early. My siblings and I booked last-minute flights; we were able to coordinate ten hours with everyone together.
When we exchanged gifts, I opened a card with the funds for our planter and pictures of the supplies we needed cut out and taped inside. I felt sorrow over the missing piece of the gift, spending precious time with my mom, but I took comfort in the love and generosity she demonstrated even while sick.
“When do you want to get everything?” David asked as we corralled our kids in the airport, waiting to board the flight taking us from warm Southern California back to our home in wintery Northern California.
“We won’t be able to grow much until spring, so let’s wait,” I suggested; making up a practical reason in an attempt to disguise my sadness. “Maybe we can get it set up in March.”
I waited just long enough for pandemic business closures and everyone’s newfound quarantine gardening hobby to make it impossible to find soil, seeds, and even the trough. The empty spot in my yard remained a tangible reminder of the precarious health of my mom—and the world, for that matter.
“For you, Jesus died and conquered death. All of this he did for you, little one. Before you knew anything of it. I baptize you…”
Our pastor’s words carried across the parking lot to our lawn chairs in the back of the outdoor service. The baby in his arms received a sprinkling of water as tears fogged up my glasses even more than my mask already had. Lauren, now 17 months old, sat in my lap and I buried my face into the top of her head, letting the feel of her soft duck fluff toddler hair ground me. Here we were in 2021, quickly approaching another Easter. Baptisms and other church traditions had resumed with precautions in place. I thought back to the recent conversation I had with David. The conversation where we decided that due to the improved, but still fragile, health of our mothers it still wasn’t safe for our combined extended families to be together. We would need to wait at least another year to celebrate Lauren’s baptism.
A few weeks later, on Mother’s Day, my mom’s vision for our back patio finally materialized. My husband borrowed a truck to cart home the large, galvanized trough from a big-box store, and Ellie and I shopped for seeds at our local nursery. I selected zinnias—thinking in part about the abundance of fresh flowers they would supply us with, but mostly about my mom, the flower farmer, finally in remission.
I am not good with change; this is something I have known about myself for a long time. Each new thing that enters my life, no matter how positive, requires a lengthy mental adjustment. The adjustment feels extra arduous in the wake of negative change. But life during these past two years of the pandemic has shown me change itself might not be the problem. It’s that each new set of circumstances bring with it the possibility that things won’t turn out alright—that I’ll be left hanging. What I really fear are loose ends.
I want my journeys to have definitive conclusions, a period or exclamation point to close out a season before I move on to the next one. I want the assurance that the women in my life will stay healthy. I want to transition from these years characterized by COVID knowing we will never experience a time like them again.
I’m learning that even when some of the milestones you hope for come to fruition, seasons don’t tie themselves up neatly. These events are less of a period and more of a comma—a noteworthy pause instead of a final ending. Life moves constantly from one season to the next, never quite reaching a conclusion. Thankfully, unresolved doesn’t mean without hope—and so, my hope remains.
I want a planter full of zinnias. I want to baptize my daughter surrounded by family.
A lifelong Californian, Kendra currently lives in the capital city of Sacramento. She is married to her best friend, David, and together they have three young children. In a former life she worked as the Communications Director for a State Senator, but she now happily spends her time at home with her kids where she squeezes writing into the margins of her day. You can find more of her words on her blog or Instagram.