Elizabeth didn’t really know how she came to have dreadlocks. Something strange happened right after the celebration of her sixtieth birthday. It had been a wonderful day, all her family and friends gathered together in the backyard. The flowers were in full bloom, the sun was shining and the air was warm.
Her son Joe had salmon on the grill and her daughters, Jane and Susan, had made salads and roasted red potatoes and baked too many deserts. It was a feast and a party, everyone happy, laughing and dancing, and…well, you get the picture.
Yet somehow that too-good-to-be-true day came to an end and there she was, left with the most desperate feeling, as though she’d suddenly realized she’d forgotten the most important thing in her life, and just now discovered it had been forgotten for as far back as she could remember! The anxiety was unbearable. What was it, she wondered?
Two years later, Elizabeth is celebrating her sixty second birthday. This time the party is limited to family only, strained smiles and arched brows and heavy sighs aimed in her direction. Her gifts consist of beauty salon certificates; spa treatments, mani/pedis, and a day at a Gene Juarez hair salon.
Much to Elizabeth’s delight, a mere day or two after her sixtieth birthday, it became very clear exactly what she had forgotten.
She’d been digging away in her garden, dirt in her fingernails, hair flying out from under an old sun hat, happy as a clam, when suddenly, she got it. She sat back on the heels of old rubber boots, breathed deep the warm spring air, closed her eyes and realized exactly what she’d been missing all these years.
It was her spirit, the one she had as a child, the one that defined who she truly was, the spirit that was now struggling out from under the rock it had been delegated to for nearly a life time.
On this sixty second year of Elizabeth’s life, Jane, her youngest child at thirty four, looked up from her chicken salad, set down her fork and leaned back in her chair, sighing in a manner resembling a sob.
“All right,” she stammered. “I…I can’t do this. I can no longer just sit back and watch you become this, this, this…” Jane’s hands were waving in the air, swatting towards her mother as though there were flies in her face. She burst in to tears, reigned in the fly swatters, and buried her face in her hands.
“Don’t, Janie,” Susan said softly as she put an arm around her sister’s shoulder. “Don’t upset Mom on her birthday.”
Their mother couldn’t keep the corners of her mouth from turning up, her dimples deepening, the smile widening. She’d been so content, so happy since embracing her spirit.
“Honestly Mom,” Joe scowled, “I don’t think it’s helpful for you to laugh at Janie. She’s got a legitimate concern, one shared by all of us, I might add.”
“I’m not laughing at Janie,” Elizabeth assured them. “I’m simply happy. I’m just so happy to be me, enjoying a meal with my babies, all grown up, and celebrating the day of my birth.”
Jane, Susan, and Joe stared at their mother.
“Oh God,” Jane groaned, “She’s…”
“You know,” Elizabeth interrupted, “I’ve just come to realize something over the past few years; something very important.”
Elizabeth wiped the corners of her mouth, set the napkin on her plate and continued, smiling brightly.
“I remember being a child once, you know. And as children we have dreams and imaginings about who we will be and what we will do when we grow up. It’s sad when we enter adulthood and forget all that.”
“Oh-my-gosh,” Joe groaned.
“But,” Elizabeth forged ahead, “that child is still there, and if the dreams aren’t fulfilled we grow old wondering what’s been missing all our lives. Why don’t we feel complete? I know you must feel it sometimes.” She smiled encouragingly at her three offspring, expecting them to nod enthusiastically, to admit the truth to what she was saying. No one nodded.
“Well,” Elizabeth shook her head dismissively, “I began feeling it after your father died; the loose ends and incompleteness, as if my soul were actually calling to me but I couldn’t understand what it was saying.”
“It was dad,” Joe nearly shouted, “That’s what was missing in your life!”
“No, I’m sorry, I loved Seth dearly, but our marriage had been complete. Nothing was missing there. Whatever it was, involved no one but me. A very personal thing, you see?”
Clearly, they did not see.
“I’ve been so happy since I discovered it, since I made the decision to simply be me, to go ahead and embrace what’s important to me, what I love, what brings me joy.”
All three siblings sat back in their chairs, appetites gone. Janie sniffled, Joe looked ready to throw up, and dear Susan was straining to understand her mother, pity in her eyes.
“Mom,” Susan began, “Was your dream as a child to be a…well a….kind of a hippie? I mean who wears their hair in dreads at sixty two years old?” She threw her hands up in the air, voice rising. “And you used to take such great care of your nails and your make-up was perfect and your wardrobe…”
“I understand, Susan, dear. I understand all three of you, I do. Now, you need to make the decision to accept me for the genuine article that I am, and respect my right to live and be authentically me.
“I’ve been there for all of you, your father included, for years upon years. I looked the part of the prominent business man’s wife for him, I lived my life as a good example for my children, and now, at this beautiful time of my life, I get to just be me, that child again who just wants to go outside and play.”
“No, Janie. This is it. I claim my freedom. I don’t care about my nails, I care about my garden.” Elizabeth stood and began to clear plates, speaking gently to her family as though they were breakable.
“I hated fixing my hair and wearing it all sleek and styled. I always wanted to just let it go, let the thick curly mess go. I just love it now, it’s absolutely freeing.” She stacked the dishes in the sink and turned back to the silent threesome.
“I love my colorful long skirts and I’ll never again in my life wear another pair of those awful heals,” she glanced joyfully at her soft leather sandals, “and I burned all my bras.” She laughed at their horrified faces. “That was a joke. I kept a few for special occasions.”
“Now,” Elizabeth stood at the side kitchen door, “come out to the garden with me and we’ll pick some beautiful vegetables for you to take home. And then you’re on your way!”
She opened a drawer and grabbed her gardening gloves and pruning shears. “I have a yoga and meditation class at four this afternoon and I can hardly wait.”
Joe, Jane and Susan silently followed their mother out the door to the garden, looking as though they were heading out to a funeral.
“Have any of you ever practiced yoga?” Elizabeth threw the words casually over her shoulder. “It’s the most wonderful form of exercise, all your muscles stretch and lengthen and the tension just lifts from your body. You should come with me…”