A Blossoming Concept

It’s that time of year again, when a Washingtonian’s thoughts drift, like pink-white petals borne on a spring breeze, to the idyllic moment when the cherry blossoms bloom. Those of us who are parents tingle with the anticipation of bringing our young ones to the tidal basin, gently sharing with them the majestic symbolism of a tree that blooms but one week a year: it reminds us that life must be appreciated, in the moment it unfolds, for it is as beautiful as it is brief. We imagine the peaceful look on our children’s faces, as they absorb the wonder and magic of this moment.

We imagine this, of course, because we are idiots.

We imagine this because, in this hectic work-a-day world, we sometimes forget the important events of the past.

Like, the last time we tried to go see the cherry blossoms.

When my son Max was four, I decided he was ready for the experience. I did remember from previous years that it was impossible to drive down to the Mall when the cherry blossoms bloom. I did not remember that, on that particular weekend, it’s impossible to take the Metro and breathe at the same time.

With each stop, it seemed, more idyll-seekers, native and tourist alike, got on the train. No one got off, as though we were trapped in some evil experiment of one-way osmosis. And so, by the time we were disgorged onto the Smithsonian Station, we were all in a lousy mood. We walked about half-way to the tidal basin when Max announced that he absolutely could not take one more step. With threats of lost Nintendo time alternating with promises of ice cream to come, I dragged and cajoled and bribed him for the remaining four blocks, and finally made it within rock-throwing distance of a cherry tree (I know it was rock-throwing distance because that’s what Max commenced doing). The trees are, indeed, spectacular. Which is, to a four-year-old, entirely underwhelming.

I had it all planned. We would make the loop around to the Jefferson Memorial, for the most spectacular view, looking back toward the Washington Monument.  Max had it all planned as well. We would give up this foolishness and find the nearest toy store.


I decided to make the best of a bad situation; from just the right angle, with just the right lens, I could get a picture with both Max and a cherry blossom in it. We might not experience the moment, but I could create a photo that made it look like we had. (Come to think of it, in retrospect, I could have just Photoshopped him into a picture of the cherry blossoms and saved ourselves the trip. What was I thinking?)

But Max would sit for a photo no more than he would stand for a march around the blossoms. I tried in vain, once more, to get him moving. Finally, Max announced, in the emphasize-every-syllable voice that only a four-year-old can pull off with precision, “I! DON’T! WANT! TO! WALK! ANYMORE!”

And so we sat.

We sat under the first tree we came to, in the shade. And we did… nothing. Like a sinner on the edge of Eden, I had touched the margin of the beautiful garden, but I could not enter. It was Max’s backdrop, but it was not his world. We watched the thousands tramping on toward the tidal basin. We did not join them.

And it was lovely.

With a sigh, I gave up on the cherry blossom walk, and we headed back to the metro, passing the Department of Agriculture, where Max insisted I read every commemorative plaque to him, identifying every tree. These were not cherry blossoms. But they told their own stories (Bradford Pear. White Fringe. American Chestnut, planted in honor of Martin Luther King. Bald Cypress, planted in honor of those who lost their lives in a grain elevator accident while working for the Federal Grain Inspection Service).

There was a kite-flying exhibit going on behind us on the Mall, and Max was upset that he did not have a kite, but then his face brightened. “I’m a kite!” he yelled. “Daddy, fly me!” And he ran up the hill, diving and swooping like the kites above him, and turned around for Daddy to reel him in, and laughed, and laughed, and did it all again.

It was not at all how I’d planned to spend the day — but it was a great day nevertheless. Sometimes the best days are not the ones you made happen, but the ones you allow to happen.

This is a lesson I seem to need to learn again, and again, and again.

It may not be the lesson the cherry blossoms were planted to remind us of.

Or then again, maybe it is.