“Hey, Daddy! Look! There’s a turtle sitting by our front door,” one of my children announced excitedly on a hot afternoon in May.
Florida is wild. You can hardly set foot outside your front door without stepping on something squirmy or slithery. And while most people probably know about the alligators, the turtles, the humidity, and the Florida Man, if you don’t live here, you’re probably not as familiar with our vegetation.
In the spring and summer, the grasses and bushes and vines don’t just seem alive, they seem possessed. The relentless afternoon thunderstorms and blazing sun turn normal plants into tangled masses of rage, seemingly intent on taking over the earth.
The tree in my front yard is a prime example of this. It has been completely overrun by the honeysuckle vine that engulfs my neighbor’s fence. The situation started getting out of hand about two years ago when our old neighbor moved away.
When we first moved in, our neighbor had taken charge of keeping the honeysuckle in check. Though we lived side-by-side for two or three years, I don’t think we ever conversed. I would see him outside my window every month, an older man moving slowly but athletically, making his way along the fence beside our driveway, trimming the intrepid vines with an electric hedge trimmer. Methodically, he would rake up the fallen clippings, effortlessly imposing order on the chaos.
Suddenly, a “For Sale” sign appeared in his front yard and soon he was gone.
The new occupants also keep to themselves, perhaps even more so than he did. The only disappointment was that they were completely unconcerned about the honeysuckle. The vines grew and grew and grew. Occasionally, I got up the nerve to take a few hacks at the knot of greenery, but I don’t have any cool electrical tools and am super unmotivated, so the honeysuckle took over. It owned the yard; we became the tenants.
At some point, last spring or summer, it jumped to the small tree that sits on our side of the fence, wrapping its sticky tentacles around the branches. During spring, its peak season, it was impossible to tell where the vines ended, and the tree began.
I’m a native Floridian, but Florida is wild and chaotic, and I am anything but. I’m a rule follower to my core. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to writing was the minutiae of it all. I enjoy the artistry, sure, but I really love perusing submission guidelines and following them to the letter. I like making lists and updating spreadsheets. I always keep two spreadsheets open on my laptop: one for monthly income and expenditures and the other with all my writing submissions.
Few things give me more satisfaction than sitting down at my laptop at night, after my kids are in bed, to fill in squares on my spreadsheets. Entering numbers, highlighting cells different shades of gray, and otherwise imposing order on my unorderly existence while the television drones on in the background to keep me company.
Perhaps I’m more attached to my spreadsheets and rules now because I feel like other parts of my life are slipping out of my control.
I’m a stay-at-home parent. I’m home full-time now with the kids, and I haven’t worked more than part-time outside the house since my first child was born more than seven years ago.
My children are still little, but as children tend to do, they grow older every day. When they were babies, I had control of their schedules and the to-do lists and the television remote control. Now, however, I sometimes feel more like a dog on a leash, only, my kids are doing the leading, which means I’m often pulled in different directions. I’ve seen how my kids walk our chihuahua and it’s not a pretty sight. It comes as no surprise, then, that when they seize control, I have to race to keep up or throw my weight in the opposite direction to slow things down.
Having children has made my life more chaotic, but it’s also helped me let go of my constant need for control. Once my children transitioned out of the infant stage, I quickly learned that I needed to adapt. I had to let go in order to survive. I had to become, if not comfortable with, at least tolerant of the unpredictability of parenting.
I had to become more like my home state and less like myself. I had to become the tree in my yard, so my children could be the honeysuckle vine.
Recently, our neighbor cut down the honeysuckle. After several years of letting it grow wildly, I guess enough was finally enough. My kids and I were outside playing after the last day of school when we heard the sounds of vines being hacked from just beyond the fence. The metal of the machete glinted in the withering, late-May sun. Yes, he was using a machete. He clearly meant business; he might not be the Florida Man, but he is a Florida man after all.
By the next morning, the clumps of vines were hanging lifelessly from the top of the broken-down, saggy fence. Dangling on our side of the divide, pieces of severed stems twisted hopelessly around the rotting planks. The fence and the vines are inseparable now, so it seems likely the fence will have to go if the decimated vines ever do.
That little tree the vines had relied on for support will never be the same, either. Even when the vines are gone, the tree will still feel their presence. It has been forever changed.
I thought I would be happy once the wild thicket was no more. That things were orderly again. That the yard was a bit neater with everything soon to be in its place. Seeing the wilted, once-vibrant vines clinging to the top of the sagging wooden fence, however, made me feel weirdly sad.
I’m going to miss the honeysuckle’s wildness. Its unmistakable fragrance on warm spring evenings. Its spontaneity. Its constant reminder that you don’t always have to color inside the lines.
On the bright side, I still have my children to remind me that life is better when it’s lived and not just planned.
That when a turtle wanders into your front yard, you cancel any afternoon plans you might have.
“Sorry, we can’t make it to your event today, there’s a turtle here!”
I need that reminder. I need that push to live outside my own head. I’m grateful my children are here to help me understand how good living wild can feel.
Until, like the honeysuckle, they’re not.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.