The People Who Help Us Bloom

When my daughter was a kindergarten student nearly 20 years ago, a traditional assignment was to create a family tree to represent relatives on your mother’s and father’s side. Since we have a “bio-dad” who is not a father, we decided to create something different that has since become a family holiday tradition. The three of us — eventually including my youngest — each sit down with craft materials and create a flower that identifies people who meant something to us that year.

The petals tend to be the same people: our small immediate family members, sometimes a beloved pet. The stem is sometimes used to name people who nurtured us outside of family. The leaves tend to be people who might be transitory, but are important for social activities and emotional shaping. The roots are reserved for people no longer with us but important in perpetuity.

The nice thing about this holiday project is that we make the rules. After my dad died in March 2020, we all decided he still belonged in our petals, not the roots. Especially during the pandemic, we added references to sustaining pop culture.

When my son was younger, he tended to put everyone he knew on the flower — his teachers, a large number of classmates, hamsters that had died. I like to think it showcases the extroverted nature he has today.

My daughter created the most ornate and unique flowers, which I think belies the self-propelled nature she has.

On my flower, I saw names drop away year by year — people named ten years ago generally no longer appear in my leaves. I offer that as a lesson for my kids that people come and go naturally, and that is okay. Petals and roots give us the stability to change our priorities, re-evaluate what we need from others as we evolve, and find resilience after loss.

My son turned 19 this year, and the kids now feel they have outgrown the exercise. For me, I plan to still bring out the craft paper and markers to see how life changes.