April is the month of daffodils. In some parts of the country, it is often the month of last snows.
In my family, it is the month of other extremes: It is the month my father died, and then my mother, 14 years and two days apart. It is also the month bearing the birth day of my youngest child.
This year constitutes a special birthday, as it brings Benjie to 20, squarely out of his teens and into solidarity with his older brother and sister, already well into the decade of living dangerously.
This birthday makes it easier for me to refer to the three of them in the collective: "My children, who are all in their 20s..." or "My 20-something children..." or "The 20s are hard on young adults. I know because I have three of them."
This year's April completes a special birthday cycle for the trio of them, each turning their "golden age" back-to-back: My eldest child turned 28, on the 28th this past September; my daughter 24, on the 24th of June; and now my red-headed baby, 20, come the 20th of April. Surely this suggests something mystical, something special, or maybe just a happenstance manifestation of the way people collect and make sense of things.
I'd like to think it's the former, that my children are marked in some good way. Indeed, they must be, as despite the gravest imperfections and inadequacies of their father and me, they are well-adjusted human beings who look people in the eye when they shake their hands.
Not only do they seem to be solid, self-actualized individuals, but they never fought the way my one sister and I did. When it comes time to celebrate some significant event, they often look to each other; my youngest son's graduation from high school two years ago became an opportunity for the three of them to go camping for a week together. Recently, they coordinated schedules to take spring break on the South Carolina coast, with their parents lucky enough to tag along.
Each year as April daffodils bloom out of the rugged northeast Ohio winds of March, there are many things for me to think about; not the least of which is this youngest child coming of age within this family, within this sweet society of siblings with its own sweet code.
His progress marks a constancy of hope and forward movement, yet in juxtaposition to the end of my parents' lives, their anniversaries of death in the same week as Benjie's birthday.
Now, this year, as I plan to make my youngest child's golden birthday special, I am also coming to terms with another passing in the family. Aunt Charlotte, one of three remaining aunts and uncles on my father's side, who would have turned 90 had she lived four more days, died in a hospital in Upstate South Carolina the week before Easter and Benjie's birthday.
Instead of making carrot cake in the shape of a basket like my mother did, instead of getting ready for Benjie's birthday, I will be driving 600 miles south. Recalling Easter crinolines as big as the baskets we carried to Grandma's house for the annual egg hunt, I will come together with a passel of cousins to pay homage to the aunt who kept sweet tea in the Frigidaire, fresh tomatoes on the counter and a Southern lilt on her lips.
Like the poet T.S. Elliott, I guess I could say April is the cruelest month, what with its birth days and daffodils set against the shadows of demise. Or maybe April is an opportunity; coming to terms with the co-existence of snow and flowers, darkness and light, life and death is one of life's greatest lessons.
Heading out this morning, I notice the streets and front yards of my little city yet lined with so many daffodils.
I leave them to go south to confront the harshest of life's realities.
But I will be back in time for my son's birthday next week, and I hope, still, the daffodils.
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)