We tramped through the forest, enjoying the first warmth of spring. The moon shone between the leaves, guiding us along. My husband led our troop; my mom and dad followed him, muttering about not being allowed a flashlight. The children filled the middle, and I brought up the rear, relishing the growing darkness. We spoke quietly, enjoying the enchantment of the evening as much as one another's company.
"If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" I called ahead.
The older children instantly began naming trees they'd like to be.
"Well, I've always seen myself as an oak tree," said my father with a wry grin.
"Yeah, Dad, you're definitely a hardwood," I joked.
"What do you think Daddy is?" my 8-year-old asked me.
"He's definitely a red maple, the king of trees," I said.
"I want to be a Christmas tree -and I'm hot, Mommy," piped my 3-year-old.
She stopped the procession and peeled off her hooded fleece. I stuffed it into my front kangaroo pocket. Her oldest brother threw me his jacket, too. That one I tied around my neck. The middle two boys also unzipped and tossed their jackets to me.
I looked more like a child's overstuffed dresser than the sleek willow tree I envisioned: drawers hanging open, every corner hastily crammed, stuff spilling out. "Maybe our characters resemble furniture rather than trees," I thought.
I began motherhood as a cradle, waddling through my pregnant days. I rocked and swayed while my baby tumbled and tossed in its cozy cocoon. When I finally lay down to rest, I felt the baby kick off its covers and turn inside me, ready to play.
After their births, I became their crib. I remember holding my second son upright through long sleepless nights. His head drooped across my shoulder, content to feel my heartbeat next to his, as his little brother wiggled in my belly.
As they grew, I became their footstool, ladder, and sometimes their love seat. A La-Z-Boy can't compare with a mother's arms when sleep plays hide and seek with an exhausted child. I've tucked a droopy head into the crook of my shoulder as legs hung over my arms, and crooned a wordless lullaby only we understand.
Now that I think of it, I'm the daughter of a workbench. Covered in sawdust and shavings, my father spent hours carving toys, bookshelves, and new furnishings in his little corner of the basement. But he made more than just material things on that old workbench. While he sawed, sanded, and carved, I perched across from him and learned.
Today, though, Dad is more of an old-fashioned wardrobe. Deep within him are treasures and tears I never dreamed existed. He never locks the doors, and though the hinge is rusty and squeaks, he's always happy to invite me in.
My mother has always been more of a big comfy couch - the kind you instantly sink into. I loved to throw myself into her arms when I reached our home after a long day at school. I grew up knowing the wonderful sensation of burying myself in her soft bosom that smelled of Noxzema and freshly laundered clothes.
Now that I'm grown, I look to my mother as I would a mirror. She reflects back the real me, not a glorified or faulty version that I try to pass off as reality. She insists I see myself as I am, without makeup or false hope, but with a clear, honest vision.
I'm married to a bookcase. My husband hoards memories and brings them out when we're quietly sitting together. He provides a place for me to set my worries on and a shelf to file away important things that we must not forget. He can be portable or immovable, depending on my needs. He's solid, secured to the wall, so no matter how much I stuff that bookcase, it won't fall down. He's my treasure trove of our life together.
And my children? They're my hope chest, of course.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor