We measure it September 8th - mark it's growth in her scrapbook as if we were celebrating another three inches on her dark little third grade head.
In the spring, we de-tree it by pulling out the rooting acorns embedded in her dirt.
It 'blooms' every fall, sometimes in the week of her birthday - just like she would have, another year older, another grade of school.
We tend to it as winter approaches - picking up fallen leaves and sticks that litter the inner circle of love J made for her.
I am protective of that space - stepping in front of it when a rouge softball misses its mark to the far left, willing to take a bruise to the shin so that my Emma, the bush - is safe. Any mother would, right?
And so, this evening - this glorious suto-summer like evening (and yes - if you read here consistently that means we went from suto-winter to suto-summer in a miraculous shift somehow bypassing spring at all. I'm told it's coming) anyway - on such a glorious evening when coming inside was a tragic thought after grilling out, eating out, playing afore mentioned softball, and tennis outside, I dragged myself into the kitchen to clean up the last of the dishes. My other three ran through the field, soaking in every last ounce of sunshine willing to grace our day.
Minutes later, I glanced out the window and my heart stopped. The Comedian was touching Emma's bush. It looked so vulnerable, completely bare of any covering: no leaves, no snow, no way to protect itself. She was running the ends of the branches through her fingers over and over and over. I felt this rush of fear, what if she breaks a branch? what if she hurts her sister? - much like I was watching them fight over a pair of well-used, but coveted pants.
I acually opened the door to say something - anything - to get my sweet, would-never-hurt-a-soul daughter to stop touching the naked branches. It was tearing me up. I knew it was irrational. I knew it was ridiculous. It is a bush! A plant. A living piece of nature meant to represent my long gone daughter, but not to embody her in any physical way.
Even so, I had nearly opened my mouth to speak unplanned words when Comedian looked up and met my eyes. She spoke first, "Oh, Hi Mama. I was just talking to Emma. I was just telling she that she's leaves are going to come back and we are going to take a picture of she's leaves."
The tears that hid behind my eyes came simultaneously with my smile.
"Yes we are" I said, "You bet we are." And we held hands as she got ready for bed.
And so, you see - all these years later the irrational thoughts and desperate need for connection, in some way - through any portal, still remains. The difference? I know she's not coming back. I no longer think I can bring her back. Instead, I embrace these things: a bush, a stone angel, a scrapbook, a door opening of it's own accord, a timely song played on the radio...as my daughter.
Irrational - maybe. Necessary - definately.