The Peony Days

I do not plant or garden anything. It’s not in my wheelhouse to grow and cultivate life from the ground to bloomed fruition. I’ll admit, in the last few years, right around this time, I sometimes feel regret for not having tried to harvest a modest vegetable garden where my daughter and I could go outside with a nice little basket and pick a pepper or tomato to add to a dinner recipe. But, alas, I am not only weeks-to-months late with this semi-serious urge each year, but also unrealistic in thinking I could set up some sort of rabbit and deer-proof fortress when my outdoorsy-ness level is around a firmly consistent zero.

I digress. There is, after all, one effortless blooming phenomenon that occurs on my property every year. The beautiful peony bush in my front yard. I can take no credit for it but I love to admire its gorgeous colors each May. The downside is that the peony days are few. They have an avocado-like quality of wait-wait-wait-wait-wait-no-you’re-too-late. Seemingly overnight, they go from nearly bloomed to gigantic and, inevitably, knocked to the ground by a May rain storm before I’ve had a chance to cut them.

The peony days represent a distinct time of year for me. It’s the soggy season of unpredictable May weather. When I don’t know how many layers to wear and am usually wrong in my estimate. When I realize that my kids have outgrown most of their summer clothes and I am behind, again, in sizing up for them. When I am entrenched in what we call birthday season here, as I prepare my kids’ parties and cakes. When I stop and think, more than usual, about my friend Jen as the anniversary of her passing nears. When I start to mentally pivot from being entrenched in the school year to seeing  its end on the horizon. When I allow myself to begin anticipating summer vacation while also dreading that my kids will soon be another grade older.

The peony days are a small and sort of magical window of perennial change — an unmarked mini-holiday on my calendar that remains formally unrecognized but still distinct.

And every year, of course, other things happen that make the peony days different from one year to the next.

This year, the peony days brought both their usual grind and their unfathomable changes. As these giant blooms grew larger and heavier before fully opening and my three year-old’s spring jacket was too short for his arms, I found myself driving in my car without music on the radio. For the first time in my life, I listened to news stations in the only place that I had previously considered a safe haven from current events. Because in these peony days, we somehow live in a country where the headlines change and escalate at a breathlessly incessant pace and point to unimaginable events in our own government. Most of us walk around and go about our lives — the PTO obligations, the groceries, the bills — and suppress in our small talk the growing division we are all feeling. It’s an acquired skill that, for me, is both necessary and terrifying.

These peony days also found me on the phone with my sister living in Manchester, shortly after her adopted city was attacked last week — just four days after she moved out of the building across the street from the arena. My anxiety for her and her friends and neighbors was both shared and palpable. The age we live in dictates that we tell the residents of these cities in such an aftermath to simultaneously be careful and live their lives. We say this, they echo it, and we are awash with gratitude and grief.

This year’s peony days brought strange, life-affirming kismet literally to my front door after a recent morning walk, when an elderly couple stopped by out of the blue to say the gentleman had grown up in our home. My husband and I were standing right in front of the peony bush when Don and Mary turned up on their drive from Florida to Connecticut in the hopes of catching a quick photo of his old home. We invited him inside and I grinned more sincerely and effortlessly than I had in ages as I listened to him reminisce about how he loved this house in the 1940s. When he turned down my farewell handshake in my front yard, and insisted on a hug instead, the peonies were very close to fully bloomed. When his lovely letter arrived a week later to thank us, it was closely followed — days later — by a letter from another man who had lived in the house just after Don. Truly amazing, if not begging for a Lifetime mini-series. (The details, including the actual letters and photos, are all here.)

As I saw the forecast last week for heavy rain, I worried about the peony days ending with their usual fall to the ground. I made a mental note to extend these days, to remember to cut the flowers and bring them inside. My neighbor told me that more would bloom where I cut them. I had no idea I could orchestrate more peony days into my calendar.



And then I forgot — but my husband didn’t. He heard me issue myself an out-loud reminder to cut the peonies and, when he noticed at 11:30pm one night that the pounding rain was coming momentarily, he went outside with a flashlight and a scissor, in his pajamas, and cut the most gorgeous bunch for our kitchen counter.

And when the rain was over and some of the remaining blooms were still upright, he cut those too and gave them to my neighbors. Another neighbor cut a few more for her floral business. And still a few more are standing, despite the rain. And the new blooms from where we cut them look like they’ll be coming up in a bit.

I’ve never made a secret of being bad with change and transitions. Maybe I wasn’t giving the peony days their due. Some of their moments this year have been made of the stuff I like to cling to — like kids on the cusp of summer vacation and the sweet unexpected visit from Don and Mary — and others that blare from the news on my radio and TV and social media channels just beg for the blooms to hit the ground so we can start over next year see what that season brings to us.

But the blooms are still standing, even after more rain. And so I’ll take this year’s extended peony days and remember next May that cutting those flowers was just as important to me as admiring them outside.


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  1. Suzanne says:

    I really loved this, Kim. I hope things keep pouring out of you. It gives me hope.

  2. Peony Days sound perfectly beautiful, friend. Delight in it. xo

  3. Robyn says:

    What an absolutely beautiful way to articulate such complicated times. xoxo

  4. Jessica says:

    I love this Kim. Miss this kind of writing from all of my favorite people.

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