Red Maple Leaf
SUNY Jefferson
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Red Maple Leaf

Kerry Elliott


When I think of the leaves changing, the thought evokes a full array of emotions in me. For many years, I could not explain why. But recently, I’ve come to realize that Autumn is a season of change for all of us, especially me. 


Year after year, autumn returns to remind me in its most beautiful way that my kids never listened to me when I pleaded for them to stop growing up so fast.  

“Who told you that you could start 1st grade?” I would state with a false stern look.  

“Momma!” my son would giggle, “Mr. Allgood said I was ready!” as he would try to match my stern look, mocking me by putting his hand on his hip, head slightly cocked, blue eyes squinted with delight.  

“Well, I am your Momma and I say you can’t go to first grade!” This time with a stomp of my foot added for flair. “I want you to stay my little baby boy forever.” I would grab his little body, hugging and kissing him while he squealed that he just wanted to grow up. And I just wanted time to come to a full stop and let me live in those moments forever.  

And so, this happened every year. As the years passed, he went from the adorable impish boy who allowed me to hug and kiss him into fits of giggles to a bright young man barreling through the seasons with no regard for me and my feelings. How was I to just accept that years after year, from one autumn to the next autumn that my baby boy grew into a man?  

Like the job of raking leaves, parenting can be tedious and seemingly never-ending. Just when you think you have all the leaves tidied up from your yard, a cold gust of northerly wind brings another bag or two of leaves to decorate your landscape. Being parents and partners during our children’s school years, so much of life was simply a blur. We fought the daily battle getting them up, ready and to school on time. The drudgery of lunches, homework, and after school events seemed never ending. Today, I long for those autumn days filled with my children, chaos and blowing leaves.  

“She will be a four-hour drive away from us,” I quietly cried as we pulled out of the dorm parking lot at SUNY Plattsburgh.  

“I know but we can talk to her every day, and you know, we can get to her if we need to,” her father answered back with just as much emotion simmering below his false pretense of calm.  

“Turn around and go get her,” I croak out, deciding that is the only course of action that was going to stop the pain. 

“You know we can’t do that,” he whispered while he grasped my hand. 

The rest of the four-hour drive home was made in silence. Our van, once full of clothes, books, pillows, and school supplies, overflowing with her, now makes the trip home, empty. I glance at her vacant seat and wonder who told her she could grow up? Not me. I want the shy elementary girl to remain forever. At this point, I would gladly take the confident high schooler she had blossomed into. Our shy girl had become a young adult right before our eyes without us realizing it. I was not ready to accept leaving her at college, four hours away. As we drove home, I noticed the flashes of colors in the trees. Again, autumn is back, mocking me with its beauty.  

It is only the two of us in our house that once was filled with children’s voices, piles of laundry and laughter. I am left wondering where all the years of my life have gone. I realize I am firmly in the autumn of my life. Some days, I feel like spring’s budding leaves, full of young life and the promise of new beginnings. But those days are becoming less and less. Most days, I feel like a newly fallen red maple leaf; not yet dry and brittle but still vibrant and able to serve a purpose.  

Recently I discovered that raking leaves in autumn is destructive to the ecosystem. Insects and small animals rely on the leaves for food and protection. Fallen leaves support our yards and forest by acting like a natural fertilizer, weed suppresser and a preserver of soil moisture that in turn helps keep our lands healthy.  

Is that my purpose now? I am no longer part of the daily grind of my children’s lives. I have done my job as their mother. They are now the young Spring buds stretching out to the sunshine and taking in all that their lives have to offer. Can I be that blanket of leaves that nourishes them quietly from below? I am ready to provide them with shelter and extra support when life gets to be too much. I can provide protection by slipping them extra money when needed and make their favorite meals when they are in town. I can act like a weed suppresser when family drama creeps into their lives. I am ready and able to take on the extended family that often questions their life choices. I gently remind them that there is a good reason we have taken root thousands of miles away. And I will act like a preserver of all that is good in their lives. I am the keeper of memories, no matter how painful it is to have just memories left where my beautiful children once stood.  

The leaves have begun their annual show of beauty. I am embracing being in the autumnal season of my life. I will take this season of change to find myself. To find the young woman that fell in love with the young man who has walked through life with her. To find the young person who left her desires and dreams on the shelf so everyone else could succeed with their dreams. I will find her and show her the beauty of Autumn. I will hold her hand and bring her back to life. But not back to long ago, but to the present day. Present day with the fallen leaves swirling all around. To help her find those shelved dreams. To finally understand that life will happen at the pace it chooses and to fully appreciate it when fortune visits. To enjoy books, coffee, and dear friends made through the years. To travel to the four corners of the earth to watch the seasons change.