Stop and Smell the Roses but Be Wary of the Thorns

Heather E. Sedlock

I remember the first time I heard that phrase. My mother was attempting to explain to me why I could not always be allowed to stop when we were on our way to something. Say, while crossing the street in the middle of a busy intersection. I would eagerly cross the street with her, my hand in hers, racing to get across before those lights change and cars come rushing at us. Mommy did not like it when the cars came at us. That was okay because I did not like some things too; I understood that much. But I did not understand why she did not like the cars to come at us.

One particular, fine, sun-shiny day, we were crossing the busy street again (I do not remember where this was or where we were going however), and I stopped to stare up at the sun. It was white and not orange-y in color; that was different. I wondered if it was really the moon doing a “double-shift.” And as I continued to stop and wonder this and contemplate its meaning, my mother tugged on my hand, and tugged on my hand, and ended up screaming my name over and over. I felt none of it. I heard none of it. All I focused on was the bright-white sun and its many rays. Eventually I decided the sun just changed colors like people change clothes (which also disturbed me the first time I noticed it). I was able to move on and finish crossing the street and realized my mother was now red-faced and worried. The cars were coming.

After we got home, it had to be later the same day (although I cannot say for certain as time passage is fuzzy for me) she sat with me at our dining room table and asked me what that was about in the street. I told her about the sun changing colors. She explained this phenomenon to me. Then she explained something else. She said, “Heather,” because that’s my name and I wasn’t looking her in the face, and so she thought I wasn’t listening, “you cannot always stop in the middle of doing something to think. You must learn to think and walk at the same time.”

I told her of my adventures I find when I stop to think. I stopped to think about ants, for instance, on an almost daily basis on my way to school. How can I think about them if I’m not looking at them? I will forget they are there and I will forget to think about them. I told her of my times of stopping to think about how the washer machine works. Again, if I am not watching the machine, I will never be able to figure out how it works. I said if I cannot stop to think and look at what I am thinking about how will I ever think of anything again? She attempted to explain the process of imagining the thing that I have seen a thousand times before but I could not wrap my mind around it. I do not think in pictures. I think in words. I have something called hyperlexia and that may have something to do with it.

After I told her of how I have to stop to think of something, to keep it in my mind, she said those words to me: “Heather,” again, because that’s my name, “you can stop to smell the roses but you have to be wary of the thorns.” I thought about that for a second or two. I understood she meant that I had to be cautious because I could get stuck by a thorn. I replied, “But, Mom,” because that was her name, “I don’t put my nose near the thorns. I smell the rose petals.” She laughed. I had no idea at the time why it was funny. I get it now.

She was basically telling me that she was glad I found joy in simple things and simply being. She was also telling me that not every time I was stopping to enjoy something was I safe from injury or danger. She told me that in not so many words and I finally connected it. She and my dad also had to work extra hard for me to be aware of how much time had passed, or that time “passed” at all. They would send me to the bus stop a half hour ahead of my brother and the time the bus actually came for me. They did so because I’d stop and think about things on the way there and not realize I was thinking for several minutes at a time.

I can still hear my dad calling to me, “The bus stop, Heather!” No, the bus stop was not named Heather; I learned that one early. It was his way of reminding me of where I was going in the first place. I needed and still need reminders of where I was going in the first place or what it was I wanted to do when I got there. “Get on the bus, Heather!” No, the bus was not named Heather either as I later learned. It was just my Dad’s way of looking out for me since I was unable to look out for myself at that time.

Lest you misunderstand, I shall clarify something. This conversation that I had with my mother was not as direct as I implied it was here. You see, I had trouble verbalizing what it was I was thinking. I was still making connections between the words I read and the words I can speak. But my mother understood me. She always does. So does my dad. It is never too long before I get a call from my Pops, as I’ve named him, and usually the phone call can “be” about anything. But oftentimes, within that reason for calling, there will be some example of his ‘Get on the bus, Heather!” even though I am now married, for the second time, following my first husband’s death, and have two autistic children of my own to raise. My mother does not do this anymore for me. I think she finally realized that I will always stop and smell the roses; and yes, I eventually discover the thorns and become wary of them, all on my own. I still eventually end up where it was I wanted to go, doing what it is I wanted to do… okay, so it may be several years later but I am doing it.