Families with small children stand inside human-scaled birds nests at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Family Garden

The Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has giant birds nests made from native grapevines that kids can explore.

Sunshine washes over the Wildflower Café’s half dozen tables. Every structure at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas’ official botanic garden, is thoughtfully designed. The café’s walls are made of glass, trapping sunlight inside while displaying the sprawling gardens outside, creating a greenhouse effect appropriate for a wildflower conservatory. 

It’s chilly this morning, and everyone is enjoying the café’s warmth. Older gardeners sip coffees, crumble soda crackers into bowls of white bean soup, and talk shop. A mother orders turkey and cheese lunchboxes for her three daughters. A young couple eating lunch together—the woman balancing a very swollen pregnant belly against her thighs—munch chicken salad sandwiches in contented silence. 

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; Summer Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily July-Aug.

Address: 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin.

Phone: 512-232-0100

Website: wildflower.org

I plop my backpack down on the last open table, arrange my laptop next to my coffee, and sit in the chair closest to the window. I’m starving for sunlight after so many cold winter months; leaning toward it like the green buds coloring the landscape outside. Spring has finally come, and with it, change. Yellow petals emerge from the stems of golden groundsel, spindles of twist-leaf yucca sprout purple blossoms, and red berries hang from possum haw branches looking like Red Hot candies scattered to the wind. The trees that survived February’s freeze, dubbed the “Oakpocalypse” for the damage done to Central Texas’ live oaks, aren’t just recovering—they’re bursting with energy, covered in tiny new leaves. 

This change happens every year in nature: life abounds from death, light conquers darkness. But this spring, I’m watching more closely. This spring, for the first time, life is growing inside me, too, cells duplicating minute by minute. It’s only been a few months, and already my baby has fingernails, kidneys, a spine. (I have ten extra pounds, acid reflux, and a headache.) The smells of the bustling café bring a swell of nausea, and I wait for it to pass. It doesn’t. The last twelve weeks have felt like living life at sea, everything tilting beneath my feet. That’s why I came here, to my favorite table in the sun, hoping to find solid ground.

I became a member at the Wildflower Center in June of 2022, enamored with the idea of writing my novel among the blooms. And write, I did. I put down hundreds of thousands of words of fiction here, carried onward by the café’s strong iced coffee and the quiet of open spaces. Every creative person knows how difficult it is to find a space to make art—you need good light, but not fluorescence; privacy, but not isolation; stillness, but not stagnation. The Wildflower Center had it all. I became a regular at the gardens, perching among the trees with my laptop like an over-caffeinated squirrel. 

A child dips her toes into a pond at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Family Garden that recreates the Paluxy River ecosystem in which Dinosaur Tracks were found in Glen Rose. A woman and a younger boy stand in the background

Children can interact with dinosaur footprints in the creek at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Family Garden.

But if I spent dozens of hours writing, I spent hundreds of hours watching. My time at the Wildflower Center brought me into contact with a segment of the population I had yet to spend meaningful time around: parents of young kids. The Wildflower Center has countless attractions for children, from the Luci and Ian Family Garden to annual events like Fortlandia, and on summer weekends families come in droves. 

From behind the safety of my screen, I watched the drama of family life play out before me. “Don’t eat that!” a mother shouted at her toddler, a fistfull of leaves headed toward a tiny, pink mouth. “Stop running!” a father called after a pack of kids, long gone in the dust. I witnessed scraped knees, lost toys, and crying meltdowns of all varieties (dropped popsicles were the most common culprit). “If you don’t start listening, we’re going home,” a mother scolded her son in the bathroom. Her voice rose an octave at his silent little frown. “Do you hear me?!” I washed my hands at the sink; kept my eyes on my sneakers. Once the boy had been marched outside, repentant at last, the woman turned to me. “I’m sorry,” she said, face downcast. “I have to be mean mommy sometimes.” I shook my head and waved my arms. “No apologies necessary,” I’d said. Parenting looked like very hard work. 

It all seemed interesting, if terrifying, from a distance. Then came that blue word printed on a white stick, handed to me by the husband I’d been married to for three months: pregnant. 

Fear gripped me during those cold, early February weeks. I was too nauseous to read, too nauseous to write, too scared to move—encased in ice like the limbs of so many trees. I thought back to all my hours of quiet, peaceful writing in the Wildflower Center’s shade. My afternoon walks through the gardens, my uninterrupted solitude. Now I would pass to the other side—joining the women invisible behind strollers, diaper bags, and extra rain jackets, responsible for feeding, clothing, and entertaining another life. How could I ever do it all? 

The answer unfolded before my eyes. In time, the freeze lifted, green shoots appearing from the scars of lost branches. A season had ended, but another was beginning. My husband and I might not know how to be perfect parents yet, but we would learn. It wouldn’t just be our child growing bit by bit, day after day—we would grow too, in love, in empathy, in grace. 

Staring out the window in the café, watching the sun nourish the fields of wildflowers, my eyes connected with a toddler playing on the patio. She held up a sticky hand and waved through the glass. Was she waving at me? I looked around, scanning for her parents, but since the little wave hadn’t stopped, I waved back. Her face burst into a luminous smile, dimples leaping from her cheeks. Something in my stomach settled.  

Maybe it’s as simple as Lady Bird Johnson says it is: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” 


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