This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Sarah
I have a thing for four-leaf clovers. Not the design motif that takes over the Target dollar section this month, but the real thing. I found my first one in high school while hiking with friends and have a photo to prove it–in it I’m holding up the tiny sprout for the camera, my eyes wide and laughing, my ponytail captured mid-swing. The four leaves aren’t quite distinguishable in the disposable-camera-quality print, but the look on my face is priceless.
Lucky me, it says. I have a boyfriend and a best friend with a pickup truck and the freedom to slosh through the spring mud all day with my friends without calling home to check in.
For a while I believed that I could find a four-leaf clover on command; if I stopped long enough to look, I’d find one. And it held true for many years–I stopped counting the number I’d found, but considered myself a kind of shamrock savant, tucking this obscure skill away with other party tricks like remembering the birthdays of everyone I’ve ever known or (depending on how late the party went) proving I could still do the splits.
The last time I found one was on my 36th birthday and I wasn’t even really looking. I glanced down at a patch of wet earth outside a motel room and there it was, a cheeky St. Patrick’s day surprise on my Valentine birthday, four miniature heart-shaped leaves in a not-quite-yet-spring green. It was so tiny that I had to take care not to render it ordinary as I pinched it for a photo (much clearer this time, thanks iPhone camera).
Lucky me, I thought. I have a husband and three kids and the minivan to prove it. And I get to spend my birthday in my hometown with my toes in the sand.
As far as the mystical powers of a four-leaf clover go I am, predictably, more of a realist. Finding them never seemed to inspire a series of fantastical events or even so much as a good hair day. And still each discovery felt something like kismet, as if that superfluous leaf was itself a little gift from the universe, more of a reminder to feel lucky than a promise that fortune would follow.
If you’re keeping track at home, I turned 39 last month, so that last four-leaf clover find feels pretty distant. I’ve had a bit of a dry spell, and it’s not for lack of trying. Violet has adopted my pastime and we kneel in the grass every so often to try our luck, smoothing back the soft growth like we’re petting an animal, watching blades of grass and happy weeds and leaf-typical clovers bend and then spring back to position, going back to their business after our gentle intrusion.
It doesn’t keep me up at night, but I do wonder when the next one will come along. The more time that goes by, the more my eyes wander to patches of clover and the more I wonder things like whether certain varieties are more likely to produce four leaves, or if El Niño winters lead to more lucky shamrocks. I wonder if I peaked early, if we’re each allotted a finite number of serendipitous bonus leaves and mine were concentrated in the two decades between 16 and 36. I wonder if my other party tricks are also pushing forty.
But the very act of keeping my eyes open for them has its upsides. I’m not usually one to stop and smell the flowers, literally or figuratively, and I’m more likely to notice details in a spreadsheet than in the grass beneath my feet. As a mom I lean way more librarian than mystic, so the very idea of combing through the front yard for a clipping of fairy folklore goes counter to my nature in the best possible way. Shamrock searches slow me down and allow me to notice; they bring me to my knees in earthy proximity to my still-little kids in pursuit of something that means very little but offers a whole lot.
Lucky you, they remind me. You have this moment and this dewey grass and these magical creatures whose childhood you get to witness every day. Lucky, lucky you.
I keep looking not because I believe a lucky clover will make a difference in my life, but because I want the life that lets me look for lucky clovers.
And when I find the next one, I promise I’ll let you know.