8/10/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A year ago, I started taking off one day a week. The days alternate – Monday one week, Tuesday the next, then Wednesday, and so on. Doing this allows me to keep my full client and class load, but gives me a breather every week. It’s worked well.

This week, my day off is today, and I started it by sleeping in until noon. Last night was a particularly wonderful sleep, with very few awakenings. My windows are open and there was a lovely breeze blowing in. The garbage men came yesterday, so there weren’t any loud crashes as the condo dumpsters were emptied. The studio phone is still a landline, and I remembered to unplug it last night, so there wasn’t a phone ringing. I just slept, and it wasn’t a heavy sleep that usually leaves me feeling logy.

I spent a good portion of my time today wandering around outside and inside the condo, watering plants and talking to them. The classroom plants were already watered this week, so I ignored the first floor, though I did wave at the plants as I went through the classroom with my dog, Ursula, to take her outside to do her doggie business. One of the plants in the classroom is a Christmas cactus, given to me as a surprise by my husband Michael. In the movie, The Homecoming, which gave birth to the series, The Waltons, the mama, Olivia, brings up a Christmas cactus from the root cellar at Christmastime, and says to the family, “Who wants to see something pretty?” Michael said the same thing when he gave this plant to me. On the second floor, I watered two orchids. They’d been blooming like mad, but now the blooms are gone and they’re kinda ugly, really, but I would never tell them that. On the second floor deck, I have this huge big-leafed plant that I don’t know the name of, with several blooming plants at its base, and another flowering plant in the corner. Notice I don’t know the names. The big-leafed plant just unfurled a new leaf, a several week process, and I praised it for its hard work. Upstairs here on the third floor, I have the two hibiscus, of course, and they are named. Carla has been around for several years now, and Lolita is new. The hibiscus spend their winters in my office. I also have two amazingly large begonias, a three-tier raised garden with geraniums and pansies (I think), a palm tree providing a jungle to my concrete lion, Little Literary, and an outdoor clock holds three small pots of flowering plants. In my office, I just transplanted an Easter lily given to me by my son two Easters ago, and I seem to be having success with an African violet, which is blooming madly right now.

As I finished watering, and as I wrote that last paragraph, I stood back and thought, Who the hell are you?

I always thought I killed plants.

I’m not sure where that thought came from. I never really had any, beyond two Wandering Jews given to me by my high school biology teacher and a miniature evergreen that I decorated for Christmas in my college dorm. The Wandering Jews lasted through high school, college, and until my first child was born, when my attention got diverted. I don’t remember how long the evergreen lasted.

But my mother was crazy good with plants. Her house, inside and out, was one big controlled jungle. Even the bathrooms had plants. She spent time every day on these green folks, and kept bottles of special water for different types in the basement. I lived in terror of when my parents would go on vacation and I’d be asked to take care of the plants. I guess that’s where the killing thought came from, because I always lost one or two.

As a side note, my parents also fed birds, and asked me to fill the feeders while they were gone. We all know how I feel about birds. Truthfully, I would stand at their back garage door and fling handfuls of seed toward the bird feeders, never getting near. Right before my parents’ homecoming, I would insist my now ex-husband come out and fill the feeders. I probably lost a few of those too.

But now…here we are, and I suddenly have plants on every floor of my condo. I talk to the darn things, and the ones that do die, I grieve. Carla, my longest-living hibiscus tree, is especially dear to me. She’s named after my student, Carla, who died of cystic fibrosis in her thirties. The day I learned of her death, I was in Menards, and without warning, I had tears streaming down my face. I passed a floor display of hibiscus trees, and one of them reached out with a branch and caught me. I picked her up, put her in my cart, and named her Carla.

And so I wondered why I’d let plants enter my life. One or two, sure. But multiple plants on every floor?

Then this weekend, we moved my daughter Olivia into her first apartment. She graduated from college last spring, and now she’s moving on to graduate school, still at the same college. But now, she’s in an apartment on the college grounds, and not a dorm room. She likely won’t be coming home every other weekend. She won’t have to leave her apartment behind during school breaks, like she did with the dorm. We bought her grown-up things, like a toaster, a crockpot, an air fryer, plates, bowls. Silverware.

It feels very different.

There is one spot in her apartment, next to her kitchen cabinets, that looks like it should have something in it. I said, “Maybe I’ll get you a plant. A nice standing plant.”

“Make it a fake one,” she said. “I kill plants.”

And I stopped right there and looked around at the reality of this young woman, my last child, standing in her own apartment.

The plants have been adding up in my condo over the last four years. The years she was in college. And now, with Olivia in her own apartment, my condo is full of plants.

For me to take care of. Tend to. Talk to.

Well, they don’t talk back, but they do bloom, like this child has. And they are little (sometimes big) green breathing things that I am responsible for. As my responsibilities for this child, and my other three children, fade away.

I think I’ll go buy Olivia a plant, so she can see that she won’t kill it. And I think I’ll buy myself another one too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia and her diploma from Mount Mary University.
The third floor deck.
A bloom from Lolita.
A bloom from Carla, with begonias in the background.
The 2nd floor deck. You can barely see the statue next to the big-leafed plant. The statue is a baby lion…Baby Literary.
Easter lily and African violet.
The blooms from the African violet.

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