Years and years ago, in the dark ages when I was a young teenager, it was fashionable to fill your room with houseplants- spider plants, philodendron, ferns, ivy -green leggy things cradled in macrame hangars or tucked into brightly colored ceramic pots.
My friend J. and I spent several weeks allowance at Frank’s Nursery, buying up all kinds of green plants. For my birthday that year, J. bought me a prayer plant, whose leaves folded piously at night in the attitude of praying hands, and then opened wide with the sun. We happily decorated our rooms with plants, setting them on windowsills, hanging them from the ceiling, and crowding them around our desks and dressers.
Sadly, my black thumb soon became apparent. I either watered too much or not enough, allowed them too little light or sunburned them. Whatever, most of my plants were soon sickly and yellow, instead of lush and verdantly green.
My mother passed by my room one day and peeked inside. “Tsk,” she said, shaking her head sadly at the vestiges of my garden. “I sure hope your children turn out better than your plants.”
About 10 years later, I delivered a healthy, 8 pound baby boy. Within a few days of his birth, however, he developed a sickly yellow color (jaundice), wouldn’t nurse, and started losing weight rapidly. “Failure to thrive,” was the diagnosis applied by the head pediatrician after a week in the hospital with no improvement. I was terrified – apparently my inability to nourish plants was going to extend to my child, just as my mother had predicted feared.
I finally convinced them to send us both home, claiming we were simply homesick and needed to be in our own environment and away from that horrible hospital. In honor of our homecoming, my grandmother dished up my favorite dinner – southern fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, and apple pie. Between she and my mother, I was tended like the rarest of blooms, fed and cosseted like a delicate rose. And Brian – well, you could say he thrived vicariously, and within a few days sported a rosy glow and three extra pounds.
We’ve often laughed about that diagnosis, watching Brian grow steadily into his 6’2″ and 200+ pounds. I used to threaten to take him into that pediatrician’s office and say, “Remember this one? Failure to thrive, huh?”
I’m still not much good in the plant department. I can grow impatiens (well, who can’t?), and one year I had a vegetable garden with the best darn tomatoes in the neighborhood. The problem with me and plants is that I lose interest in them. I start out all gung ho, feeding and watering on schedule, deadheading frequently…but then it starts to seem tiresome, I get interested in something else, and my poor plants languish.
But I never got tired of being a mother…not for one second.
My son is, of course, a grown man now. He’s healthy and well adjusted, has a lovely wife and a very nice life. In short, he’s thriving. I don’t get much of an opportunity to nourish him anymore, and really, he does a fine job of taking care of himself. But the impulse to tend to your child never leaves, no matter how old and self -sufficient they become.
He’s been out of the country for six months, which is by far the longest amount of time I’ve gone without laying eyes on him since the day he was born. He’s on his way home today, and I’m pretty disappointed that I can’t be in Florida to greet him. Last time I was there, I left some of his favorite foods in the freezer and a few little gifts in the house. It felt like a pitifully small offering, and I was sort of laughing at myself for even doing it – but it was, at least, something, and will probably prove more satisfying to me than to him.
Here at home, I’ve been outside today, tending some new plants in my garden, spreading loamy dark mulch around their tender fresh leaves, working bone meal into the soil at their roots. I have Magic and Molly beside me, keeping me company. Every so often I hear the distant roar of an airplane overhead, and my thoughts return to that fairest of all blooms in the garden of my life, the child who thrives, with or without me, and is on his way home.
How about you? What’s thriving in the garden of your life these days?