Something something metaphor

By Mir
January 22, 2019

I go thrifting on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes I’m looking for something specific (e.g.: lo, I have partaken of too much ice cream, and require new pants), sometimes I’m just looking. [Sidebar/shameless plug: I’m finally putting some of this thrifting to good use by selling stuff on Poshmark. Here’s my closet, and if you’re new to Poshmark and put wantnotdotnet as your invite code, you get $5 of credit and so do I.] Usually I just look at clothes and shoes, but sometimes I look at other things.

Anyway. A while back I was doing my regular Goodwill rounds and I found a wicker planter shaped like an elephant. It was adorable and I immediately knew I needed to buy it, not just because it was 99 cents, but because Chickadee loves all things elephant and she lives in an apartment now and I think there is no better “You’re a grown-ass adult” marker than someone giving you a plant with the tacit understanding that you’re capable of keeping it alive. (Once upon a time a friend gave me a nice plant on Chickie’s first birthday, telling me that now that I’d kept a baby alive for an entire year, she was sure I could take care of this violet. It took a while, but I did indeed kill it. I mean, not on purpose. But. Let’s not dwell on it, I guess.)

I must’ve found the planter after move-in, because it became one of those things I hid in my closet while I tried to figure out what would be the Right Plant for it, and planned to give it to Chickie at Christmas.

Months passed, and I became convinced that the right plant to get was a Christmas cactus. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps because “cactus” sounded a lot like “won’t die even if you ignore it” and “Christmas” sounded like “this is why I’m giving you a plant at Christmas,” I suppose. At some point I found a lady selling some at what seemed like a reasonable price (I have no idea, really, on account of I kill most plants that aren’t vegetables…), and I forked over some money for two spindly Christmas cactuses (cacti?) in plastic cups because I couldn’t choose and also I had a second empty planter from the last plant I killed here in my office. Ahem.

As I prepared to take my new plants home, I asked the seller for advice on taking care of them. She looked at me like I had six heads. “Just, you know, water them every few weeks. Don’t put them in direct hot sunlight but do get them a lot of light. They’re pretty hearty, you’ll be fine.” Needless to say, I suspect she greatly overestimated my plant-nurturing abilities.

I read up on how to take care of Christmas cactuses. I bought some succulent soil (which sounds like it should be delicious but it’s just soil, which seems unfair) and carefully repotted my new plants—putting the one that seemed healthier into the elephant planter. They promptly became Very Angry and tried to die. I moved them all around the house, both together and separately, trying to find the right location for optimal sunlight. I poked the soil daily and rotated the pots and paid special attention to the one in the elephant planter because that one was going to be a gift. After a couple of weeks, they seemed okay. I continued encouraging them along and moving them around, but I was no longer worried they were dying.

During this time, Chickadee returned home approximately twelve hundred times for doctors’ appointments, and so every time she was due to show up I would put MY plant on a high shelf in my office and hide HER plant behind some boxes in my bathroom. If she was home for more than a day, I would bring her plant back out of the (relative) darkness of my bathroom after she left, fussing over it in the light, making sure it hadn’t decided to die while in exile.

By the time she returned home for winter break, my plant was flourishing, and hers was… okay. I was nervous about the couple of weeks it would need to spend in my bathroom before Christmas morning, but I was hopeful. On Christmas Eve I set it out by the tree alongside relatively few other gifts for her, on account of Apartmentpalooza ended up being “this is your birthday AND Christmas, missy.”

On Christmas morning, I told her to go look, and she was immediately smitten! HAHAHAHA. I kid. No, it was more like:
Her: It’s… a plant?
Me: Look at what it’s IN.
Her: Oh, it’s an elephant! Cute! But with… a plant?
Me: Yes.
Her: That I have to keep alive?
Me: Ideally, yes.
Her: Oh, I’m going to kill it, though.
Me: …
Her: Not on purpose.
Me: …
Her: I can barely keep myself alive.
Me: It’s in an elephant. You love elephants.
Her: Indeed.
Me: …
Her: But I’ll probably kill it.
Me: No you won’t. It’s a cactus. It thrives on neglect.
Her: I will definitely kill it.
Me: …
Her: Not on PURPOSE. Just. You know.
Me: …
Her: Thank you?
Me: Shut up.

Just like a Hallmark Channel movie, amirite???

Fortunately she stayed a couple more weeks after Christmas, during which time both cactuses lived on my desk, right by the window, being fussed over by me so as to be as healthy as possible before Chickie took hers to her place. Hers was looking a little puny after the extended stint in the dark, but perked up before she left. And mine… sprouted several flower buds! I was unreasonably excited.

Me: Look! Mine is FLOWERING!
Her: Exciting!
Me: I feel like you’re mocking me.
Her: No, I think it’s great.
Me: Really?
Her: Yeah! I mean, mine’s just gonna die, soooo….

When the time came, I packed her back off to Tinytown, along with some strong encouragement (ahem) that she allow her apartment-mate to advise her on the care and keeping of her new plant, on account of there are already multiple LIVING plants in their apartment.

Meanwhile, my plant had four flower buds… three of which sort of shriveled up, and one of which continued to grow. Never in the history of the world has a single flower been so hotly anticipated. Every day I rotated the pot a little and checked the soil and peered at this bud, silently encouraging it to become a beautiful flower.

Meanwhile, Chickadee regaled me with tales of how she put the plant in one place and her roommate moved it and then they moved it again and how HEY IT’S BEEN A COUPLE WEEKS AND IT’S STILL ALIVE and I congratulated her on not killing it.

About a week ago, I was rotating my plant and futzing with it and when I withdrew my fingers from the soil, I bumped the flower bud—about halfway to becoming an honest-to-God flower—with the sleeve of my sweater. That bud popped right off the frond where it had been nestled, and thus ended my dreams of a beautiful bloom on my carefully nurtured plant.

I texted Chickadee to share the horror and she did a pretty good job of pretending to care.

Later that day, there was A Big Crisis with her cell phone, which has been sort of dying for a while now, but was now Really Dying and she’s traveling to a conference this week and was worried about being out of town and without a phone and maybe early for her birthday we could upgrade her phone so that she wouldn’t be potentially phoneless for her trip?

Let us pause here to point out a few things:
1) Her phone is dying, in part, because she is on it approximately 20 hours/day.
2) Her phone is also dying, in part, because she tends to skip software updates because she doesn’t like change.
3) Whether she’s phoneless in Tinytown or phoneless in another state hardly matters, especially when everyone in the entire world carries a phone and BACK IN MY DAY WE HAD TO CARRY A QUARTER AROUND AND FIND A PAYPHONE, WHIPPERSNAPPER.
4) Mentioning the conference was a good way to play on my emotions, though, and get herself an upgrade before her birthday.

Nevertheless, I am a sucker, and after discussing it with Otto, we agreed that we’d figure out the phone situation before her travel.

Long story only slightly shorter: I did all of the legwork and ordered a new phone for her and spent half a lifetime on the phone with AT&T to verify the right way to switch her over once she came home to swap devices and everything seemed straightforward. Chickadee would come home for the MLK holiday weekend and we’d swap her phone and all would be well.

But then she had to work Saturday, so she’d come home Sunday. But then she had a thing on Sunday, so she’d just come Monday morning. But then she was tired, so she texted Monday morning to say she’d definitely be home around 1:00. Once she rolled in around 1:30, I was just hoping the switch would go off seamlessly and we wouldn’t end up in an argument.


The instructions AT&T had given me—I know, I hope you’re sitting down, because THIS IS SHOCKING—were incorrect. I spoke with another FOUR AT&T agents as they kept transferring me around before confirming that no one was going to be of any help, and then Otto offered to help and I snapped at him, and then Chickadee responded to something I was about to try with “Well, you obviously have no idea what you’re doing” and I snapped at her, and, well, it was downhill from there.

Chickadee ended up storming out without saying goodbye to anyone (but with her new phone activated, because that was the important thing) and I ended up sitting in Otto’s office drinking coffee and crying, because those are pretty much my two favorite parenting activities these days. Then Monkey wandered in and was being very sweet to me, so then I felt better and then I tried to talk to him about Important Stuff because I don’t know when to shut the hell up and then HE got mad at me and stormed out of the house.

Two for two!

It turned out that Chickie had just gone to run an errand and came back again, and Monkey was just outside on the phone with his dad, no doubt complaining about what a monster I am, and I don’t know if they compared notes or what, but Chickadee came back in to talk to me but we were still not making much progress and finally she glared at me with her fists balled up on her hips and said:

“Well if I’M this upset with you and MONKEY is so upset with you DID YOU EVER STOP TO THINK that maybe this is a YOU problem?”

Have you ever burst into tears and laughter at the same time? It’s a weird feeling. Also—at least in my case—it results in some weird noises.

Listen, it all got worked out. In the case of me and Chickie, Otto came in to play mediator and we made up; in the case of Monkey, to my great surprise I think his father must’ve convinced him that I have his best interests at heart even if my execution isn’t great (understatement on both counts, but you get the idea), because by the time I saw him later that evening, he just walked over and gave me a hug. When the day was over, everyone was fine.

I mean, mostly.

It is both horrifying and charming to me that my nearly-21-year-old child still doesn’t know (or understand?) that regardless of how myopic and unreasonable SHE thinks I’m being, I ALWAYS think it’s a “me problem.” I am ready to blame myself at any time, for any reason, and twice if it involves my kids. I am always convinced I am ruining them; I did everything wrong, or I didn’t so something I should’ve, or I accidentally thwarted their growth with a careless word or action. Their triumphs are awesome providence; their hardships and mistakes: all me.

I live my entire LIFE convinced that no matter how carefully I tend that stupid Christmas cactus, OF COURSE I would knock the bud off just before it opened. It was an accident. But it also felt… familiar. Inevitable. I was trying to help! But I’m clumsy.

That my supposedly-adult kid thinks it’s a zinger to blame me is, in some perverse way, heartening. (Then again, my track record doesn’t suggest I’m the best at discerning the hopeful from the hopeless, so who knows.)

Still, this morning I was rotating my cactus and found my eye drawn to the tiniest dot of pink. Further investigation revealed… four new flower buds. They’re tiny, but they’re there. If I can just keep my damn hands off it, maybe it’ll bloom after all.


  1. Mary K

    Isn’t that just the metaphor? If you can just keep your damn hands off, your kids will bloom, too. My 40-somethings wish I’d finally put that into action. So do my plants. Sigh.

  2. Suzanne

    Oh how I loved this post. A child IS so like a cactus, my GAWD how apt.

    I especially loved this bit: “It took a while, but I did indeed kill it.”

    And this: “Months passed, and I became convinced that the right plant to get was a Christmas cactus. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps because “cactus” sounded a lot like “won’t die even if you ignore it” and “Christmas” sounded like “this is why I’m giving you a plant at Christmas,” I suppose.”

    Parenting is so hard. Sounds like you are doing an excellent job, though, truly.

  3. Karen Scott

    Yay, a Mir post!

    Yes to all of this. People tell me how I’ve done a good job as a mom and I’m like, “I had good material and all the good stuff is in spite of me, not because of me, but thanks!”

    My son needed a new phone several years ago. He is on my plan. He lives in Japan. AT&T acted like they knew what they were doing. I know this will surprise you, but they did not have any idea what they were doing.

    You, however, are doing great. Really you are, and you didn’t even bake me cookies to get me to say that!

    PS It’s freaking cold here in GA, I don’t think 20 degrees was in the disclosure.

  4. Dawn

    This hit me right in the feels! A beautiful, painfully accurate metaphor indeed.

  5. Chuck

    I carry insurance on my phone, since although I keep it in a “wallet” case, I tend to drop it on occasion. So, I did drop and crack the screen a couple of months ago, and the insurance company sent out a new phone, which I did nothing with…for weeks. After getting a couple of reminder calls from them that if I didn’t return my old cracked-screen phone, I could get charged up to $900, I finally made “the switch” a couple of days ago, which I had put off because even though it was the same model, it was still a PITA. And I decided to do this late at night, so OF COURSE the cellular carrier people who help with activating it were not in until the morning. Anyhow, I did finally get it switched, activated, apps transferred, connected to my car’s bluetooth, old one mailed back, etc. and I’m happy I did it, but now I know why I was putting it off for so long…I celebrated with getting a new “wallet” case, which has dropped in price to under $5 since I got my first one.

    Also, you rawk as a mom, and while I know blaming yourself for mistakes is inevitable, don’t forget about all your successes as well. Looking forward to seeing some cactus bloom photos down the road!

  6. Pharmgirl

    De-lurking to say that this is one of the best things you’ve ever written. Mom-on.

  7. Jeanie

    This is just the best story!

  8. Karen R

    Christmas cactus – less easy than most plants to kill. And they bloom for Christmas and Easter (hence the name). So yours is ether blooming late or blooming early. Or maybe a combined bloom! It will bloom again next year, as long as you have watered it a few times between now and then.

    And your offspring will continue to bloom, because you have planted and tended them so well.

    Really easy plant management? Look into an Aerogarden. Just not the Sprout if you live in an area with frequent power failures or glitches. The larger models all have clocks that can be reset. The 3-pod gardens have to be reset at the time you want the light to go on. If that is 6:00 AM, you have to be standing at the garden at 6:00 AM to reset it. There is something lovely about coming inside from the freezing cold and seeing a profusion of petunias and snapdragons blooming on a table.

  9. Meri Rogers

    There aren’t enough honest discussions about the cactus phase of parenting. The diaspora is upon me, and i wish there was as much advice as the copious potty training years supplied. Thanks, mir. I needed to know someone else bumped the blooms.

  10. Corey

    Oh, so much agreement here.
    Instead of a resolution, I adopted more like a mantra for the new year: Act or don’t act.
    Yesterday, middle had a no-good-very-bad day and an utter meltdown when her coat zipper got stuck. As I tugged on the waistband cord to loosen it, I ripped the coat. Clearly, “don’t act” was the right answer there, and I made the wrong choice. She…ahem…let me know that.
    It’s so tough, man. When you know they can do a thing, but they’re demonstrating they are not doing the thing, it’s so hard to not act.
    At least she’s not a plant…

  11. Chris

    Love this! (and tried to belatedly complement both your vision boards which are works of art but I guess I was too late!)

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