Plant Shutdown

As I may have mentioned before, I am not a skilled gardener. I am as neglectful of my plants’ health as I am of my own. So upon returning from my Memorial Day weekend getaway, I realized that I had forgotten to water my plants before I left, and most likely for several weeks prior to my departure.
My Easter cactus was shriveled and dark green. My bamboo was puckered and yellow. My jade was droopy and slightly purplish.
I immediately saturated their pots with tepid water, and within a few days, the most amazing thing happened. I noticed some healthy green new growth on my jade plant. My bamboo looked plump and vital. And springing forth from the tips of my Easter cactus were bright pink buds, eager to bloom. Not once, in the two years that I have owned this cactus, has it ever flowered. Despite my neglect, or perhaps because of it, my plants were suddenly thriving.
So what am I to take away from this experience? Is it possible that my houseplants were trying to send me some sort of subliminal message? Could it be that, sensing their impending doom, my plants suddenly realized how amazing life truly is, and therefore when given a second chance, leapt at the opportunity to make the most of it?
I have to wonder if my plants were trying to teach me a life lesson. Over the past several years, I have watched my body slowly erode and shrivel into a state I assumed was permanent. But what if, like the sturdy bamboo, I, too, can grow new shoots once again? Is that what they were trying to tell me? Perhaps there is much to be learned from our leafy friends. Lessons like:
1. Only through adversity do we reach our full potential
2. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger
3. A near death experience makes you truly appreciate the value of life
Of course, I quickly rejected this theory and instead, determined that all of my plants were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. For years, I had held them hostage on my windowsill, their fate teetering between life and death, dependent upon my god-like hands to bring them water and Miracle-Gro. As could be expected, they have all begun to sympathize with me, their captor. I think the Easter cactus might even be in love with me. I have consequently decided to name her Patty Hearst. We are going to rob some banks together later this weekend.
While I was momentarily impressed with my plants’ physical fortitude, I ultimately became disgusted by their spiritual weakness. I mean really, what does it take to find a plant that will actually stand up for itself? Every last one of these pathetic plants caved in to my abuse. And now they’re all trying to teach me some sort of Reader’s Digest life lesson about the strength of the spirit? I don’t think so! I have enough people telling me what to do with my life – the last thing I need is to have a bunch of insecure flora telling me I can be a better person by just letting people abuse me.
You know what I would do if I were one of my plants and I were that neglected? I would form dozens of beautiful flower buds and let them almost open, then I would go on a hunger strike until they all dried up and fell off, never allowing my abuser to witness their splendor. I would drop leaves into her coffee cup, and shrivel up when company was over, just to embarrass her in front of her friends. I would suffocate myself rather than emit the sweet, sweet oxygen that my captor so desperately craved. That’s what I would do. And I would respect the plant Jenny for having the guts to do just that.
This bunch of low self-esteem, preachy plants makes me sick. So I decided that this weekend, I’m throwing them all out and getting a plant that has some attitude – a Venus flytrap. Venus flytrap takes crap from no one. Venus flytrap is at the top of the food chain. Venus flytrap just says, “What? You think you’re gonna forget to water me and let me die? You think I need you? Shit – I’ll catch my own food, sucka! I’m a carnivore – I kill what I eat. And lord knows you got enough flies in this pigsty apartment to keep me living large for months.”
Yeah. Me and Venus flytrap are gonna get along just fine.

America’s Favorite Pastime

I spent Memorial Day weekend at my brother’s house in Wisconsin, working desperately on my never-ending quest to achieve Favorite Aunt status with my two nephews. My plan entailed a carefully structured regimen of:
1. Candy distribution
2. Lego’s construction
3. Ant-farm observation
4. Star Wars viewing
I was well on my way to accomplishing this goal when Elliott and Anthony begged me to play baseball with them again in the back yard. Having spent a few summers on a neighborhood softball team as a kid, I figured this would be right up my alley. Both boys wanted to bat, so I alternated pitching to them and cheering them on with each hit. I taught them all the good banter:
“Hey, batter, batter, batter. Swing!”
“Whoa! I felt a breeze from your bat, you swung that so hard!”
“C’mon! Put a little pepper on that baby!”
“Yeah! You really got a piece of that one!”
“Hot grounder, coming at you!”
“And he knocks it out of the park! The crowd goes wild!”
After a couple times at bat each, my older nephew, Elliott, suggested that I start hitting some balls to them so they could practice their catching. He ran out to the outfield for the pop flies, while Anthony stayed a little closer to catch the grounders.
And this is where my quest for Favorite Aunt status took a serious detour: Elliott was yelling for me to hit him some more fly balls because I had hit three grounders in a row to Anthony. Ever the fair and balanced aunt, I tossed the ball up, swung the bat, and watched in horror as the ball rocketed straight into the wide-eyed and unsuspecting face of my five year old nephew.
I paused a second before reacting, waiting to gauge my nephew’s reaction. And then it came – the silent, tearless cry that signals great tragedy. I dropped the bat immediately and ran over to him, pulling his tiny mitt away from his face. Oh god. Please not his eye. My brother’s an ophthalmologist – he cannot have a one-eyed son! Oh, his eyes are fine, but welling with tears. Nose! Not a tiny broken nose! How would they even set it? But his nose looked fine. Oh shit. He’s holding his mouth. I hit him in the mouth. Good god, I knocked all my five year old nephew’s teeth out! His tiny, sweet, baby teeth. His mother will never forgive me! But… there was no blood! All his teeth were intact! Not even a swollen lip!
I hugged Anthony tightly and asked him if he wanted to go inside. He just held his hand to his mouth and said, “No… [sniff] I… [sniff] just want… [sniff] to bat… [sob!]
“You want to bat some more? Of course you can bat! You’re such a tough little guy, aren’t you? I’m so proud of you. And you know what’s great about this? Now you and I have a secret, don’t we? Yeah. We won’t tell anyone – especially not your mommy or daddy – that I hit a line drive into your face, will we? That’ll be our little secret.”
He shook his glove off and rubbed his eyes with both hands. “But mommy says secrets are bad.”
I looked around the yard, then leaned in close to Anthony and said, “No, honey. Secrets aren’t bad. Lies are bad. You should never lie. But secrets are good. Secrets are what good friends share. It’s like in that movie Spy Kids – they had to keep secrets in order to catch the bad guys, didn’t they?”
Spy Kids is Elliott’s movie. He never lets me watch it. I don’t like that movie.”
“Oh. Well, you like Lord of the Rings, right? With Gollum? And you know how the hobbits – Bilbo and Harpo – had to keep the ring a secret from everybody? That was a good secret – see?”
“His name is Frodo. I like Lord of the Rings. I saw that three times already.”
“Right – Frodo! So you and me, we’re going to be just like Frodo and Harpo. Keeping secrets, and finding treasure, and killing bad guys. Now why don’t you go grab that bat and show me how you can knock it out of the park?”
The entire time I was tending to my wounded warrior, his older brother was pacing around the back yard and rolling his eyes. When he saw Anthony grab the bat, Elliott threw down his glove and came running over to me.
“Aunt Jenny! Anthony can’t bat! It’s my turn to bat! He just got to bat!”
“Elliott! Your brother just got hit in the face with a ball, and I told him he could bat. You can bat after him.”
“That’s no fair! So what if he got hit. He’s a big baby! I want to bat.”
“Look, Elliott. I hit Anthony in the face with the ball, and I feel really bad about that, so Anthony is batting right now. And if I hit you in the face with a ball, I’ll let you bat twenty times in a row, okay?”
“Do you promise?”
“Yes, I promise.”