All My Plants Are Dead

Sometimes motherhood takes things from you before you even realize they’re gone.

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The first apartment I lived in with my husband was at the bottom of an air shaft, with its windows facing the bedroom and the dining room. It was an odd feature, and I loved it. I spent hours researching plants that grow well in shade, then designing, planting, and maintaining a mini-garden.

Eventually, I expanded into houseplants, growing herbs on the kitchen windowsill and violating my lease by placing potted plants on the lower roof outside our living room windows. Phone calls with my favorite aunt, an avid gardener, included each of us detailing how our plants were doing.

Three months before my first child was born we moved to the suburbs. I carefully moved each plant and found the perfect place for it in my new home. I planted a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. For the next several months I checked in on my plants regularly, weeding and watering with my infant daughter strapped to me in her little wrap.

At that time, I had already quit my job and was entertaining fantasies of homesteading; maybe I’d add a beehive to my garden and sell honey at the farmers’ market while my daughter played quietly at my feet with homemade wooden toys.

Then my daughter went mobile and earned the nickname “the Ruckus.” I got pregnant again and suffered from unrelenting morning sickness. On the rare occasions I remembered to water my plants, I didn’t have the energy to get off the couch. Over the next few years we not only added another high-energy kid to the family, but two rabbits who ate most of my vegetable garden and a puppy who dug up the rest.

Three years after I was certain I was going to grow all my family’s food, a friend gave me a mini-succulent garden. When she asked about it a few months later, I told her it was dead. “What?! Those things are impossible to kill—how did you even do that?” she asked.

“I kill everything,” I replied.

There is a lot you give up when you become a mother.

When you become a mother, you may give your body over to growing and feeding a baby. You may lose countless hours of sleep. You might get “mommy-tracked” at your job, or stop socializing in the ways you used to. But I knew all that was coming when I decided to start a family. What I wasn’t prepared for were all the little things that get put on the back burner before you realize it’s happening.

Then suddenly you look up and realize it’s those little things that make an identity. I missed my plants. But, more so, I missed the person I was—who was I if not the woman whose hobby was gardening?

Fear not, mothers of young children, because all hope is not lost.

When my oldest turned five, she developed an interest in carnivorous plants. I took her to the local botanical garden, where we visited the greenhouse dedicated to these plants. On the way out we browsed the gift shop, and she asked for a Venus flytrap. I bought it for her. Then I bought three more varieties.

“It can’t be done,” my aunt and former gardening confidant said when I told her. “I’ve tried growing all kinds of carnivorous plants over the years and they’re just too finicky.” But my daughter and I read books, watched YouTube videos, and figured out a care schedule. A year later, they’re still going strong.

Motherhood can blindside you with how much of you it takes. But it also strips away what is unimportant and can help you clarify your priorities.

When I realized that I had lost a part of myself, I also realized that I loved that part of myself enough to make the effort to get it back. I also know now that I want to share that part of myself with my daughters. I want them to grow up seeing that, while motherhood is a big part of who I am now, emotionally healthy people are multifaceted and not entirely defined in relation to other people.

One day, if my daughter has children, I will do all the things my mother did for me, including cooking, laundry, and childcare. But I will also carefully fill her tray of carnivorous plants with one inch of water. Because when she looks up from the all-consuming work of early motherhood, I want her to remember she is still the girl who once loved a Venus flytrap.  

Alexis is a recovering litigator and freelance writer focused on feminism, parenting, and media. She blogs about all three at consciousscreentime.com.