I have not been shy on this blog about naming my complete lack of desire to have biological children of my own. I don’t believe that I have any intrinsically maternal set of feelings that manifests despite my lack of children like pressurized air or something. But I do grant that humans are generally built with the capability and need to love and care for other things, and my ability to express love tends to come out for the strangest things. I care for inanimate objects a lot: I’ve named my laptop, printer, and car; I have a tendency to say hello to my apartment when I’ve been gone for a really long day; I apologize to furniture when I bonk into it (this, I’ve discovered, is simply a side of effect of having grown up in the Midwest). Part of learning to love and care for animate things has developed with owning plants.
I have five plants: Medusa is an aloe vera, Cinnamon is a mother-in-law’s tongue, and Gwen Smills, Ralph, and Triton are all spider plants. Yes, these are the actual names of my plants. There are stories behind every one, naturally. I blame my ownership of these plants entirely on my friend Discretion, who is a natural gardener who knows the names of all the green things and refused to believe my dislike of them. She gave me Ralph for my birthday several years back and it just spiraled from there.
It’s funny; I’ve truly become emotionally attached to these blasted things. One year there was an intense cold snap in the Land of Pilgrims and Ralph was in my car for a moment while I was de-icing it and he got so pale and droopy I thought he was going to die, and Reader I can’t even handle how distraught I was at the prospect. But that’s the weird thing about us humans: we can love so fiercely it hurts us, which is kind of how the whole thing works because if we loved any less fiercely we would never be able to withstand the sorrow this life can bring.
I bring up my plants, which my mother has adopted in the recognition that she’ll never get human grandchildren from me, because a while back Ralph and Gwen got flowers and I freaked out. I called Discretion to essentially have her explain to me what was happening (no, not in a “birds and bees” kind of way, but in a “do I need to re-pot them or give them different kinds of sunlight or whatever” way). After laughing at me for a solid 15 seconds, she said this is how plants work and no, I didn’t have to do anything differently. They would be fine doing their merry little thing, and if the extra shoots became too difficult to sustain I could break them off or they would fall off as the plant cared for itself. In fact, Discretion told me, I would do more harm than good if I tried to micromanage these new growths—or if I tried to stunt them altogether, refusing to let my plants “grow up,” in a way.
The thing about plants, or pets, or friends, or children, or spouses, or anyone for whom you learn to care deeply is that you learn to think outside of yourself. You learn to talk to the plants because they benefit from the carbon dioxide; you learn to set your laptop aside because the cat wants to hang out with you for once; you learn to stop thinking through your to-do list when your friend is telling you a story. And you learn to think within yourself and set the boundaries you need: that the plants will not automatically die if you can’t water them at the same time every week, or that setting aside the laptop tonight simply isn’t feasible and the cat will have to deal with it, or that you don’t have the time to properly invest in this story right now and can we please set a time when you can.
We learn to love ourselves and our neighbors, of all kinds.
We also learn that we can’t control everything, which is the worst lesson ever because I absolutely want to—or, at least, I think I want to. It would actually be zero fun and very stressful to control everything, which is why it’s good that God is God and I am not. But I can’t tell my plants to bud on my terms, and I can’t tell the cat when he should play, and I can’t tell my friends who they should be. I can try—and I do, trust me—but I can’t control any of that. I have to learn to love alongside, to allow, to share in without taking possession of.
We learn to love our neighbors, of all stages.
People have told me before that I won’t ever understand God if I don’t have children, which I think is complete bullshit both because I will never fully understand God no matter what I do and because I can experience God and God’s relationship with me through a thousand and five other perfectly legitimate avenues. But I get the idea behind it, that learning to love and let go, and the recognition that God works through the same thing. God has the benefit of knowing everything and being in all times simultaneously, so He does have it quite the same, but that kind of love that lets someone else go at their own pace is a real, shared frustration. Free will is a maddening invention, and I give mad props to God for letting it go this long.
Or, with my plants, let grow. I cannot make them flower or stop flowering. But I can appreciate that God created things that flower, in their season, and is caring for them when I have no idea how. God is also caring for me, even when I decide to suddenly have flowers or not have flowers, or sprout new shoots of my life, or whatever other new idiocy I dream up because it would seem I have an endless store of ways to wander from God’s good plans for me. Fortunately, God doesn’t have to phone a friend to deal with it.
I still do, though. It’s a human thing.
“Look at the flowers in the field. See how they grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers.” (Matthew 6:28b-29, ICB)