I’ve always been in the “give me a houseplant and I will definitely kill it” camp. Inevitably, anything green to enter my house would end up taken for granted, neglected and, ultimately, deceased.
But a couple of months ago, on impulse, I bought a few houseplants for the house I’d recently moved into. I was strolling through the garden section of the home store looking for a distraction from what was turning out to be a real shitter of a day, and the greenery felt so soothing, I just had to bring a few plants home with me.
What is home? It’s not a location, and if it is a location, it’s not a guaranteed one. It’s not as permanent as we sometimes allow ourselves to believe, or as permanent as we would like it to be for our children. That day I was strolling through the garden section, the “home” I pictured in my head was still not always a consistent image. The home I’d recently moved into after separating from my former husband felt right to me the moment I’d walked into it — I loved the energy of the place and knew instantly it would be mine. It was an older but solidly built cinder block ranch with plenty of space. But it was still new.
My new home is just ten minutes from my former husband’s home, the home we built and decorated and lived in together as an undivided nuclear family. That house still sometimes accidentally flickered into my brain for a fraction of a second when I thought the word “home.” It’s a gorgeous house, spacious and minimalist and modern, so beautiful I think I subconsciously believed it would fix the sense of unbelonging I tried for years to shake. And it is still my kids’ other home.
Leaving that perfect house was not only the right thing to do; it was also the only thing to do. I left because I am gay. But the division of our family was still instigated by me. I am the reason my kids now have two homes instead of one. Even if I’m not guilty of any wrongdoing, I am still the reason.
I wasn’t consciously thinking of any of this that day I was strolling through the garden section. I was really just thinking, “My sunroom would be really pretty if it were basically a jungle.”
As any divorced parent who shares time with their children knows, a home without your kids in it can feel terribly lonely. On my “off” days, there are no meals to prepare. I’m not tucking anyone in or reminding them to brush their teeth or checking homework. It’s weird not to have any babies to take care of. And though spending time alone can be nice, I would always rather have my kids with me if given the choice. And what my new plants made quickly apparent is that I needed something to bring me a little joy and keep me distracted when my kids weren’t there for me to take care of and love on.
So I brought my impulsive plant purchases home, first setting them on the beige tile floor of my sunroom, not really sure what my plan was or if I’d even bought the right kinds of plants for that kind of room. Are three walls of north-facing windows enough of a light source? Seems like it would be, but based on past experience, it seems awfully easy to murder a plant.
Undiscouraged by past failures, I hunted down some used pots at the thrift store for my new plants to live in. Again, no idea whether I was buying the right thing or not. Only a few of the pots had holes in the bottom. Are holes in the bottom of pots necessary? Are some of my plants dying as I write this because their pots don’t have holes in the bottom? I have no idea. They seem okay so far.
What I’ve found as I’ve acquired more plants, more pots, and more shelves and tables to put them on, is that having a bunch of plants to take care of isn’t just something to help pass the time or some creepy way to satisfy my motherly need to nurture. What I’m finding is that having plants in the house, and taking care of them, is therapeutic. Every evening as I take my little watering can around from plant to plant, I feel my body releasing the tension that has built up inside me over the course of the day. Most of my green babies hang out on my sun porch, so that’s where I end up hanging out too most of the time, pecking away at my work on my laptop. I’m sitting on my sun porch as I type this.
The relief and relaxation I feel from taking care of and chilling with my new green friends is not an unheard of phenomenon. Science has long touted the benefits of keeping plants indoors, with studies demonstrating that caring for plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress. Keeping indoor plants can improve the air quality in a room, including decreasing dust by up to 20%. Indoor greenery can also lower blood pressure, increase pain tolerance, decrease anxiety, and lengthen attention span.
All that science is great, but honestly, my little houseplant jungle would keep on expanding even if science didn’t confirm it was awesome for my health. The peace I get from collecting and caring for these verdant beauties is plenty reason enough to keep doing it. When the kids are here, they help me keep everyone watered, and they get excited to discover new additions that have appeared while they were at their dad’s.
And, when they’re not here, hanging out in my sun porch jungle makes missing them ever so slightly more bearable.