A potted houseplant sits upon my kitchen window sill. Not just any plant, it’s the only living plant in my house at the moment.  Somedays, I notice its vibrant waxy leaves sitting in the beautiful blue pot we picked out before I was a mother. Other days, it sits unnoticed and alone.  

Before I became a mother, I considered myself a person with a “green thumb.” I had several thriving houseplants in a brightly lit room. The conditions were ideal with large windows in the afternoon sun.  I watered the plants based on intuition not on a set schedule. I’m sure readers with a legitimate green thumb are gasping. I softly spoke to each one on Saturday mornings. They brought a sense of calm to our home. 

I began feeling underappreciated at my first career job. I was worried I’d get stuck in the same position, at the same company. I was underpaid and undervalued.  In retrospect, I was an eager twenty-something-year-old who wanted to advance before putting in the time and gaining respect. I was on my way but I still had a lot to learn. Nevertheless, I quit for more money.

Just as the movies taught me, I grabbed a box and stuffed it with belongings. Laying on top was the potted houseplant that I received on Assistant’s Day from the boss whom I strongly disliked. She wasn’t technically my boss but she treated me as though she was in charge and I was her minion. She was demanding and demeaning. She had no trouble pocketing the bonus and praise she received from my hard work. So, I convinced myself it was time to move on. I was leaving behind my new office but I was taking my pride and the potted houseplant. At home, I tossed it in the corner of the brightly lit room. I thrived at my new job and the plant somehow survived the corner without much attention.

I had another major shift and left behind work altogether for a new adventure in motherhood. I brought my plants along for the ride. However, once my first child was born, the plants shriveled and I had zero energy to care.  I walked past them sitting in a darkened room. I was barely conscious some days. I was consumed by a colicky infant and PTSD. I shushed my newborn in the darkened room and turned my back towards the shriveled plants. Or did I turn my back on myself? Eventually, I realized that I had darkened a room within myself that was once filled with joy and plentiful oxygen. I barely allowed myself to breathe for fear of disturbing the sleeping baby. I barely allowed myself to shine because anxiety shadowed every moment. I didn’t allow myself to grow within my new role of motherhood.

My other plants were handed off to better plant moms. The potted houseplant from my past life barely stayed alive. I kept it as a reminder sitting on my kitchen window sill. My green thumb was no longer. It was more of a black hand.  I was concerned anything I touched could die. When you have your first child you are constantly worried you will screw up and they will die – choking, falling, or even sleeping. You are constantly double-checking that they are still breathing. 

One day, I glanced up from the haze I’d been under and my potted houseplant had doubled in size. It was thriving for the first time in years. I laughed that the one plant I could keep alive was from an old boss that I disliked. The truth is that potted houseplant is a reminder that the many versions of myself are still here; some parts shriveled, barely surviving and other parts are thriving.  I thought this miraculous plant came to life on its own as a double-cross from an old boss.  Then I came to learn that my thoughtful husband had been caring for it. He brought it back to life without needing recognition. It was a reminder that I’m not alone in a darkened room.  When parts of me are withering, he’s here caring for me. He’s here pumping oxygen and life back into me and our home.

This essay was inspired in response to a monthly theme from Illuminate, a writing community from the Kindred Voice.

Read more stories on Work from other Illuminate members.

How Do You Define ‘Work’? by Adeola Sheehy
My Work is Never Done (a poem) by Mia Sutton
What Do You Do? by Hannah Kewley
They Say a Mother’s Work is Never Done by Leesha Mony
Working in the Margins by Laci Hoyt
You Gotta Work B**ch by Amy Rich
Labors of Love by Liz Russell
on my terms. by Eunice Brownlee
I Am a Writer by Christine Carpenter

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