I Declare Thumb War!

Renaissance Festival

We don’t all bloom where we are planted. I learned this from my grandmother at a young age while following her around her garden as she tended to her many plants. Each of them required something different, whether it was full exposure to sun, less water, partial shade, or adequate space for root development. They could only thrive under the right conditions. My grandmother had what one would call a green thumb, a natural talent for growing plants. In my eyes, it was more than that. She was pure magic when it came to her garden.

She could take a wilted bougainvillea, and bring it back to life with a whisper and a yardstick. The whisper was for encouragement, the yardstick to support it until it was strong enough on its own. She believed in treating her plants as living, breathing beings, and in so doing, they would reward her efforts by blooming tenfold. My siblings and I would giggle when we heard her telling her rhododendron how pretty she looked that morning or pleading with her calathea to please perk up a little. Some days, we were convinced she liked those plants more than she liked us. One plant in particular was living proof of this, though keeping it alive proved to be my grandmother’s greatest challenge.

One summer, a well meaning neighbor left it on my grandmother’s doorstep with a note.

“One, two, three, four, I declare thumb war. Perhaps, your green thumb can undo the damage my black thumb has done to this poor fellow. Good luck!”

My grandmother, never one to shy away from a challenge, picked up the plant, turned the pot in her hand and gave it a good once over.  She ran her fingers over the green heart shaped leaves, and lingered over the holes in each. She leaned into it, and whispered while she stroked each leaf one by one. As the weeks progressed, my grandmother tried everything she knew to get that plant to flourish to no avail. No amount of water or lack thereof, no special plant food, and no amount of talking made it happy. She tried placing the pot in direct sunlight, then partial shade. She positioned it between the gardenias and the roses. When that didn’t work, she tucked it behind the azalea bush. Each time it grew a leaf that died as quickly as it sprouted.

One day, during a game of hide and seek with my brother, my ten year old self found the perfect hiding spot behind the azalea bush. I crouched down and held my breath as I heard the soft crunch of Converse, smaller than my own, on the dirt as they approached me.

“Found you!”

My brother yelled, and pounced on me like our cat, Tilly, when she found an unsuspecting worm on the front porch. I fell backwards into the plant that had been causing my grandmother such frustration. It toppled over, spilling its dirt everywhere.

“Help me scoop up all the dirt! Hurry! Grandma will be so upset if this plant dies!”

Our tiny hands fervently scooped dirt as though our lives depended on it as much as the plant’s, but even with the dirt back in its pot, the plant would no longer stand on its own. We dragged the pot out of the crowded garden, and propped it against an old, sturdy oak tree. I ran to get the hose, thinking if I watered the dirt it might pack it in enough to support the plant. By the time I returned, my little brother had begun digging a hole in the ground.

“Maybe it’ll be happier in the ground. That way it can stand on its own.”

My grandmother came out of the house just as we were placing the plant in the ground. She never let on if she was mad at us. As she got down and helped us with the plant, she said something that has since stayed with me.

“Some clamor for way more attention than they need, and are unjustifiably high maintenance. Some just need to know their place in life. Let’s see how she does here.”

This past summer, our family relocated, and we’ve been trying to get settled in a new state, a new town, a new school. We enrolled our daughter in the public high school. The student body is extremely large compared to her old school, and she spent the entire first semester feeling out of place. She tried boldly introducing herself to other kids. When that didn’t work, she tried blending into the mass of students, trying to go unnoticed. That required less effort, but didn’t position her to thrive. Academically, she was solid, but socially she just seemed to be floundering. As kids do at that age, she started to wonder if she was the root cause of her predicament. Was she high maintenance? Did she simply need to stay put and deal with it? Was it her fault she couldn’t figure out how to go about fitting in at this new school?

As parents, we struggled with whether our relocation was the right move. Should we push her to get more involved or let her be? Our hearts’ desire was to magically make things better for her.

When she approached us about transferring to a smaller school, we did our research and found a private school. This school is steeped in traditions practiced since its inception. It is a very structured environment and the complete opposite of her previous school. Where she struggled to make friends before, she is meeting kids she has something in common with, and feeling like she finally belongs.

My grandmother’s plant has come to mind on this journey to do the right thing for our daughter. There is no magic. We don’t all bloom where we are planted. Sometimes, we just need to find our place in life so we may stand on our own and thrive.

8 thoughts on “I Declare Thumb War!

  1. I thought this was excellent, very thought provoking. I hope your daughter thrives where she’s planted now. She seemed to know the right place to bloom.

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