Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How My Jade Plant Reminds Me To Butt Out

If I made a list of the things I would like to change about myself in the next five years it would be my ability to kill houseplants within a week. There, I said it: I have a black thumb. Every time I have tried to own a plant, the plant is dead before I can even nonchalantly reference it when we have those dinner guests over we keep imagining we will one day host . I grew up in an apartment complex in North Hollywood that had a pavement patio and one small plot of dirt that had an overgrown rubber tree my father had to eventually uproot. And once we got a puppy, forget it. I'm pretty sure the levels of ammonia in that plot rendered it useless for plant life ever again.  But, the courtyard in between the two apartment complexes at Whipple Street boasted a strip of green grass and fabulous well-manicured bushes that include jade and birds of paradise and a beautiful magnolia tree at the entrance. None of this (except for the magnolia tree) did I appreciate until years later when I realized how unusual and beautiful that all was. Living in the land of maples, oaks, pines and elms with their intoxicating fall colors has made me pay more attention to the trees in my urban world but also made me appreciate the very unusual foliage I grew up with in Los Angeles.

Take the jade, for example. At Whipple Street, we had these big full jade bushes outside of our windows. I remember not paying much attention to them, other than when my brother and I were kids and we would rip off their leaves and launch them at each other which actually left a pretty good welt, equivalent to that of a snapped rubber band. I remember thinking they were kind of annoying bushes, cumbersome and bulky but strange in a Dr. Seuss kind of way. I never knew what they were called nor did I care... until I came out here and I found jade plants in almost every New York apartment I went to. I liked seeing these tiny versions of the behemoth jades I was lucky to grow up with. But even better, something about the jade made me happy which when thinking about Whipple Street isn't always the first feeling I get. The jade plants remind me of the fun my brother and I had even though we grew up in a tiny apartment. It reminds me of climbing up to the roof of the carport with my brother and my cousins and hanging out, even passing a soccer ball back and forth high up above the worlds we would all return to by sunset. The apartment complex of Whipple was our urban treehouse, the Dr. Seuss bushes our ammunition, the roof of the carport a place where we felt like kings simply because it gave us open space. The jade reminds me of roller hockey in the parking lot, and being yelled at by the neighbor on the other side of the apartment complex every time we missed our complex's brick wall and kicked the ball too high, smacking against the wooden slats encasing his patio and knocking down a sundial or windchime.  How we would run, terrified of getting caught even though we were always the obvious culprits. We were the only kids in all twelve apartments.

I finally decided  to get myself a tiny jade plant and within a week, I could see it was beginning to die. What was I doing wrong? Aren't plants like goldfish? You feed them every other day? Thankfully, when in Colorado, I had asked a neighbor to water my new plants and she informed me that I was over watering it. "Jade is a pretty resilient plant," she told me. She suggested once a month! In other words, "leave it alone, and it just might grow." Ever since I have stopped trying to care for my jade plant, it has been thriving, and I have had daily reminders to stop trying to fix everything around me and worry about myself. And every morning I wake up to my little jade plant, just like the many mornings I passed the jade bushes at Whipple and something about this ritual makes me feel just a little closer to home.