Monthly Archives: June 2021


When we found out we were having our first baby, I harbored hope that he would embody all of his parents’ best qualities: my knack for math and languages, interest in food and travel, and love of books and plants combined with his father’s rugged good looks, artistic and musical talents, and athletic prowess. Luckily, our firstborn did inherit some of those characteristics, along with a few of our less enviable attributes, as did his two siblings who followed. I never imagined until I encountered this conundrum what a challenge and a gift it would present: here we are raising children who exemplify some of our great strengths as well as a few of our more frustrating behaviors, all meted out among three individuals who are their own people as well.

There is no mirror quite like the one this opportunity provides, and while it is sometimes exasperating, it’s also incredibly beneficial in helping to fortify our ability to identify with how others perceive us. In a way, it objectifies the qualities of our own personalities so that we can understand how they might impact others. It’s like stepping outside of ourselves and witnessing our habits, tendencies, and behaviors with a fresh set of eyes, and this in turn gives us the perspective necessary to self-identify and regulate those aspects of ourselves that we possess both the capacity and the power to control, whether by moderation or modulation.

For example, when I see my daughter yell, run into her room, slam the door, and dig in her ever-loving heels with stubbornness, I see myself and summon empathy. When she accumulates seventeen half-finished art or craft projects that just SIT THERE until she gets around to finishing them, I conjure understanding. When my son spends way too much time deciding which book to read or which treat to choose, I see my own difficulty with decision-making and try to flood my system with patience. When my other son gets a gift and immediately asks for every single other one of its kind in every color and size, I recognize my collector’s impulse and channel grace. Knowing how it feels to be on the receiving end of unwelcome behavior in these instances helps me temper my own actions and reactions in a way that I can’t imagine sourcing elsewhere in such an effective way.

What’s also helpful is witnessing the effect this has on my husband. When we are waiting on a child who is taking his own sweet time but doing whatever he’s doing exceptionally thoroughly and with great results, I’m sure Brian reminds himself of himself to inspire composure. When a child is spending an eternity in the bathroom or has to go RIGHT as a piping-hot homemade meal is presented on the table, I just know why Brian checks his frustration. When a child forms the habit of chewing ice loudly and for extended periods of time in a setting that is otherwise quiet, I see my spouse noticing how incredibly annoying it is. When a child is singing a well-known tune (on key, I should add) but replaces the original words with the names of people or pets in his vicinity, the effect being inane and obnoxiously repetitive bordering on nonsense, it must ring familiar.

There are dozens of these little mirrors that turn up unexpectedly in our everyday experiences in the company of each other, and I think of them like little shields that give us a degree of separation from sometimes unsavory situations. Like Perseus only able to see Medusa as a reflected image in the bronze shield given to him by Athena, so we can see our own moments of monstrousness more clearly by virtue of the generational lens, thereby denaturing those moments’ immobilizing force. Who knew that we’d be inheriting an amplified sense of self-knowledge and therefore self-awareness, such a monumental gift, and from our children, no less?

All the windows are open

For months and months, Summerly has requested that I sing along with the recording of “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” at bedtime, so I pull up the browser window with the clip from YouTube that I keep open for this purpose. Sometimes it takes me a minute to find it because, well, I have a lot of browser windows open in my iPhone’s Safari internet app. Recently she suggested that we estimate how many windows I have open, and we quickly scrolled through to give us a shot at making an educated guess. I was kind of horrified that we landed on 130 as our estimation, so here goes (feel free to scroll through this ridiculously long catalogue:

1.) Slow Cooker Honey Lime Ginger Pork (Recipe Critic)
2.) Caesar Chicken Recipe (The Cookie Rookie)
3.) Replacement kitchen window crank (Reflect Window & Door)
4.) Slow Cooker Tomatillo Chicken Filling (365 Days of Crockpot)
5.) East Coast Babies: California Gurls Parody (YouTube…I highly recommend checking this one out, by the way)
6.) Sour Cream Noodle Bake (CentsLess Meals)
7.) Kindness Ninjas (Vimeo)
8.) “The Storm” by McNight Malmar (full text)
9.) Belvedere Charlottesville (Google Groups)
10.) “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (full text)
11.) Gulotta Family (Porchrait photos by Robert Radifera Photography)
12.) Step-by-Step instructions for making the paper airplane that broke world records (Colossal)
13.) Coronavirus Dashboard (it was at 90,779,876 confirmed cases worldwide at the time of this writing)
14.) Monster in law funny clip 1 (sic) (YouTube)
15.) Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants (Mach III) (YouTube)
16.) Joanna Gaines shares her family’s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (Today)
17.) Lilliputian hallucinations (Google search)
18.) Scrimshaw (Google search)
19.) Susannah + David’s Elopement album (Hunter and Sarah Photography)
20.) Auli’i Cravalho – How Far I’ll Go (YouTube) THERE IT IS!!!
21.) Mooncake (Wikipedia)
22.) Melty Chocolate-Truffle Cookie (epicurious)
23.) Men’s outdoor cold-proof motorcycle leather jacket (Wayrates)
24.) Quick & Easy Chicken Flautas (Together as a Family)
25.) Gregory Gourdet (Wikipedia)
26.) New! Wintergreen Family Ski Retreat w/ Fireplace! (Evolve Vacation Rental)
27.) The Undoing (Google search)
28.) The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries by Topher Payne (another one I recommend!)
29.) Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas (The Girl Who Ate Everything)
30.) Flourless Black Bean Brownies (ambitious kitchen) (SO GOOD!!)
31.) Do you know when you’re using harmful ableist language? (MindPath Care Centers)
32.) Michael Franti & Spearhead – Hole in the Bucket (YouTube)
33.) Taco Pizza Rolls (Old El Paso)
34.) Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
35.) Authentic English Crumpets Recipe (The Daring Gourmet)
36.) Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Google search)
37.) Easy Homemade Biscuits (Sugar Spun Run)
38.) Basil Pesto Tomato Mozzarella Chicken Bake (Julia’s Album)
39.) Meringue Cookies (Sugar Spun Run)
40.) Meatball Casserole Parmesan (Joy Filled Eats)
41.) The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need (NYT Cooking)
42.) Vertical List of Enneagram Type Combinations (Lynn Roulo)
43.) Queen Bee mug (Mercari)
44.) Take it on the chin (The Idioms)
45.) Analogy of the Sun (Wikipedia)
46.) Best Gluten Free Shortbread Cookies! (noshtastic)
47.) Peach Muffins Recipe (Allrecipes)
48.) Easy Peach Dumplings (Belly Full)
49.) One Pot Andouille Sausage Skillet Pasta (Damn Delicious)
50.) Tutorial: How to Teach Your Bunny High Five (YouTube)
51.) SignUpGenius (Second Grade, Ms. Scott’s Classroom)
52.) Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal Cups (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
53.) Cosmo Topper (Google search) (Hi, Dad!)
54.) Cameron Monaghan (Google search)
55.) Change-Your-Life Chicken (The Lazy Genius Collective)
56.) Moist and Chewy Banana Oatmeal Cookies (Life, Love and Sugar)
57.) Part of Your World (YouTube)
58.) Emily Arrow – Curious Garden Song (with hand motions & lyrics!) (YouTube)
59.) Vegan Mango Cake Recipe (Eggless Cooking)
60.) 1 Bowl Baked Oatmeal (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
61.) Yum Yum Breakfast Burrito – Parry Gripp (YouTube)
62.) Kuretake (Google search)
63.) Monster Moves song (Google search)
64.) The BEST Fried Rice! (Gimme Some Oven)
65.) Donate to Arlo Gulotta for President 2052 (gofundme)
66.) Roasted Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spinach Quiche Recipe (The Kittchen)
67.) Euphemisms for bad behavior (Google search)
68.) Alicia Keys, Brandi Carlile – A Beautiful Noise (YouTube)
69.) Treasure inside pyramids (Google search)
70.) Dot painting (Google search)
71.) Carrot and Cranberry Salad with Fresh Ginger Dressing (Bon Appétit)
72.) Mary Berry’s chicken with pesto, taleggio, and roasted tomatoes recipe (Love Food)
73.) Slow Cooker Sage and Sausage Stuffing Recipe (Serious Eats)
74.) The Poopsmith Song (YouTube)
75.) Stevie Wonder I Just Called to Say I Love You (YouTube)
76.) Sam Cooke – Cupid (YouTube)
77.) Easy Marzipan Recipe (4 Ingredients) (Sugar Geek Show)
78.) 1201 N Williams St Apt 5 A, Denver, CO 80218 (
79.) Chickens eating rotten eggs (Google search)
80.) Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis (YouTube)
81.) Turtles all the way down (Google search)
82.) Gertrude’s Secrets (Google search)
83.) The Yellow Wallpaper (Google search)
84.) Top-Load Washers (Lowe’s)
85.) Best Leftovers Ever Winners Now (The Cinemaholic)
86.) Youniverse (Google search)
87.) 102 Dalmations – Trailer (YouTube)
88.) Old can opener (Google images)
89.) Chrysler Pacifica models (Google search)
90.) Photographer Happens Across A Bug That Looks Like A Piece Of Popcorn With Tiny Legs (Bored Panda)
91.) 3D Paper Snowflake Tutorial (YouTube)
92.) 15 Genuinely Fun Activities For Kids That Parents Made Up During Lockdown (Fatherly)
93.) Humbled by the Lowly Stone (Sam Koenen)
94.) Dining Menus (St. Anne’s Belfield)
95.) No Bake Cookies (Cooking Classy)
96.) Almost There – Princess and the Frog (YouTube)
97.) Einstein on Fairy Tales and Education (Brain Pickings)
98.) Yeast Alive! Watch Yeast Live and Breathe (Scientific American)
99.) Salmon Skin Makes You Smarter, Stronger, and Better Looking. Did We Mention That it Tastes Like Bacon? (Sun Basket)
100.) Chinese water torture (Wikipedia)

Well, there you have it: an even hundred! I’m sure I’m not alone in this borderline compulsion to have information at my literal fingertips, lest I forget something or don’t have time to fully explore it in the moment, though my husband claims it would push him to the brink of insanity to have that many browser windows open. What can I say? We all live chaotically in different ways. For example, he follows sports. Case closed.

PS. I’m going to close a lot of these, I swear. Except for a few, including #20 (obviously) and #65. Those must stay.

A tale of man versus machine

One of my favorite snacks, despite my mother’s insistence that it’s poisonous and has no business being allowed FDA approval, is an Orville Redenbacher single-serving bag of microwave popcorn. It’s just the perfect amount for one sitting and formulated exactly to my preference (the right amount of sodium, pronounced taste of actual corn, great crunch paired with a melty fluffiness, and no dripping “butter” or greasy fingers). It’s also warm and fresh but requires obscenely little effort to prepare, which is a bonus for people who spend a lot of time preparing food for others. Furthermore, for the first time in memory, we own a microwave on which the “popcorn” button actually worked, and though I have no idea how such a device can intuit how much time and power it needs to administer to yield perfect results every time, somehow it did.

Please notice the use of past tense in that last clause. For whatever reason, despite continuing to function optimally for larger bags of popcorn, one day the microwave just decided that the “popcorn” button, if used to cook a mini bag, would just incinerate its contents. I’m not talking a bit too brown, or a couple of burnt kernels. I’m talking blackened popcorn-shaped embers of carbon, accompanied by the kind of acrid smoke that smells like a reason to buy shares of stock in Yankee Candle. I thought perhaps it was a one-off, a weird glitch, but no; each time I tried to cook a mini bag of popcorn, the microwave came on way too strong. It was a little sad to realize that I’d already consumed my final perfect bag of popcorn without knowing it at the time. If only microwave would’ve bowed out gracefully, if not giving two weeks’ notice, at least flashing across its control panel some words of finality so I’d have known to savor the moment as such.

Anyway, I tried all sorts of different formulae to try to get results close to what once had been, finally settling on one minute and fifty-two seconds on high power as a benchmark for satisfactoriness (which, oddly enough, feels like a a word that’s barely adequate as a word). And then, one night, after one minute and fifty-two seconds, I took a bag of burned popcorn out of the microwave and googled “Yankee Candle market value”. From there, the variation continued, and it began to seem that the microwave cooked differently depending on how much use it had gotten that day. I started to think that if it were used a lot prior to popcorn-making, perhaps that would account for the amplified intensity when handling my delicate little mini bags, causing them to burn.

Enter Brian, fellow popcorn enthusiast, whose appetite is hearty enough to handle a full-sized bag. One night he went to make popcorn, and I asked him to let me make mine first so it would be less likely to burn. I bemoaned that the night before I’d tried one minute and fifty seconds, which underpopped it enough to render the amount slightly less than satisfying but not so small as to warrant cooking a second bag. Then he pointed out that a few nights earlier, he’d made his bag first and mine had come out better than usual afterward, positing a completely contrary theory to mine: maybe the microwave’s optimal functionality as it relates to my popcorn is actually favored by recently having been run for a full-sized bag. I told him to have at it, then, and guess what? Every time since, after he makes his bag then puts mine in directly, it cooks almost perfectly on one minute and fifty-one seconds.

This is really a reflection on how it feels to be married sometimes. Despite the annoyances and frustrations, the difficult conversations and disagreements, the confusions and contradictions and conflagrations, the seemingly endless laundry list of things we do that drive each other crazy, there is also symbiosis. In the maelstrom of figuring out how to cohabitate and coparent with a person who is your safe place to the point that it’s easy to treat him like a whipping boy, there are oases wherein thrives a reciprocity of personal betterment. Sometimes we need the counterpoint of each others’ perspectives and creative thinking to find solutions. Sometimes we need to troubleshoot and work through trial and error to settle on best practice. Sometimes we need to collectively skin our knees on circumstance to teach us a gentler way to walk through life together. And sometimes it’s enough to step back and realize that one person’s popcorn makes the other person’s popcorn so much better. In a world of inhospitable microwaves, which time after time over-promise and under-deliver, I’m grateful to have found a way past the popcorn button. But I never would’ve figured out how to get there on my own.

Excuse me while I go rinse out this Ziplock and hang it up to dry

Well, it finally happened. The day has come when there is no longer any single-serving Polly-O string cheese under this roof. It has all been consumed. Every last ounce. I may or may not be able to attribute the carpal tunnel syndrome forming in my right hand to the number of times I’ve transformed a tube of mozzarella into a heap of ecru dairy-threads, but I feel a great sense of accomplishment at having pulled a Rumpelstiltskin on these people, spinning no fewer than 90 (two Costco bags’ worth minus the handful that Arlo ate before deciding they no longer aligned with the preferences of his delicate palate) into gold (or food that all my kids will eat, which is basically the same thing).

With that sense of accomplishment comes a kind of relief: no longer do I feel burdened by the obligation I felt to ensure that none went to waste. No longer do I have to expend the mental energy required to repurpose it in a creative way that will result in its being consumed. No longer do I have to spend all that time stringing it so the gauge of each strand was just right (not too thick and not too thin, which means a diameter of 1/8 of an inch, give or take a millimeter). At the same time, I kind of miss that silly passion project, and I feel a small sadness to be divested of that investment despite the fact that ridding the house of the stuff by way of ingestion was the endgame all along. However, will I miss the mess of peeled-back wrappers on the countertop, bound for a landfill and reminding me of the environmental evils implicit in the profligate use of plastic packaging permeating consumer culture? Will I miss the sight of my own contribution to subverting the salvation of Earth as it pertains to natural resources? Will I miss that AT ALL? Polly-No.

An inside job

If I’ve learned anything since becoming a parent, it’s this: children are thieves.

That’s right. Before they’re even born, they overtake your thoughts (and in many cases, your body). Then they start bleeding your bank account, one crib sheet and carseat at a time. After they arrive, if not before, they push their agenda to the point that your schedule is essentially stolen. Around the same time, they lay prey to your space: a play yard pitches a pup tent in the same room as a bassinet and a bouncy seat; the dish drainer becomes a holding ground for bottles; bags of dated breast milk fill the freezer; pacifiers occupy your pockets; board books populate the bookshelves that used to contain a collection of Vonnegut. The inside of your purse is next, lip gloss and breath mints replaced by paraphernalia like extra onesies and diapers and travel-size packets of baby wipes. If they haven’t already, they then begin to pilfer your patience, snatching it away bit by bit until none remains, like a roll of toilet paper unspooling one solitary square at a time until it’s all been flushed away and all that’s left is the cardboard tube. And then they reach for more.

Believe me, children are truly insidious creatures. They lay waste to your energy, shamelessly siphoning it off like on that episode of “Breaking Bad” when Walt and Jesse hold up a freight train and drain all the methylamine out of the tank it’s carrying. And they continue to filch your finances, not just when they’re young but for all the days of their lives (unless they become wildly successful and buy a house for their mom à la Dwayne Johnson. That must be why he’s called “The Rock”). They purloin your pantry, usurp your sleep, burglarize your business, and hijack your priorities, putting themselves right up there at the top of the list. They even take your parents, turning them into an alien life form known as “grandparents”. As if all of this weren’t enough, they waylay your “kid-free” time; for example, you’ll find yourself having coffee with a friend, and what do you discuss? Your children, of course.

The other night, after ours went to sleep after a challenging evening, Brian and I were talking about the magnitude of work it had been to get to that point of the day. He asked if I’d been able to write at all that morning, and I told him I had, a little, and then I gave him a summary of this very post, the one I was hoping to type the following day. He said, “But if you’re giving them all of that, is it really stealing?” And I said, “That’s the whole point. It’s satire.” Still, I stand by my original statement because we’re giving all of this to them because those damn kids stole our hearts.

Contemplation station

Everyone derives inspiration from somewhere: listening to music, going for a run, reading, spending time in nature, watching documentaries, strolling through a museum or gallery, creating art of some kind…the possibilities are innumerable. For the ancient Greeks, the Muses were accredited with bestowing inspiration on humans. For Petrarch, it was Laura, and Dante had his Beatrice, but modern thinking more commonly lodges the derivation of imaginative spark in a scatterplot of places and sources. As a child, I had a Thinking Spot outside the house where two bushes were planted to hide the well cap, forming an enclave where they grew together in which I set up a chair in view of the bird feeder. In later years, like many people, I did some of my best thinking in the shower. I’m not entirely sure why this is so common; maybe it’s the steam causing us to breathe more deeply combined with the white noise of the sluicing water combined with the solitude combined with the rote movements and motions we’re enacting that require very little cerebral engagement. Add to those aspects the fact that we’re practicing personal maintenance that’s also a kind of self-care. Here we are, tending to the hygiene and upkeep of our physical selves, a routine choreography that’s essentially self-serving but feels compulsory, a system of cleansing that perhaps also enables the clearing of our minds. In any case, I used to pull back the shower curtain with a new idea effervescing most days, whether it be an improvement I’d like to make to a recipe or a word I wanted to look up and explore further or a connection about something I’d seen or heard or a memory of something I’d forgotten.

That was mostly in my twenties. In my thirties, the majority of my showers were long-awaited events during which I hurried through the kinesics of shampooing and shaving in hopes that no baby would start screaming or toddler would somehow scale a bookshelf (despite the childproofed sockets and lack of bookshelves in the room in which I’d safety-latched them) before I’d at least rinsed most of the conditioner out of my hair. Now, at the age of forty, I have recently identified my new Thinking Spot, a different kind of spot that incorporates both space and time. The space is the square foot of floor on which I stand in front of the kitchen sink (one of my top tips for new homebuyers is this: make sure you really like the view from the kitchen sink, because that’s a vista you’re committing a great deal of your life to beholding even if you do have a dishwasher). The time is when no children are within earshot (this means while they’re at school or asleep; we all know that if they’re awake and in the general vicinity of the house, our stream of consciousness is at any minute susceptible to having a dam jammed directly into the current, so it makes sense to postpone the allowance of mental thoroughfare until it can flow freely).

I’m not entirely sure why this is, but maybe it’s the steam causing us to breathe more deeply combined with the white noise of the sluicing water combined with the solitude combined with the rote movements and motions we’re enacting that require very little cerebral engagement. Add to those aspects the fact that we’re practicing family-related maintenance that serves as the means to a highly desirable end: an empty sink. Chore complete. Tabula rasa. Here we are, tending to the hygiene and upkeep of our pots and pans and plates and utensils, the tools we use to feed ourselves and our children, a routine choreography that puts the world back in order just the tiniest bit, a system of cleansing that perhaps also enables the clearing of our minds.

I wonder when that tipping point was, exactly, when washing oneself became less therapeutic and provided less peace of mind than doing the dishes in a quiet house. I’m guessing it was right around the beginning of the pandemic, when things spiraled so far beyond our wildest dreams of control and when showering became less urgent because, well, I wasn’t going to be seeing anyone aside from my nuclear family most days. That would make sense because it was also the beginning of a long stretch of time when all of the food we consumed was being prepared in this house, and everyone was home for every meal of every day, so a lot more dirty dishes were generated on a daily basis. At any rate, I look forward to later tonight, when the sugarplums are tucked up snug in their beds, and I can crank hot water from the kitchen faucet as high as it goes, breathe in the soapy aroma of steam, and hope an idea or two slot themselves into my consciousness as comfortably as a set of pasta bowls nesting against the contours of the top rack in the dishwasher.

The presence of the present

One night we were going upstairs to begin the bedtime routine, and I pointed out the items on the stairs that had been put there by people other than me. “Whose things are these?” was the gist of what I said, and Arlo excitedly piped up with, “I know! We should have a “lost and found” place at home!” I said, “We do. It’s the whole house.”

You know what I mean: the jump rope on the sofa. The flash cards on the kitchen counter. The half-finished art projects on the art table AND the dining room table. A few more of those in the basement, too. The marshmallow launcher made out of a plastic cup and a balloon that has lived on the kitchen island for a week. The headphones on the coffee table. The empty bottle of probiotic gummy vitamins that they want to keep because they like opening it to smell the fruity air inside. The book on the stairs. The collection of singleton socks on a chair, waiting to be reunited with their mates whenever the twain shall meet. As I look around, I feel like this list is practically endless: our house is a home full of homeless things.

I thought about it some more and realized that maybe it’s really the opposite of what I’d said to Arlo. Maybe these things that are left out everywhere actually defy the states of being lost and being found, that they’re resisting those conditions by virtue of their visibility. Maybe the assortment of possessions that aren’t put away, among which there are many that don’t even have a clear home (that vitamin container!), exist in a purgatory for belongings where they are so readily accessible that they can neither be misplaced nor relocated. Perhaps there is purpose behind the kids’ reluctance to put their stuff away; when things are out of sight, they are often out of mind. If that jump rope were hanging on the hook in the mudroom, no child would come upon it on their way from one room to another and feel inspired to do some skipping. If that marshmallow shooter were in a bin full of fanciful ballistic devices, tucked neatly into the organizer in the playroom, no child would notice it in passing and think to engage in some delicious target practice.

It’s almost like these things are offering a passive invitation, activities attracting attention simply by being actively available. Maybe what’s happening here is that these items, by virtue of their accessibility, achieve a kind of temporary permanence, a vivid ubiquity that lodges them solidly in our present consciousness, enfolding them into our living space in such a way as to express their current utility, their relevance to the contemporary moment. Maybe their presence is the result of the fact that they belong to people who are so fully engrossed in the now, who intensely inhabit the present tense, for whom the past and the future are tangential and extraneous from what is of paramount importance. Children possess a preponderance on the present that is so far removed from the adult mindset, in which the present is commonly heavily informed by the past and the future, that maybe their disinclination toward putting things away stems from their ability to engage in each hour with such concentrated vitality, such complete absorption. This feels like a such a foreign concept to our older minds, which are subsumed with a myriad of other precautions and concerns that often manifest as inhibitions or, at the very least, eclipse our capacity for living fully in the present.

I try to remind myself of this when I see the stack of books on the sofa or the hula hoop on the living room floor. I try to infuse myself with feelings of grace rather than frustration, telling myself that these are markers of childhood’s extraordinary ability to home in on the present. I try to see the balloon on the bathroom floor as an expression of the particular ability children possess that allows them to invest in life with the present moment thrown into vibrant magnification. Oh, to be a child! To take life like an empty vitamin bottle, twist the cap off, and just inhale that sweet, sweet air inside!

Allegory of the peperomia obtusifolia

Over the years I’ve amassed an impressive collection of houseplants, my favorites of which were given to me by friends and family. Among them are a wildly-overgrown aloe, a housewarming gift from my sister two decades ago (it’s now a monster of a plant in a bucket I can barely lift and inhabits the basement accordingly), whose starfish-like extremities have been snipped many times for the purpose of treating abrasions and skin irritations, and a sweet little jade in a terra-cotta pot delivered by a loved one for my birthday last summer. My beloved Dieffenbachia was a thank-you offering from a friend as a thank-you for hosting her boys for part of a day a few years ago, and I have two scraggly succulents in residence that a fellow plant-loving compatriot volunteered to rehab and which she’s since returned. I’m proud of my beloved pilea, another gift from that selfsame sister, a prodigious progenitor of a plant who’s spawned six pint-sized pilea babies so far. Our playroom is home to a hale and healthy clivia proliferated by my grandmother, and it flowers sporadically in a showy spray of brilliant orange blooms every year in early summer, if we’re lucky. Perched upon my kitchen windowsill are two treasured heart-shaped succulents sent by a longtime friend for my fortieth birthday (through the mail, cushioned by specifically and thoughtfully-designed packaging), and I love the unruly ponytails of the spider plant adopted from my mom, along with the offshoots it produces, two of which are currently hanging out in my hydroponic apparatus in preparation for planting. The petite marble poinsettia our lovely former tenant left as a parting present keeps company with the Thanksgiving cacti in the dining room, and an absolutely behemoth peperomia obtusifolia my brother gave me a few years ago (before it quintupled in size) occupies the majority of my desk in the study.

I’d begged my brother for a clipping from his peperomia, so he faithfully complied (and sent one of my all-time favorite text messages: a photo of the cuttings in a jar of water with the caption “These guys are rooting for you.”). Since the day I brought that plant in its beautiful cobalt blue-glazed pot into this house, it’s flourished despite the fact that all I do to tend it is provide water and turn the pot every so often to even out the effects of heliotropism. When it drops dead leaves, they fall directly into the pot, and I leave them there, thinking they’ll break down eventually and become part of the soil. Because the plant is thriving so thoroughly, I’ve become almost superstitious about leaving the leaf litter, even going so far as to put leaves that die and drop outside of the pot back into it. The logic behind this, flawed though it may be, is that the peperomia seems so healthy and happy, with its strong stems and broad, glossy, deep green leaves, that maybe the reason for its hale and hearty growth is due in part to the dead leaves in the pot. Now hear me out on this: what if the leaf litter breaking down into the dirt, its molecules being washed toward the roots when I water, actually promotes the plant’s overall fitness? What if the wholesomeness of the plant is enhanced by the parts of itself that have already come to pass? As we know, a good-looking plant is usually a happy, healthy plant, so we can judge how it’s feeling by its appearance. Even though the visual method of gauging one’s well-being doesn’t apply to people, I think perhaps this same principle of personal leaf litter carries over to us.

Think of the plant with its dropped leaves inside its pot, the pieces of itself that once flew like flags but withered and fell away to be replaced by new growth, feeding itself from the inside out. The plant is both literally and figuratively gaining ground by incorporating bits of its former self that have undergone disintegration and decomposition, rearranging the pieces to synthesize brand-new banners of matter. I see this plant and I can’t help but think: humans are like this too. The versions of ourselves that are the most well-equipped for success (which, by my definition, is health and happiness) are the versions that don’t just discard the parts of our identity that don’t work for us anymore; they’re the versions that find ways to reconstruct those pieces to amplify our potential, to inform a greater composition of ourselves.

I want to live like this, to take a page from that peperomia. I want to gather around me all the scraps of selfhood I’ve shuffled off like scarves, all those mortal coils that shaped prior iterations of existence so that they aren’t chaining my ankles to the past but self-fertilizing the process of becoming. I want to resorb the remnants of what has been, to build a being that lives and breathes for the better because of this active integration. This is essentially the gift of acceptance. It’s a gift I hope to give my future self, a little bit like handing her, whoever she will be, a little plant in a pot to oxygenate the inside air.

A case of mistaken identity

My mom shared this photograph on Facebook recently (she didn’t take the photo or write the comment above it; she just shared another person’s post):

My guess is that the person who originally posted this hasn’t given birth recently, because she seems to be under the impression that this is a photograph of a baby bird. Even though it’s been six years since I brought my final child into this world, to me this is clearly a photograph of a lactating mother two weeks postpartum in the wee hours of the morning when her baby wakes up crying. Again.