mental health

Tending Orchids, Raising Neurodivergent Kids

One of my orchids is blooming for the first time in six years. Another is on its second bloom, a third stalking out to prepare to bloom in a month or so.

I’ve always been oddly good at raising orchids and getting them to bloom again. Ironically, I struggle with many other house plants. Sincere apologies to the spider plants, this month.

I can’t tell you the exact formula for getting orchids to work. It’s partially leaving them alone, but it’s mostly about finding the right window for them. They’re very particular about light. They don’t like to be moved from one place to another (that six year wait for the orchid was a bit of a protest against our move five years ago). Every week, I sprinkle a little water on them and peek for shoots. I check their silver-green roots, the luster of their leaves.

When they bloom, they’re so spectacular. I love their little alien faces, their bright colors, their enduring blossoms. One orchid might remain blooming for over two months. You can’t say that about many other houseplants.

But orchids aren’t native to North Carolina, they need a lot of help to keep blooming. I know many people who give up on them entirely, who throw them away once they’ve had their first bloom. They’re too much trouble.

I can’t help but feel the parallel with raising my son. Currently, he’s back in the hospital, awaiting some kind of treatment, once again. You can be in a mental health crisis a hundred times and it’s still terrible every instance. More about that another time. (I don’t have the spoons today to work through all my anger on this subject.)

Raising twice-exceptional children like him is very much like tending orchids. There is so much waiting, so much frustration. Not every orchid responds the same way–some start wilting for no clear reason, others might sprout an unexpected stalk and then just make one flower instead of a little chain of them. People don’t know why you’re not using the directions on the little cup that came with the plant. But those directions are wrong!

I am a very patient parent. I’m willing to wait for those blooms. Even in crisis, I can remain level-headed. I don’t really have a temper to speak of. Sometimes I wish I did because most of my anger comes out in tears. But I understand my son as close as, I think, anyone else. He might be 16, might tower over me, and we may be very different–but I have alway been able to see him in a way that very few others do. He knows this, too. In the last few days we’ve had a lot of conversations.

With his particular diagnosis, routine is a blessing and a curse. He needs it, but hates it. Where it might take a neurotypical kid six times to learn how to do something habitual, it might take him 300. We’re still waiting on some things; we may be waiting a long, long time.

I remember having a dream when he was about 10 that I was looking up at him. It felt so surreal. How could I be his parent when he was up there? Now, I feel like a tiny creature when he wraps me in a hug with his 6’3″ frame. But I needn’t have worried. Parenting, in some ways, is easier for me now than it was when he was younger, when meltdowns lasted hours and communication felt almost impossible.

We have endured so much.

The last few days have been, truly, the most harrowing of my life. Everything has come to a standstill. As a mother, something deeply visceral happens when your child is in peril. The world is drawn in different colors, suddenly, but the only thing on my mind, every moment, is doing whatever is in my power to help him. So I send off another flurry of emails to his care team, try desperately to “take care of myself”–but taking care of myself is also taking care of him. I cannot imagine any other option.

But every morning, when I go to open up the windows in our dining room, I see these orchids turning their faces to the sun. I’m reminded of the reward of hard work, of patience, and of intuition. Maybe I was meant to raise orchids just as I was meant to raise my son.


One Comment

  • boreasword

    As a fellow orchid whisperer, I appreciate this analogy. My heart is with you all as you navigate these unpredictable seas. May it grow more easeful in the coming days. I love you!

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