My foster son’s birth mother gave me some presents when we picked up his belongings and moved him into our house. (She was in the process of moving and everything had to go.) She gave me a gorgeous iron birdbath, a rusty old tractor tire rim (which made a perfect fire pit), and an umbrella tree.
The umbrella tree had long since outgrown its small white pot. It had slowly inched towards what little light it could reach, and in doing so, had developed a serious hunch. (It could barely stand upright.)
But the son was rather proud of it all the same. It was a little piece of his home, his past, his history, and we were taking it into our home right along with him. It was in dire need of a bigger pot and better light, so we picked out a new pot and together, the three of us (foster parents and son) gently replanted this tree.
Perhaps “gently” is the wrong word here—our intentions were gentle, true, but the actual act was not. The son held the branches while the two of us held the pot, and we grunted and tugged and yanked until it pulled free. There was no other way to do it. I was worried we’d damage it somehow in the move, and there was talk of destroying the white pot to remove it, but together, we prevailed. The son held the tree in the new pot and we poured handfuls of fresh black dirt around it, and we tried our best to correct that hunch in the process.
I’ll say this up front: I am a notorious plant killer. (I buy brand new houseplants every six months or so to keep up the illusion that I have a green thumb, but I just…lack the tender skill required to care for plants. I am getting better at it, but I’m still not that great.) So I was terrified that I was going to kill this plant, this piece of our new son’s old life, that it would shrivel and die in my clumsy care. I was terrified that the repotting had stressed it, had damaged it, and that it would be beyond all help.
But that didn’t happen.
I mean, yeah, we had it a little too close to the air conditioner vent for awhile (it didn’t like that—it lost a lot of leaves), and there were a couple times when it got way too much (or not enough) water, but after we moved it somewhere warmer and brighter and figured out what its needs were, it flourished. It stopped shedding leaves, and it started growing new ones.
The other day, my foster son—a deep thinker if ever there was one—was standing over this tree, chin in hand, contemplating. “It’s doing so well,” he said, reaching down to touch the new growth. “I think it just needed a new place to live.”
I was struck by his choice of words: a new place to live.
I don’t think he was just talking about that plant.
He’s right, you know—sometimes, it just takes a new environment to flourish. (He is living proof of this.) Sometimes it just takes eating right and sunshine and fresh air and room to stretch your legs (or roots, what have you).
And I hope that is what we have done for him.