Finding joy indoors in troubled times, one leaf at a time

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I have spent my first full week of isolation carefully observing one of my houseplants. Dylan, as my fiancee and I so fondly call her, has been growing new leaves at an uncharacteristically rapid rate.

It might be the longer hours of daylight. But I imagine Dylan’s new zest for life also comes from the increased attention we’ve paid to her and the rest of our houseplants now that we’re with them in our apartment 24/7. At a time when so little feels under control, one thing we know is up to us is the survival of these living things we have committed to taking care of.

We check on them more. We give them more water. Sometimes, we just stare at them, taking in the beauty and comfort they provide.

When we first decided to take the leap into plant ownership, before the outbreak of the coronavirus, I simply wanted to brighten our apartment. I’d been sprucing up the place with flowers, but had grown tired of spending money on something that would die within days or weeks.

I had no idea how much joy the plants would bring me, or how much fun I would have learning to care for them.

Now, every morning at a time when I might usually be kissing my fiancee goodbye as she heads off to school, I amble over to where Dylan sits on the windowsill and smile at her buds, which seem to have doubled in size each day. These new ones are a bright, bold green.

My plants help satisfy a dog-size hole in my heart. Of course, they don’t return love the way a dog would, and I promise I am fully aware they are not sentient beings. But they do make the apartment feel brighter, warmer and cozier. They need me, and that feels good.

The first thing we did when we brought the plants home was name them. We did it to be silly, yes, but it also felt instinctual. We had spent an entire weekend carefully selecting them from two different stores, and we hoped to keep them in our lives for many years.

Naming something, of course, breeds connection. I began to greet them when I came home, and I started speaking to them like they were more pet than plant. I have purchased spray bottles and plant food and a watering can and newer, prettier pots because my plants, of course, deserve the best.

Plant parenting, it turns out, is no easy task. Though they are indeed difficult to kill, it takes effort to keep them looking bright, shiny and healthy. I am still learning to care for them, but especially now, I love the work of doing so. It brings comfort, consistency.

Early in our plant parenthood, we left town for the weekend. When we got home, we encountered disaster. Dylan was a mess. Almost all her shiny red-green leaves were browned, crumpled and scattered across the floor. A few still hung limply from her now-muted green stem. The rest of our houseplants were fine, but I was convinced she was a goner. Still, I grabbed the watering can and sprang into action. I gave her as much water as I could without drowning her. I placed my phone beside her and blasted music just in case that could help. I prayed she liked Taylor Swift.

The next morning, Dylan looked better. Her stem stood straighter and her remaining leaves had unfolded. Within days, little buds grew where the leaves had been lost. I couldn’t believe it. She was going to make it.

Dylan has never looked quite the same since that weekend. Her frame has always looked a little barer.

But now, it seems, just when we need her to most, she is ready to grow again.

What I wouldn’t give at a time like this to have a dog, to wake up to a furry, goofy, joyous face, to someone who doesn’t understand at all what’s happening and whose world has only grown fuller because humans are spending more time in it. But for now, caring for our plants will simply have to do.

We are clinging to the little things that bring us joy. Sometimes, it’s the jokes on “Grace and Frankie.” Other times, it’s a video happy hour with friends. Right now, it’s the sprouting of new leaves.