Photo by Dr. Julie Miley Schlegel
In the past, I have bought or been gifted orchids, which I find to be mysterious, beautiful plants. I love that the flowers line up in a row, bulb after bulb, and then open up into a flower that has so much more going on than I can see. I like that the stem of the orchid is continuously growing, like us as humans and parents.
I enjoy the blooms for as long as they last. The flowers show off and then fall off, and I’m left with the less exciting part of the plant. A few smooth, green leaves. A dull brown stick. A wintery version of the beautiful flowers that once were. Eventually, I neglect these plants enough that they die, joining the plant graveyard behind the garage.
This year, for the first time, I kept an orchid plant alive — no, two orchid plants alive — long enough that they each bloomed a second time. One day this winter, I glanced over to see that the orchid stalk by my bathtub, which had been in hospice care for a year without flowers, had developed five to seven new blooms. Around the same time, the orchid I had by my computer at work also began to show signs of life.
I was definitely more excited than I should have been as I pointed out the new flowers to family and friends. The orchid in my bathroom had been stick-and-leaves for a full year. The orchid at work, given to me by a sweet 3-year-old patient, stayed stick-and-leaves for several months. But I had kept these orchids around long enough on their boring days that they showed beautiful white and pink flowers once again.
I don’t know what made them bloom after months of being sticks and leaves, but something in them said, “today is the day you will flower again.” After months of having boring, ordinary stick-and-leaves days, the days with the flowers seemed more special for these plants.
Recently, I had patients telling me about their 100th day of school celebrations. When my daughter was in elementary school, I remember helping her make a house out of 100 toothpicks for her 100th day. In general, there is nothing special about the 100th day of school. But the fact that it’s the 100th day makes it worth marking, different from the prior 99 days that were, well, ordinary days. The 100th day of school is like an orchid plant with new flowers, a little more special than the others.
I asked the kids this week what it meant to them to have the 100th day of school. I thought they might talk to me about accomplishments or milestones, but in their concrete elementary-school thinking, they answered that it means they’ve been in first, or second, or fifth grade for 100 days. Duh.
About the same time, I realized that the article I’d be writing this week is my 100th article. And my initial reaction was like the kids: it just means I’ve written 100 articles. Duh. But a sweet grandmother told me this week how much she enjoys reading the blog, and that was like an orchid flower on my stick-and-leaves writing of the blog.
I started writing this blog in March of 2020, when the world was shutting down for a pandemic. I remember meeting with my web designer and her asking me what I saw as the purpose of the blog. I’m not completely sure, I remember thinking. I just have the words in my head and I want to get them out. Because I talk to parents all day, it seems like there are some things that make us feel alone in parenting, so I guess the purpose is so parents won’t feel so alone. Especially on the days you don’t feel like being a parent. Or the days you feel like a failure as a parent, or the days your kids screw up.
The daily grind of parenthood is like the months of stick-and-leaves for the orchid plant. It’s diaper changes and three meals a day and spilled milk on the floor and endless laundry and carpools. But every few days, or weeks, or months, you get beautiful flowers. It’s the day your child gets out of her comfort zone to try something new, or reaches out to someone they feel is struggling with mental health, or makes a team after months of doubting their skill. And those parenting days have flowers.
Much like the year of sticks and leaves without any flowers, I have been plugging away with writing whatever pops into my mind, week after week. When I started writing, I remember someone skeptically asking, “How many articles do you think you’ll write?” The implication was that she couldn’t imagine I would have enough to say to fill a website. Three years later, having written 100 articles feels like an orchid flower accomplishment.
So whether you have read one or every article, thanks for watering my little hobby and giving it sunlight. Writing about life and parenting has helped me in my own journey, both the stick-and-leaf days, and also the flowering days. And by putting the articles out there into the world, I feel less alone, too.
I was having trouble tying this article together until I made waffles this morning with the movie “Kung Fu Panda” playing in the background. I was tossing around how life has so many ordinary days interspersed with blooming flower days. And then from the television I heard Master Oogway tie it all together for me. “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
The orchid flower days – whether in parenting, or marking the passage of time, or celebrating accomplishments – are definitely a gift. Be present for all the days, even if they only have sticks and leaves. You never know when life will say, “today is the day you will flower again.”