In December 2020, my daughter sent me a peperomia plantling. It was a thoughtful gift that fetched a feeling of great tenderness. I’ve named and renamed her several times over these years because I could never quite recall the nom du jour. Finally, I landed on “Baby” as the easiest endearment to remember, likely because it was the affectionate name my father used for me when I was a child.
I wouldn’t call Baby a vivacious plant, but she has nevertheless been responsive to what have been my well-meaning efforts to keep her alive: a weekly watering; as much filtered light as I can find for her in my dark living room; and occasional, one-way discussions. Every so often she has surprised me with a new leaf, and I have hovered over it like a helicopter parent until I was confident it had matured sufficiently.
A few months ago, though, an infant leaf appeared at the base of the plant, where it remained tiny, pale, and unfurled. Then last week I noticed that one of the mature leaves had fallen off and was laying on its back next to the planter. I picked it up and turned it over and over before coming to the conclusion that it certainly seemed healthy enough. Immediately, I felt a small panic spread as I asked myself the following questions: Had I overwatered her? Had she suffered because there were more than a few days when I decided not to open the blinds? Did I not show her enough attention and care?
Since it quickly became clear that I wouldn’t be able to answer any of these questions, I instead pinched off the dying infant leaf and considered throwing the whole of Baby in the garbage. Although I didn’t do this, I was aware of a dark compulsion urging me to do so. Later that day, I also noticed an emerging desire to throw away every plate, bowl, glass, and mug I own because a few are chipped and cracked.
Increasingly, I see that I have had a limited tolerance for imperfection, which of course means that I have had little tolerance for all the world, including for myself. In trying to manage this entrenched self-contempt, I learned when I was a young girl that, if I impetuously cast out everything I regarded as flawed (and also threw in for good measure some things that weren’t flawed, at least from my perspective), I would be granted the chance to reset my life to zero so that I could start all over again.