A Transplant

I don’t know a ton about plants. Honestly, I don’t own any plants except for the ones planted by landscapers in my backyard. My mom does though. She’s not naturally gifted at keeping any old plant alive but she knows a lot about the varieties of plants, flowers and how to care for them.

It’s funny, some of the names of the plants she’s told me over the years aren’t the actual names but second-hand nicknames her friends or family members called them. Example, the yucca plant isn’t a yucca, it’s a “mother-in-law’s tongue.” I guess you could say the yucca’s many thick leaves are tongue-like but when I asked how the mother-in-law part came into play, she made that motion with her tongue that goes “la, la, la, la” very fast. My assumption was that it meant mother-in-laws never shut-up, I guess, and talk too much?

Anyway, she’s the one who taught me what a transplant is. When a plant outgrows it’s pot, you have to transplant it into a bigger pot or it starts bursting at the seams, desperate for room to stretch and grow. If you leave it long enough without a bigger pot, it can start to die. Alternatively, sometimes people just get sick of the look of the pots their plants are in, even if the plant is perfectly healthy and happy. So they transplant them into another pot they find more aesthetically pleasing. So, if you have any one plant long enough, it will eventually become a transplant for one reason or another.

When we moved from Iowa to Tucson, Arizona, when I was six-years-old for my dad’s job, my mom told our new Arizona neighbors we were “transplants” from the Midwest. I honestly to this day am not sure if this is shorthand for someone who’s uprooted their life to live in a new place or if it’s just like the mother-in-law’s tongue plant; a colloquialism she passed onto me.

My life has been defined by being a transplant. Some of the hardest and most joyous times in my life have come from being completely uprooted (whether by choice or force) into a new, unfamiliar place. When I was kid, it was hard to be a transplant. I hadn’t outgrown my pot and I didn’t need room to stretch. I became a transplant several times because of my dad’s job transfers. I remember when we first left Iowa to move to Arizona, I cried for hours in the car as we made our way to our new home state. I was so inconsolable with grief over moving away from my favored grandma and favorite aunt that my mom broke the rules and let me sit on her lap in the front passenger seat of our two-tone blue Chevrolet Citation.

Each time we’d come back to Iowa to visit, which was once a year, I would cry for days upon our return to Arizona, yearning for my Grandma and Aunt. This pattern continued each year we lived away (eight). I’d be miserable for several days after our vacation ended until I got used to being back in Arizona and then I’d move on and try to ignore the reality that I wouldn’t see my beloved family for another year.

By the time we moved back to Iowa for another job transfer when I was almost 15, my dear Grandma had died along with my other Grandma (who was also a lovely woman). When we got back, nothing in Iowa was the same. I wasn’t the same. This time, I wanted to stay in Arizona with my best friends I’d been going to school with for years. My favorite Aunt was distant and despondent over losing my Grandma and my Grandpa had left town to avoid dealing with any of it. The summer before high school started, we settled back into Iowa and I prepared to start high school alone. I was again a transplant not because I’d outgrown my pot and needed to stretch but because of circumstances beyond my control.

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