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Tracy Beckerman: Hello, it’s me, Aloe

Tracy Beckerman
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The Daily Herald

According to some experts, it’s advisable to practice taking care of something living before you actually have kids. A lot of people will start out with a pet. But before you have pets, you might need to first be able to keep a houseplant alive. And if you find you really stink at this caretaking thing, you might even want to take one step back beyond that and start with an amoeba.

Before we plunged into parenthood, my husband and I felt confident that we could move beyond the single cell organism phase and start with a houseplant. So, we looked up which plants are supposed to be especially hearty, and decided on an Aloe plant.

And then I named it George.

“I think George needs to be watered,” I said to my husband. “His soil is dry.”

“How do you know the plant is a ‘he?’” he said.

“He leaves his socks on the floor,” I replied.

“No, really.”

“I don’t know. He just looked like a George to me,” I said. “Somewhat trustworthy and unlikely to chop down a cherry tree.”

“But George Washington did chop down a cherry tree,” he said.

“Well, we don’t have to worry about that with our George. He’s the only plant we have.”

Meanwhile, I really had no idea whether George was thirsty or not. George was a succulent, like a cactus, and I had read that they should be watered deeply, but infrequently. However, they did not say how frequently infrequently was. I wondered how taking care of this plant would truly help me know how to care for a newborn, other than being able to tell when my child needed to be watered and if the baby would grow better in direct or indirect sunlight.

“The website says after we re-pot George, we should ignore him for a week or so,” my husband said, reading from “The Care and Feeding of Your Succulent.”

“You mean, like, exclude him from conversations and pretend he’s not there?” I said. “That’s not very nice. And besides, I think it might affect his self-esteem.”

“They meant not to water him so he doesn’t get root rot.”

“ROOT ROT?” I exclaimed. “That sounds horrible!”

“They can also get soft rot, fungal stem rot and leaf rot,” he added.

“Oh my god,” I said. “Can our baby get root rot, too?”

“Probably only if we water him too much.”

It suddenly dawned on me that caring for this Aloe plant was far more complicated than I’d anticipated and wondered if we should start over and work on “The Care and Feeding of Your Paramecium” instead.

I should mention here that I do come from a long line of green thumbs, so I was somewhat optimistic. My grandmother had a fabulous garden and lots of plants around the house and so did my mom. Feeling confident, my first plant when I lived on my own was something called a Ficus tree. It seemed really happy for the first week, but then one day, I came home from work and it had dropped every single leaf on the floor. It was completely bare. I had no idea what I had done wrong and decided it wasn’t my fault. It probably had a gene for baldness, just like my grandfather did.

So, the Aloe plant was not actually my first plant, but it was my first plant with my husband and I thought, since we would be raising a child together, it made sense to raise an Aloe plant together. The Aloe plant thought otherwise. Within two weeks, the leaves of our thriving Aloe plant had turned yellow, and then brown, and then dead.

“You watered it too much,” said my husband accusingly.

“That’s true,” I said. “But I learned an important lesson from this.”

“What?”

“I should bathe our child infrequently.”

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyBeckerman and become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LostinSuburbiaFanPage.