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  • A few months ago, my husband brought home a beautiful orchid, the kind you might find at a high-end organic market. In this case, it was also the kind that makes a great peace offering from someone who may or may not have made you angry the night before.

    Naturally, my first reaction was delight. Peace offering or not, I couldn’t remember the last time my husband had spontaneously bought me flowers. Plus, the orchid looked amazing in our newly redecorated bedroom. The elegant flower transformed the room from a cheap knock-off to a page right out of a glossy magazine. In short, I loved my new orchid.

    Within days, however, the bloom fell off its rose, figuratively speaking that is. Because by then I remembered the other orchid in my life, the metaphorical one. By this I mean my oldest daughter, whose ADHD and complex beauty therein is well worth the extra care and attention it needs.

    I crafted the orchid metaphor for her after reading an article in which another mother compared her son’s ADHD brain to a race car. Sure, the mother had said, learning to drive a race car is more complicated. Nor do race cars drive well in everyday traffic. But. Get that same race car out on a race track and watch it perform in ways that other cars can only imagine.

    As my daughter edged closer to her teenage years, and the relentless insecurity that comes with it, I tested the car metaphor on her. I wanted her to frame her own ADHD-ness as a feature of her brain's potential instead of a limitation. Unfortunately, she hated it. So I came up with a more girl-friendly version: the orchid.

    Unfortunately, she hated that one too.

    “Oh, so you think I’m just a plant?” she spat at me.

    “Of course not, Sweetie!” I replied. “I think that you and your brain are as beautiful as the most rare and complex of flowering plants.”

    “Ugh!” she huffed in retreat, ending our conversation before it even began.

    Now, thanks to my husband, I had a real orchid to care for and worried that my daughter would make a negative connection. What if she found the orchid boring, or uninspired? Worse, what if she secretly judged my ability to care for the orchid as a symbol of my ability to care for her?

    Because here’s the thing: I kill plants. I do. I don’t mean to, but I do. Mostly I forget to water them. Sometimes I just look at them wrong. Besides which, orchids are no ordinary plants. They are notoriously high-maintenance and difficult to care for.

    The attached care instructions were of no help. “Water plant every 7-10 days while flowering,” they read. Well, which was it: seven days or ten days? Three days might not sound like a large difference, but aggregated over weeks, months, and years, it could mean the difference between barely surviving and thriving. I toyed with the idea of simply replacing the plant every two to three months for the rest of my daughter’s life. And if that didn't work? I'd openly blame my husband. After all, if he hadn’t gotten me the orchid in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

    Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that no matter how neurotic I became, there was a beautiful orchid that needed my help. So I did some research.

    It turns out that orchids aren’t as rare as I once thought. Various species can be found on each of the seven continents. They are also the largest and most diverse class of flowering plants, with over 20,000 species and growing. Neither are orchids as breakable or fragile as their reputation would have us believe. Many experts agree that successful orchid care simply requires basic knowledge of how they grow. They are not difficult, per se, just different.

    So yes, it might take me a bit of time to learn about my orchid and its specific needs. But once I do, caring for it will seem both natural and straightforward. In the meantime, I water it when I think it’s thirsty and try to give it the indirect sunlight it needs. Mostly, I look on lovingly as new blossoms open before my eyes.

    I don’t know if my daughter made the connection. Or if she ever will. If she does, I hope she’ll see how hard I’m working to help my orchid thrive in an imperfect world.
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