Confessions of an Inept Plant Daddy

No one can kill snake plants and devil’s ivy.

They have such sinister names because, whatever you do or not do, they’re simply hard to kill. Like monsters.

Well, whoever said that hasn’t met me yet.

For years I’ve been trying to develop a green thumb. All attempts were in vain.

First there was Paloma (not her real name), a stout cactus I bought at a kiosk. The idea was, cacti don’t need to be watered, so I can just place it somewhere — my desk at home preferably — and then I’ll just forget about it; it’ll thrive.

Nobody reminded me Paloma should get some sun.

She shrank in three weeks, as if the flesh under her fat green body melted like wax. She stank, too.

And then there was Miranda (a pseudonym), which my girlfriend, Kath, bought for me during a stroll in Chinatown. Miranda was some sort of succulent.


This was after about two years of grieving Paloma’s passing.

“Thanks, hon,” I told Kath, concerned.”I really love this; it’s gonna give me more oxygen while I scuba-dive into deep work; I just don’t think I can take care of it.”

“Sure you can, baby” was the confident reply.

Four weeks later, something happened to Miranda. I made sure she had enough sun. But I also made sure she had enough water to help her last through the summer.

Soggy and brown, she died of having too much water.

No more plants for me then.

Even if they look really nice and calming and cheery when placed on the work table…

No more, nada, zilch!

I couldn’t kill any more plants!


Less than a year later, I ordered a pot of snake plant on Instagram. Because where else to buy an Instagrammable plant than in the platform itself?

My new place’s relative coziness demanded some type of posh-looking plant. To elevate the ambiance. To heed NASA’s endorsement of snake plants as air-purifying agents.

The lucky plant arrived a few days later, just after my birthday, so I duly considered it a gift from myself to myself.

I’m gonna be a good plant daddy, I declared inwardly. “Her name is Lucia, because her leaves are like the rays of the sun,” I told Kath.

She smiled encouragingly, with a mysterious twinkle in her eye. (Or was that my own eyes reflected in hers?)

This time, as a repentant plant parent, I was more careful. First of all, I did some research. (Even my choice of snake plant, a.k.a. sanseveria and mother-in-law’s tongue, was fruit of arduous research.)

I learned snake plants aren’t fussy. They’re perfect in small, low-light condos with adorably forgetful residents.

Things were okay for weeks. Lucia felt like what a planned pregnancy would be like: guilt free, but you feel cautious just the same.

The book said snake plants should be watered once every two weeks, sometimes once a month, or whatever the specific plant needs. Ummm, thank you, book?

Much of the literature I had weren’t as helpful as hoped. Because two months after we got Lucia, one of her “sunrays” drooped then dropped in dramatic slo-mo. That day was tragic.

Desperate, I DMed the plant shop and took photos of the suffering Lucia.

“Whatever happened to her?!” You could almost hear my cry through the message.

Replying two days later, the plant shop was nonchalant, giving me questions instead of answers: “Is it under direct sunlight? When was the last time you watered it?” Couldn’t they see my Lucia was dying? They’re acting like it was just some kind of fever!

So Lucia died. I mean, parts of her did. Over the next few days, Kath and I counted about six of Lucia’s previously long, luscious leaves dropping to the ground.

The culprit? Mealybugs, according to Google Images. Bugs from hell that look like white spots attacking the plant’s base and leaves.

I did try to save Lucia’s leaves from dying, by spraying alcohol and even insecticides.

But the pests were just too insidious. Like they’re the ones you can’t kill! It was a nightmare.

STATUS REPORT: Lucia is alive and well now. Thanks to a bottle of neem seed oil, which I had clumsily dropped down the balcony and onto a petulant neighbor’s car (both bottle and balcony were okay, thank you). Apparently neem seed oil is a natural pesticide.

It is true that I’ve killed many plants. In fact, before Lucia came, there were Padma and Parvati, nickel plants which had gone to plant heaven, thanks to me. (I didn’t tell you about them because they would only lengthen this boring story further.)

But I should say that amidst all this death and rotten leaves because of my horticultural ineptitude, I remain hopeful that someday I’ll finally be a good plant daddy.

Someday I’m gonna prove that whoever said snake plants and devil’s ivy are unkillable was indeed right.

Someday I’m gonna make Paloma, Miranda, Padma, Parvati — and parts of Lucia — look upon me from plant paradise with mercy and pride.

The Sparkling-White Side of Doing the Dishes

In this quarantine, I discovered the ugly beauty of doing the dishes.

Often considered the ultimate penalty chore of the 90s (when wifi was not yet a thing), it’s the one task at home that is often the meat of contention among brothers and sisters, the origin of all sibling rivalries.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would fight over who gets to clean the table after dinner — a hateful chore per se, but not as loathsome as the dirtier task of washing the dishes.

Doing the dishes was the accursed chore. Perhaps, more accurately, it was the chore of the accursed. It’s when you stand face to face with undesirable leftovers…and saliva and grease and, quite possibly, vomit laced with phlegm. Not only do you touch them, but scrape them off with your fingers, the same ones you lick when at KFC.


But now that a pandemic is upon us, plaguing our sense of time and making prisons out of homes, an inevitable metaphorical vomit must be swallowed: it-that-must-not-be-named.

My fiancée, Kath, calls doing the chore a sign of love; I call it martyrdom.

After many nights of doing the dishes, however, I came to an unexpected realization: this damned chore is an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity for a horde of benefits.

First of all, it’s my half-hour me-time (I can go longer than that when the OC spirit moves me…to clean the sink and kitchen and dining area as well, and then mop the floor too). In these odd times, it has become the chance for me to listen to podcasts uninterrupted, particularly Tim Ferriss’ interviews with “world-class performers”, because I’m a pretentious productivity snob like that; it has become my time to learn new things and open my mind to lesser known topics and esoteric life hacks.

Second, it is therapeutic. The chore has become a ritual libation, washing away the dark, slimy frustrations I’ve gathered after a whole day of aiming for perfection, a totally realistic objective.

Third, it is — admit it — poetic. The rushing water are the tears of my grief over the loss of prepandemic normal life. The vigorous scrubbing is what I could have done to meetings that should have been emails. And the sparkling-white plates are akin to my soul when all this purgatory-of-a-chore is over.

When all is said and done and written passionately as above, however, doing the dishes remains one of life’s great tragedies. Which is probably why it’s now midnight, and I’m just sitting and staring at the dish-filled sink, typing this blog post for want of transcendence.