How my mother filled her empty nest with African violets

Ever since I can remember my mother has loved growing plants and so there has been always two or three large ones like Norfolk pine and ponytail palm in the corners of the living room and some small ones like geraniums on the windowsills. Everything matched together — our small apartment, the furniture and the plants here and there — til my brother left home 10 years ago to study and live abroad. My mother then started wildly growing African violets.

She bought some in different range of colours, sizes and leaf forms then she propagated new ones from the leaves of existing plants. Very soon all the windowsills filled with African violets. She changed the arrangement of the furniture in the living room to make more space for her plants. No one has been allowed to pull or push the curtains anymore since then — this is her exclusive task. She even sets the home temperature based on the needs of her plants.

At one point she decided to build up shelves in front of the living room windows to take advantage of the sunlight and have enough room to grow more and more African violets. She created a nursery. The new leaves in the water were on the top right, the newly planted ones in the soil were on the top left and the strong, older ones were at the bottom of the shelves. I suppose during the glory days there were 100 or even more African violet pots on these shelves.

Relatives and friends ask my mother for African violets but she always refuses to give. Whoever knows her admits that she is a very generous woman but when it comes to her African violets she is not. Some people get really upset and even say, “You have too many plants what will happen if you give me one?”

“They are like my children. I can’t give them away,” my mother says. If that person is so darling to her she gives a leaf and patiently explains how to propagate a new plant. But after few months they mostly come back with a same complaint: “It didn’t turn out like yours. What is the secret?”

“Secret? There is not one. Just take care of them,” she says. But there is a secret. My mother has refilled the void left by my brother with growing African violets. She’s poured her love for him into her plants.

After my brother I also decided to go abroad for education. I left home for two years and when I went back I faced a variety of cactuses at home. My room’s windowsills were full of baby cactuses with different shapes and sizes.

“Really? You chose cactus for me?” I teased my mother.

“Wait to see how they bloom,” she said. And she was right. I can’t compare the beauty of a blooming cactus to any other plants — maybe it’s because you are not expecting that harsh plant to have tiny, delicate and colourful blooms.

Five years ago I immigrated to Canada. I haven’t gone back home since then and I had no imagination of my mothers’ plants during these years til she recently sent me some photos. I was shocked by seeing plants in every corner, in every nook, and on every table. Her living room has transitioned to an urban jungle.

My mother has never complained about her loneliness. She has never said she misses me or never asked me to go back home to visit her. It’s been me who always complains about hardship of immigration. It was my own decision to emigrate but I know it has affected her life as much as it did mine. She has grown so many plants in her apartment during recent years to fill the void left by her children. African violets and cactuses weren’t enough so she’s added more and more other plants. I can’t imagine how many more she is going to grow and this makes me really sad.

Mothers all over the world want their children to be happy and secure even if this means to live away from them for the rest of their lives. Some, like my mother, respect their children’s choices, some are on duty and serving their country to provide a better life not just for their child but for all children. And, some are forcefully being separated from their children because of their race, religion, nationality and other nonsense reasons.

This Mother’s Day let’s remember the mothers who are far away from their beloved children, those who make heroic sacrifices so that their children can pursue their dreams, be safe and be happy.

May 12, 2019 – Hamilton Spectator

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