In All Caps
Of all the things I railed against as a teenager, this small one still sticks out in my mind.
Though reproduced innocently enough on granny sweaters, coffee mugs, and inspirational blogs, I always saw it as a noxious exhortation: BLOOM where you’re planted.
In the margins of my notebook when I was 15 were punk versions like ROT WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED, doodled ironically in fancy lettering. Something about the sweetness of Bloom and the passivity of where you’re planted galled me. Every time I saw the phrase on a Mary Engelbreit mug in our kitchen cabinet, I felt I’d been subjected to oppressive propaganda.
One day I put words to my rage during a huge fight I had with my mother. She wanted to start taking college classes in the evening after work, but my dad wasn’t having it. To keep the peace, my mom backed down. But what she got instead was a war, at least from me. I lambasted my dad for being sexist and then spent hours haranguing Mom for not standing her ground. I was new to feeling my blood grow hot in the face of injustice that seemed to be everywhere.
I tormented my parents with every critique I could come up with, yelling that they’d failed because they were willing to let me, a girl, learn that women’s actions require men’s permission. In the shouting matches I started, a righteousness grew in me. Perhaps in classic fashion, its first target was my mother because I knew there was nothing I could say that would make her love me less. Her personhood became my proving ground, the place where I tested my anger and cursed my way through my limited understanding. As I saw it, my mother’s life was mine to judge, and she had failed. She was wrong to believe my dad had any legitimate power over her, wrong to think that passivity was more important than living up to her potential. I pointed my finger at her, yelling, “Don’t you see? You have power! You’re just not willing to use it!”
In the middle of that fight, something clicked in my mind. I ran to the kitchen and came back with that mug. I turned it toward her, shaking it. “It’s this kind of shit – BLOOM where you’re planted. Fuck that! Plant yourself! You can go anywhere, do anything. So do it.”
My mother, worn out, sat on the bed. She said softly, “Honey, I know you’re worried about me. But stop. I’ll be fine.” I stood there full of adrenaline and watched her as if seeing her for the first time. She didn’t want to fight. Not with me, not with any of us. She had her own plan, her own view, where I had been seeing only my own.
All this time I had been trying to instigate the will to power in a woman who didn’t see things the simple way I saw them, making my noble prescriptions more like hateful proscriptions. Mine was just another voice in her life trying to force its will on her. Humbled, I left her alone and walked back to the kitchen with the stupid mug in my hand.
I had always focused on the passive voice of the words where you’re planted, sensing it as an insinuation that we are all divinely placed, supposed to suffer and stay put. In this black-and-white worldview, my mom should plant herself wherever she wanted, but she refused to do it. What I didn’t realize until much later was that she already had.
I set the mug on the shelf, noticing for the first time how its message was worded. The verb BLOOM in all caps, adorned with decorative flowers, was the only imperative.