When my younger son visited over the Fourth of July, one of his first comments was, “I never realized you had so much agapanthus.” Of course, I knew immediately it wasn’t my real son and that I would have to petition the embassy on the planet Klingon for his release. Because this botany-identifying facsimile was not the one I raised, who knew exactly two types of flowers: orchids for prom corsages and roses for Valentine’s Day.
Just so you understand, my real son loves math, economics and sports. He regarded high school Art History as a forced march through Circles 1-9 of Hell. I do not exaggerate when I say he could easily have been elected “Kid most likely never to utter the word ‘agapanthus.’ ” Rather, his idea of a good time as a sophomore was to enter a school contest as to who could memorize pi to the greatest number of places. He won at 301 (that last digit as insurance in case a competitor memorized 300).
But plants? Um, not so much. Even those prom corsages were largely orchestrated by mom, who attempted to pry information from him as to, say, what color the girl’s dress might be, or whether she preferred a wrist corsage. These queries generally elicited a look of a deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck.
300 digits of pi, on the other hand, were easily remembered by breaking up the digits into sequences of five numbers then stringing the sequences together. The inter-relationships of flowers and dresses, however, were a murky slough of aesthetic despond into which he had no desire to wade.
As the Fourth of July weekend progressed, it appeared that the forces on Klingon had indeed replaced the fake Klingon son with my real one until a barbecue one night when he surveyed our flower garden and observed, “the downside of agapanthus is that they have such a short blooming season.” I had the Klingon embassy back on speed dial within seconds.
As it turns out, the reason my pi-loving progeny is suddenly so interested in things botanical is that he and his wife now own a home. Well, a bank owns the home, but they have a proprietary interest. I would have thought he would have left landscaping decisions to his wife but she, although possessing lovely taste all on her own, wishes his input. And he, wisely, wishes to make her happy.
My husband, Olof, has always maintained that when husbands (or even husbands-to-be) are queried about their opinion on anything aesthetic, the correct (and only) answer is, “Wouldn’t blue be better?” He swears it works on all interior design selections, landscaping options, and especially on wedding planning decisions, which is where he himself honed this strategy. It fulfills the illusion of participation, he maintains, without entering into the Dantean world of actual aesthetic opinion.
But my younger son was now perusing our yard – the very same yard he grew up in and in which I would swear that he could not previously have identified a single piece of flora – and was avidly interested in what our plants were called, how often we had to water them, did they attract white fly? Although he’d never paid attention to it before, mom’s long-term landscaping strategy of “Plants You Can’t Kill” had not been lost on him.
As for pi, he will apologetically state that 15 years later, he can only still remember the first 50 digits, which he happily rattled off in some four seconds flat. That’s how I knew he was my real son and I could stop calling the embassy on Klingon. Somewhere in that brain where 251 more digits of pi used to reside is a veritable Google Images of agapanthi and shade trees, border plants and drought-resistant shrubs. Sometimes as a parent, you just have to live long enough.
* Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life in The La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org