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Thursday
October 06th, 2022
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rachel colemanSAINTS PERSPECTIVE, Rachel Coleman, SCCC Public Relations

 

“You’re doing great! I’m so proud of you,” I said. “It’s a new leaf!”

I meant it — literally. I was just outside my office at Seward County Community College, and I was talking to a plant. 

The plant, a trendy favorite of hipsters, had lived in the spare room of my house for nearly two years. A pandemic purchase, it flourished in the carefully filtered light of the west-facing windows. And it grew. It outgrew its first pot, and then it outgrew its second, and pretty soon I couldn’t find a proper place to keep my monstera deliciosa, also known as the “Swiss cheese plant.” 

Weirdly, the dilemma reminded me of my family a decade earlier, when teenagers filled our home. They too had grown to unexpected glory. They took up a whole lot more room than I expected. And it was clear they had outgrown their childhood bedrooms and interests. What was the best next step? 

It seems a little nuts to apply those parental feelings to a plant, but hey — empty nesting is real. Just ask any of the parents who will show up on campus over the next week. They come to help their sons and daughters move into the dorms, meet instructors and coaches, and make sure there’s plenty of snack food and personal supplies stocked up for late-night study sessions or small emergencies. 

But they are also here to get a sense of their own new reality. The everyday rituals, laughter, and shared meals they’ve come to associate with a sense of family is all about to change, maybe forever. It’s a scary parenting moment, and it helps to get a bit of reassurance that things will all work out. Our student services folks at SCCC will have their hands full as they guide students — and their parents — through the process of settling in and letting go. 

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Back at my adults-only house, early summer had arrived and I was looking forward to visits from grandchildren and my soon-to-be grad student. Monstera was taking up a lot of space. Maybe it would enjoy being outdoors. Plenty of sun, plenty of fresh air, plant friends to keep it company? I took a deep breath (Monstera was heavy), picked up the pot, and baby-stepped out the back door. 

Three days later, I could see I’d made a big mistake. Rather than the mild temperatures I expected, the heat had come on strong and my poor teenage plant had gotten a serious sunburn. I moved it to a shadier spot, soaked it down, and said soothing words. I’ve read the science: it’s true that plants like to be talked to with kindness. 

To say the young adults we welcome to the Saints family every year are no different sounds a little sappy, but the science back that up, too. We know that despite their efforts at sophistication, their tendency to flirt with dubious habits, and their large size, our students are still developing. Their brains are not finished — again, literally. 

The formation of the brain and its neural pathways wraps up around age 25. So, while our newest Saints are not children, they are also not adults. They are learning how to succeed in an entirely new set of circumstances.

That’s not easy for anybody, not even a plant. After the backyard fiasco, I had decided the next best step for my household arrangement was to send Monstera to college. The seating area outside my office had east-facing windows and filtered natural light, so Monstera would be shielded from punishingly hot rays. I purchased potting soil, a larger container, and enlisted my husband’s help for transportation. 

It was a rough transition. Monstera did not die, but it did not readily embrace its new home in higher education. I soon realized I had to check on it daily, rather than the casual Saturday sessions I’d worked into my routine at home. Watering it took more effort. Because of the faucet set-up, one good soak required several trips. The air at work was drier, too, so I brought a spray bottle from home to provide a daily misting. 

All that goes to explain my excitement about the green shoots that emerged last week. It had taken a couple months, renewed attention, and an outpouring of verbal reassurance and affection that might have seemed excessive to any coworkers who overheard me. I didn’t care. The narrow spikes poking through the soil were just a beginning, it’s true, but they meant we were going to be all right. I can’t wait to see how Monstera looks by the end of the year. 

The same is true for our students. I don’t intend to mist any of them with a spray bottle, but my coworkers and I will be smiling like mad, offering chocolate, directions around the building, and a kind word whenever we can. It’s how we all grow. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Rachel Coleman is executive director of marketing and PR at SCCC, mother of six grown children, three grandchildren, and caregiver to five indoor plants and an uncountable quantity of books. Have a story idea related to the college? You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 620-417-1125. 

 

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