Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Defense of Hothouse Flowers

I am a delicate Hothouse Flower. I don’t mean to be, I just am. All us Hothouse Flowers are like that. We are born, not made.

I would typically not write about my Hothouse Flower-ness, except I had a troubling exchange with a friend the other day and realized she was under the mistaken impression that we are delicate by choice. And so I am writing on behalf of all Hothouse Flowers so that the rest of you buck-up-and-deal-with-it Tumbleweeds have a better understanding of what’s involved.

The topic came up because my friend’s husband is also a Hothouse Flower. He’d recently had general anesthesia for surgery and passed out a day and a half later at a restaurant. She was empathetic in retelling the story, but you just knew that if it had been she who’d had anesthesia, there would have been no fainting going on.

Most of my friends are Tumbleweeds. Maybe all of them. Perhaps Hothouse Flowers are not drawn to other Hothouse Flowers, for reasons only Darwin could explain.

It always surprises me how sensitive I am compared to others. For a long time, I thought everyone felt like I did. I don’t like getting pedicures because the feeling of someone handling my foot is both too ticklish and too intense. Same for massage. It takes me literally a month to recuperate from a dental cleaning. I’d actually considered not having children, ever, because I didn’t think I could hack the delivery.

My friend spoke about her husband as if he had something to do with his own sensitivity. “He’ll tell me ‘I feel something coming on,’” she said (I’ll call her Blond Tumbleweed), touching the glands in her neck to demonstrate. “Do you ‘feel things coming on?’” she asked me.

I nodded emphatically, Yes, yes, I always feel things coming on. And I begin my arsenal of preventative measures so I won’t get sick.

Blond Tumbleweed rolled her eyes and snorted at the mere idea of ‘something coming on.’ “Call me when you’re on your death bed,” she said. “I don’t need to hear about it before.”

Another friend, Curly Tumbleweed, was with us and she chimed in as well. “It has to do with how you’re raised,” she said. “When I was a kid, if I threw up in the morning my mother would say ‘Ok, can you go to school now?’”

I once played in a tennis match with Curly Tumbleweed and thought I’d broken my finger trying to catch a ball. “It’s not broken,” she said, “it’s just jammed. Come here, I’ll pop it out for you.” And with that she grabbed and pulled until I saw stars.

I’m pretty sure every woman I play tennis with is a Tumbleweed. They all show up to play with sinus infections and IBS. They wrap an ace bandage around injuries that I would be in traction for. Years ago, Blond Tumbleweed showed up on the court achy and stiff. “I can barely move my legs,” she uncharacteristically complained. Later, I found out that she’d gone to the doctor and was diagnosed with Fifth Disease (a.k.a. Parvovirus) – a relatively mild illness in children, but one that in adults presents with a rash as well as joint pain and swelling. I too had had Fifth Disease six months earlier and didn’t leave my bed for days. At one point I was in such agony my husband suggested I go to the hospital. “No, I can’t. It will be too bright there. I’d rather just die here in my bed.”

I’m not proud to be a Hothouse Flower, but neither am I ashamed. I disagree with Curly Tumbleweed – I don’t think it’s nurture at all. My brother is a Tumbleweed. He carries on with walking pneumonia and gout. Being a Hothouse Flower is just the hand you’re dealt.

I tried to explain that to Blond Tumbleweed this morning when she was scoffing about me and my “feeling something coming on.”

“You think it’s easy to be a Hothouse Flower, Blond Tumbleweed, but it’s not,” I said. She smiled to humor me, and then left me in her dust.

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