Why is there a mushroom growing in my house?

Maybe you got here because there's a enoki growing out of your shower drain. Or maybe it's a morel in a leaky window. Or maybe it's shiitakes growing from your floorboards, in which case you do not have a problem. You have dinner.

If you're freaked over fungi, you'll be in good company with Jordan Reid, whose book Carrying On explores the many ways parenting interrupts style. She'd given her son a bath, which led to a few puddles in the bathroom, and when she went back later to wipe them up: mushroom. "Not a little teeny-tiny thing that I could just run over with a paper towel and be like, 'nope, didn't see that, not even a little bit.' We're talking a two-inch tall plant."

Reid found the experience so traumatizing because she, normally a neat an orderly person, was suddenly not a neat and orderly mother. 

That's certainly how I felt when this living room shroom popped up six months after my son was born. 

My six-month mushroom.

My six-month mushroom.

I didn't see the mushroom as a result of my leaky windows and recent near-biblical rainfall. It was evidence of all the ways I was failing at early parenting. A symbol of my failure as a parent or cleaner or woman. A symbol of my feminist guilt over caring so much about my fitness as a mother or the state of my home.

This summer I've defaulted to high mushroom alert, looking for all the evidence that my parenting is failing my family. Summer vacation isn't going well when I'm checking the clock at 9:21 AM and realizing my husband won't be home for another ten hours. Everything is a cause for screaming, even infractions like telling my four-year old to wash his hands after scratching his feet mid-pancake making, and then cracking an egg unseen whilst he was pretending to wash his hands. And there are mushrooms growing in our neglected herb garden. 

But if I'm going to look at mushrooms as a symbol of how I'm failing at parenting, I have a huge problem, not just because fungi are everywhere, but because mushrooms, it turns out, are amazing. 

First, those mushrooms are just the top of a plant. The mycelium sprouting those caps never stops working, constantly taking stock of the surrounding territory and adapting accordingly.

Mycelium offers warmth and comfort when eaten, of course, but also when grown into clothing and shoes. It's the well-known source of penicillin, but more recently of waterless toilets that may improve public health in areas such as refugee camps. 

Mycelium may seem delicate, but it's strong enough to be molded into furniture. Here in Cleveland, mycelium is being used in biocycling, which combines the city's demolition waste with fungi to make new construction materials.

So I propose a different way of looking at your house mushrooms. They could be viewed as a sign that your life is so chaotic and disordered that it's now host to a fungal colony. But what better metaphor for parenting is there than the multi-tasking mycelium? The next time you notice a mushroom sprouting from your tub tile, first make sure you don't have serious water damage. But then be thankful for the visit from your spirit vegetable.*

*Okay, botanically it's not a vegetable, but let's not split gills here. "Spirit vegetable" sounds way cooler than "Spirit fungi."