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Jul 18 2014

Planting a Vegetable Garden is a Lot Like Raising Children

By at 12:08 pm

Garden3

I knew I wanted the house.

It needed work, but I could see the potential hidden under the atrocious paint colors and dog hair. But the threat of homebuyer’s remorse struck my husband and I simultaneously. We looked at each other panicked, suddenly looking for a reason to bail. Standing side-by-side in the yard, we glanced at the row of dying azaleas baking in mid-July sun. “Those bushes need to go,” I murmured.

The real estate agent paused and then gestured at the weed-choked rectangle. “It’s probably too sunny for this kind of plant. But this would be a great space for a garden!”

My cold feet warmed and once again I saw what the house, and the grounds, could be. By autumn, it was ours. At some point, we pulled out the bushes, but never got around to doing anything more. The timing was never right. The wedding, summer jobs, home renovations, two pregnancies, sleepless nights with a baby and a toddler, a sick relative, a new boss… for the past seven years, there was always something.

But this year, I finally did it.

I posted a few basic gardening questions to Google and my Facebook “moms” group, but I didn’t expect to need much. Even 4-year-olds grow vegetables in preschool, I told myself. How hard could this really be? (Dear readers: It’s OK, you can go ahead and laugh at me.)

The sheer amount of information I found was stunning, but I read everything dutifully. I bought organic soil and seeds: tomato, cucumber, basil, and parsley. I filled little planters and watered them. I talked to them. I kept the containers together on a sunny windowsill and waited. In the meantime, there were more decisions to make. Cages or stakes? What kind? What size? How many pots for herbs? What kinds of tools would I need?

The seeds sprouted, and they spent more time outdoors. I bought a strawberry plant, rosemary, peppers, and peas, though the purchase vaguely felt like cheating. My 3-year-old and I put them all in the ground. (Well, I planted; she collected rocks and clovers). When we finished, we were filthy and sweaty and tired. I ached. But my daughter looked up at me and grinned. “Mama, that was fun!”

Garden1

It had been fun. But I wondered if we had done it right. I watched over them from my window. During the first thunderstorm of the summer, I admitted to my husband that I was worried. He wisely hid a smile when he spoke. “They’ll be OK. They’re just plants.” He was right, of course. But they had become more than that to me.

There was a lot to worry about. It’s a dangerous world for plants. Threats were all around them. Beetles an fungus and aphids, “root rot” and “vine borers.” Good grief, vegetables can get sunburned. And me, I made mistakes. One day, I got a little overzealous while pruning, and took off a branch full of would-be blooms. I used fertilizer too soon. I overwatered my peas. Despite it all, they grew.

It felt like becoming a mother.

The responsibility of parenthood is awesome. When my first daughter was born, that realization hit me like a tsunami, washing away the debris of my old life in an instant. In the early days, there were a million impossible duties punctuated by decisions, large and small. Every day, some new article came out, trumpeting the latest menace. I read everything I could get my hands on and compared notes with other moms. I wanted so badly to parent well, but everything I did was tinged with anxiety. I questioned whether each misstep would ruin my child forever. I watched as my daughter morphed from an infant to a toddler to a little girl that learned how to pull weeds from the ground.

By the time my second baby was born, it was different. I was different. The sense of responsibility was still there, but not the chronic fear. I made mistakes with both of my daughters, and I will make more. But I take care of them both, and I love them both, and hopefully that is enough.

Mothering taught me to garden. I am proud of what I’ve created. My cucumber plants are tall, the largest one topping five feet. The basil is getting bushy. My tomato plants are filling their cages, their stems dotted with yellow flowers. The strawberries were delicious. I know that my work isn’t done. I’ll spend the season watching them, worried, from the window. I’ll always read too much. But I am learning to trust my ability to help them grow. I am learning to have faith in my babies. They are strong enough to handle anything–even a thunderstorm.

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