Raising Kids, Growing Veggies: It’s All (Kinda) the Same
One of my earliest posts here at Alpha Mom was about the benefits to your kids of gardening together, and I still stand by what I said, back then. I see no downside to growing your own food, and only benefits when you can get your kids involved, too. Nowadays, though, I find myself out in the garden alone—and don’t get me wrong, that’s fine, too, as I find it a meditative process most of the time—and I’m realizing that even when the kids aren’t there with me, the whole thing is starting to feel like a giant metaphor for rearing humans.
You plant. You tend. You wait. You worry. You celebrate when your efforts bear fruit and berate yourself when they don’t. (It’s possible that last bit is just me.) Sometimes it turns out just as you’d imagined, but other times, less so. Allow me to count the ways:
You think you know what you’re getting (spoiler: you don’t)
Every year, I go out and get seeds and small plants and plan out my garden space, convinced I know exactly what I’ll be growing, where. And each and every year, I am surprised when it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes I plant something which stubbornly refuses to grow. (See also: the early gardening years, when I kept trying to grow beets during the summer because I am dumb; this year when I was sure my old seeds were “fine” and I replanted green beans twice before I wised up and bought new seed.) And then there are the volunteers: Sometimes plants pop up in the wrong location due to wind or critters moving things, or over-wintered leftovers determined to make a reappearance. I did not plant butternut squash this year, for example. You wouldn’t know that to look in my garden, though, because two vines popped up from last year’s leftovers and I decided to leave them. They are currently the healthiest plants out there. Did I plan for them? Nope. But I love butternut squash. Huh.
I think anyone who ever imagined their future offspring who now looks back on that from the vantage point of actual offspring can see the parallels.
Aphids are the lice of gardening
You get a call from preschool that your darling has lice. You go out to water and discover your plants covered with red dots. It’s pretty much the same thing; either way, you’re in for some gross, painstaking, profanity-laden (again, maybe just me!) teeny-tiny pest removal. Granted, you don’t need a nit comb with your tomatoes, but whether you opt for spraying soapy water or dipping a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and removing each insect, I always have flashbacks to lice outbreaks when I’m dealing with aphids.
It’s gross and unpleasant, but a nearly unavoidable part of the process. At least with aphids you don’t have to bag up all your clothing and pillows in the house, so that’s something.
Sometimes your neglect is benign, other times… not
When I first put in my garden, I’m out there every single day. I water! I weed! I stake and tie up plants as needed; I deal with any predators, I lovingly sprinkle diatomaceous earth to kill pests. I am the model gardener. And then… life moves along. I have a busy day and I forget to go out. We have a few days of record-high temperatures and I hide inside, only to realize maybe a little too late that I haven’t watered for several days and now my plants are on the verge of death.
I’m not saying I ever forgot to feed my kids or that they nearly died, but… sometimes older kids seem more self-sufficient and we relax a bit, only to discover they still need quite a lot of parenting. Ahem.
Despite our influence, the world gets in
Remember when you thought you could protect your kids from everything bad? No? Just me? I like to think I was realistic about what I could and couldn’t control in my kids’ worlds, but who knows. I tried to instruct and prepare them, sure, but at the end of the day, unless you’re raising them in a bubble or a vacuum, the world will bring surprises to the table.
I’m not saying that slugs or tomato hornworms are like peer pressure or Big Life Problems where you discover (what feels like) too late that your child is being devoured, but… maybe I am. Sort of. The slimy, disgusting things I’ve handled to protect my garden continue to amaze me. Ditto for the battles I’ve faced on my children’s behalf. I thought I prepared them—children and plants, alike—but still, sometimes I had to suit up and fight the good fight. Worth it, on both counts.
Sometimes there’s no explanation
Why do you leave dirty laundry on the floor next to the hamper? Why do you lie to me about stupid things? Why did you spend all that time doing your homework only to neglect to turn it in? Why would you do that? If you have children, chances are excellent you’ve asked one or all of these questions. I’ll bet on more than one occasion the answer was a shrug, too. They don’t know why they do what they do. You’re the silly one, for asking. Sure, you thought you did everything “right” and everything was in alignment for success, but—again—it’s not like you can control everything.
Right at this very moment I have five tomato plants out back, three of which were picked up as identical seedlings at a plant sale. I was told they’re Roma plants. Well, one of those plants is now as tall as I am, and is setting a fair number of tomatoes, and it is definitely not a Roma (Roma tomatoes are sort of egg-shaped, and this plant is putting out perfectly round fruit). One of those plants has lagged behind from the start, and is just now starting to set a few tomatoes. And the third one is nearly as big as the first, but doesn’t have any fruit or any flowers. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It should. But it doesn’t. And no amount of me lecturing it will change things, which is probably something I should remember the next time one of my kids is driving me insane.
In the end, if you’re lucky, there’s a decent yield
Did I just equate the relative success of my human children to the eventual bounty (or lack thereof) in my garden? I think I did. I’m okay with that.
I do my part, as best I can. I prepare, I nourish, I defend, I encourage, and—with enough luck—eventually I harvest. I guess technically I don’t harvest my kids, but it’s possible I’ll take a “Thanks for everything, Mom” over a fresh tomato, and I really love fresh tomatoes.