ShareThis Page

Garden offers lessons in growing up

| Sunday, May 23, 2004

Slam! It's the sound of spring in my home. The doors are thrown open and shut as my kids run in and out of the house now that the weather has warmed up. Overjoyed at the change in season, all of us move our focus from inside to outside, suddenly liberated.

If doors slamming is the sound of spring for my family, then brown is the trademark color. One of our first rituals of spring is to prepare our garden for planting. Getting things ready outside can be a muddy mess. But, working in the garden with my girls has shown me that some of the most important lessons in life can be learned while playing in the mud.

Lesson #1 The benefit of patience

How well I remember my toddler's first foray into the garden! It was time to plant and I had gathered the seeds, her shiny new plastic garden toys and my own tools. I had visions of my daughter working dutifully beside me -- digging holes when I asked, gently covering the seeds and sprinkling the ground with water. As a first-time parent, I didn't realize this vision was really a delusion.

My daughter wasn't the peaceful planter that I expected; she was more like a bulldozer. Some of the plastic tools broke and she quickly tossed the others aside and insisted on using mine. She flung dirt and dug holes at random. She searched the ground for the seeds I'd already planted, proudly holding up each one she unearthed like a trophy. She was exuberant. I was frustrated. How would I ever get anything to grow?

After planting, replanting and pleading, I gave up. Defeated, I retreated to the shade of the deck. Without me to stop her, she explored the muddy world of the springtime garden. She piled dirt, poured water and delighted in barefoot mud dancing. She was so beautiful and innocent; I had to smile despite my frustration.

In typical toddler form, she soon got bored. She left the tools, puddles and holes behind and came over to ask me why the garden wasn't growing. I led her back to the garden.

She settled in beside me as I showed her how to plant a seed. I explained that gardening isn't something that happens quickly. It requires patience and nurturing. Gardeners have to pay attention to what the plants need. Sometimes, they need a more shade. Other times, they need water or food. Or, perhaps they are like you , I thought to myself, they need some time to explore their new world before starting to grow.

Lesson #2 The importance of boundaries

The next year, I wised up. Before I attempted any real planting, I gave my daughter a chance to play in the garden. I handed over my tools and the hose and let her go. She had a great time. Our garden expanded that year, and I decided to allow my 3-year-old to walk through the flowers and vegetables unsupervised.

By midsummer, she had trampled quite a few plants. I didn't want make the garden off limits to kids (the family was expanding, too), but I did want to the plants to survive. My mother-in-law suggested that I use mulch or wood planks to mark some paths through the garden. Surprisingly, that was all it took.

Once I marked the paths and made it clear that she had to respect those boundaries, she stuck to them and our plants flourished. Even today, my oldest girl is still looking for boundaries. She comes home from school with new words and attitudes that test my limits. She's realizing that she's making her own path, but she still wants my help. As I watch her grow, I hope that she'll choose boundaries that will allow her to mature with confidence.

Lesson #3 The joy of renewal

The last couple of gardening seasons, I've felt a sense of sadness as my kids start back to school and the garden begins to die off. Some years the garden has been an accomplishment to be proud of -- we successfully ate or froze our vegetables, dried herbs and picked bouquets of flowers.

Lately though, fall has been filled carpools, after-school activities and homework. These days it's more likely that the tomatoes will rot on the ground and the herbs will freeze before they get picked. Even so, just planting them gives me a sense of fulfillment.

I used to feel bad about my lack of harvesting instinct, guilty for letting things go to waste. But, even when this happens, I realize that the garden still holds a sense of promise. The tomatoes that rot on the garden floor in the fall come back as new plants in the spring. The herbs that are ruined by frost can be composted and used as fertilizer the next year. What feels like failure this year can actually be the key to continued growth.

Our relationships with kids are that way, too. They take our tools, test our limits and sometimes trample our hearts. We retreat to the shadows, thinking we have failed. But then, we notice that they've taken all that we have to give them and used it in their own way. Just when we're about to give up, they renew our hope by dancing barefoot in the mud.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.