Saturday, July 21

"I didn't like hoeing the garden! I went out there to get away from you kids!"

When I was a little kid, my Dad worked at a factory for 12 hours a day. He would come home, have a snack, and then, more days than not, he would go out to the garden and weed or inspect or harvest.

I was young but I remember this - and even though high school Dad always had something growing in the back yard. In hind sight, I wish I would have shown more interest. Maybe I would have had more direction in my life then if I had explored and discovered what today gives me so much happiness.

When I stated vegetable gardening about 10 years ago, I would go to my dad and ask him questions about corn planting, potato hills, how far to space pumpkins, etc. and he would always try to help and give advice. It was never in a preaching, extended diatribe. It was short and to the point and he never made me feel like an idiot for not knowing things.

With all this, I was always under the impression that Dad loved gardening. When he was a teenager he worked on local farms and rented land to farm for himself - selling the produce to local restaurants. I have pictures of him on a tractor, plowing a very large field and I remember eating ears of sweet corn every summer that we had just went out in the back yard to pick.

So I was quite surprised, and a bit hurt, when one day over an inspection of my drooping tomato plants Dad told me the reason he gardened. After high school, Dad started working at the factory for 12 hours a day. He still works at the same factory today, with less hours. The reason that Dad went out to the back field when he got home from those 12 hour days was not for a love of gardening. I am sure at one point - with the huge fields and making an income from it - he did enjoy it and he has told me so. But after my brother and I came along, Dad gardened to get away from us.

"I didn't like hoeing the garden! I went out there to get away from you kids!"

Apparently my brother and I, once we hit the ages of 4 and 2, were not the most obedient and good natured of children. I do not think it was coincidence that my maternal Grandparents, who lived less than a mile away, moved over an hour away when I hit the age of three.

And as I am coming to discover myself what that means with the little man almost 3 and a half and the baby going on 8 months, the time spent in the peace and quiet of the garden ripping weeds out by the handfuls is a part of the day that I covet. Not that I particularly like weeding, but at least I do actually like gardening. I can take a seed smaller than the baby's pinkie toe nail, plant it in some rich dark soil, give it water and light and care, and I am rewarded with a bright green sprout of hope. Much like a little offspring, only the sprout doesn't talk back and have accidents in its underwear.

Plants in my garden don't talk back. They don't complain and they don't get jealous of the time spent with other plants. Plants are quiet and consistent and promising. You know that when you plant a tomato seedling in time you will get tomatoes. You can raise a child thinking he will be a rocket scientist and you could get a three time felon in the state pen. A tomato will always be a tomato.

So I can see my Dad's point in all this. I can see that getting out and away is something that everyone needs, even after a long day at work. And I am not denying the truth of his logic. I have come to agree wholeheartedly.

This is not to say that I do not love my children. Not at all. I love when the little man and I do something fun in the garden - this year he has his own little patch of earth where he planted peas, beans, onions, broccoli and a pumpkin. Yes, it is kind of weedy, but he shows everyone who comes over his "very first plant!"

I try to look at my excursions in the garden as more of a stress reduction exercise. No amount of money could be paid to someone to sit and listen to my problems that would equal the satisfaction I get from ripping out weeds with reckless abandon and hearing the root systems being dislodged from the garden soil. It is a feeling of accomplishment. No matter how many times I try and fail to get the baby to eat peas; no matter how many times I tell the little man not to slam the door and hearing it slam 3 seconds later; no matter how much selective listening has become an art form in this house: I can weed a row of beans, stand up, turn around and I have a clean row of weeded beans. No argument, no crying, task completed. Satisfaction and accomplishment.

And immediate gratification.

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