Our garden consists of 82 tomato plants, 6 green pepper plants, a few hot peppers and just a couple vines of cucumbes. However, those cukes are hearty. My most recent plucking yielded 15 new ones, and I had just checked about 2 days ago.
Picking cucumbers is tricky business. First, the dang things are prickly. DO NOT RUB YOUR HANDS TOGETHER. Ouch. Also, the part that connects them to the vine: strong stuff. (I’m contemplating how to use cucumber stem as sticky tack so that Miss M’s foam letter O will stay on her wall, because the 3m squares clearly are not working.)
(If there is a secret to cucumber harvesting I’m clearly not aware of, I beg of you to share your secrets. I will pay you One Million
Not only do cucumbers have the evolutionary survival tactic of remaining green while ripe and thus blending in with surroundings, but their choice of placement is spot on. I have discovered it’s nearly impossible to see a cucumber by looking at the plant head-on. Instead, you have to rummage around, pretending to look for tomatoes and steal a glance over and notice that a nearby vine has 14 green prolate spheroids dangling alongside you. You have to get on the ground and look up. I suppose one could even begin digging up the garlic heads and see a cucumber sprouting out easier than if you went up to the vine and looked straight at it.
Just when you think you’re done – the heavy bucket protruding and you’re wondering if the neighbors locked their car doors, because if not, you’re dropping in a minimum of 5 cucumbers and a quart of tomatoes – you see 4 more. Just hanging out, in what would appear to be clear view. Except, it’s not, if you’re looking directly at the plant.
Not long ago I took a yoga class with a special guest teacher who had us trying a variety of standing balance poses. Note: balance poses are Yoga’s gift to us so we can practice not being competitive. If you think you’re a bad ass yogi, start standing on one leg and swinging the other one around.
As an exercise, she had us in Tree pose and asked us to set our gaze across the room on a specific focal point. By narrowing our eyes, it becomes easier to root into the ground and maintain balance. Then she asked us to look at a spot on the floor right in front of us. I was not the only one to topple over.
It turns out we tend to loose our sense of balance when we keep a shortsighted focus.
The rhythms of summer have nearly evaporated. JJ returned to setting an alarm and prepping the coffee the night before, as if the coffeepot would ever wake up before me. Though my own 2 school kids have another week at home, we’ve thrust ourselves into school-year pace. And I’m exhausted.
Historically, I’ve kept a sacred 1.5-2 hour afternoon window of stillness, that precious time in which work is produced and sanity recovers itself. However, this autumn I have 2 older children who outgrew naps. They still head upstairs to “rest” but at most I can get an hour of tranquility before they just start finding new ways to annoy from across the house.
It is so easy to look at life right now and wonder how in the world it’s all going to happen this year. The school stuff. The church stuff. The work stuff. The spending quality time and soaking in precious young days with my children stuff. Trips to the museum, trips to the zoo, trips to friends houses and trips to grandparents’ homes. And then there’s the eating. All of the food that I seem to be cooking all of the time. This morning I made pot full of oatmeal, a dozen muffins and one kid drank half my smoothie while another also devoured the last bowl of Rice Krispies. By the time we finally finished breakfast, someone asked if it was time for lunch.
If I zoom in and only look at life right in front of me, chances are, I will fall over. Balance is laughable. Looking at our state of life right now, head-on, I will see no fruit – only a mess of vines and leaves growing in 15 directions, threatening to suffocate my tomatoes.
A step back and slightly to the side and I see the bigger picture. I see children enjoying days together. I see play. I see a family enjoying healthy dinners, sitting around the table together and talking about the day. When you turn off the zoom, you don’t see splashes of pizza sauce on the counter top or the toy dishes spilled out of the basket for the 19th time.
The Motherhood Balancing Act requires us to firmly plant one foot, strengthening muscles you didn’t know existed (which will be sore after the first few uses) while you stretch and move the other leg. It’s a tug and pull while remaining rooted. We’re forced to be in the moment, dealing with each day as it comes but we often forget another gift: the view from the big picture.
From time to time, pulling back and remembering how we’re not just filling days but building a life, gives us the strength we need to stay firm. We take a deep breath, we look at another spot across the room and enjoy the surprise of finding yet another treat ripening right in front of us.
A frustrating morning this week rendered my children to a “different room, anywhere other than right beside Mr. M,” who was being suffocated by sibling presence. Soon I heard them skitter upstairs. Then silence. A worrisome silence.
I finished my task and opted to sort laundry on my bed so I could
spy prevent disaster. What I found changed the pace of the morning from monstrous to magical. They had shut the bedroom door. They shut me out.
When they came out, unknowing of my presence, they donned bath towels as raincoats, pushing a stroller to take Lady C “to a friend’s house.” Then they dropped Miss M off at “school.” When I peeked into H Boy’s room, they had made a bed on the floor with the girls’ blankets and he had been “reading” to them before bed.
Soon they returned “home.” The next time they emerged, Miss M had a baby stuffed under her dress. “Bye grandma and papa, we’re going to the hospital!” I hear them say. Apparently Lady C was stuck at home with the grandparents because I heard H & M go into another room and then an uproar of laughter: “I pooped it out!” I hear. And then there was a baby. (So. That’s how it happens.)
I kept folding, trying to remain invisible because the truth of the situation rose to the top: while I should be intentional about playing and interacting with my kids at home (and I’m trying to do a better job of this), in their time without me my kids become more imaginative and cooperative. They stick with their play for much longer spans of time when I’m not involved. They try new things, find creative props and tell their stories of life using lenses I simply don’t know how to operate.
This is such a good thing.
I half-jokingly say that the best thing I could offer my kids in life is siblings. On this morning, it was simply a true statement. At one point I told myself, “this is the childhood I dreamed for my children. Right here.” Because it is. When I look back at my early years, I see my sister and I lining the staircase with stuffed animals to play school and getting out our Barbies to live in their piano home with my dad’s basketball trophies serving as doors, beds and furniture. We ventured outside on rusty grain augers and “shredded” snow in the winter. We climbed a dirt hill where one of our cats hid her kittens and affectionately and appropriately called it Kitty Peak. Our industrial-sized gas tanks became horses named Silver and Goldie (which, ironically, were both silver).
Play, play, play, my children. Go. Create. Do. Find the ordinary and discover it with new ideas, see it with imagination goggles.
They rarely do this in my presence, just as my parents were mostly absent from my own adventurous memories (though I can look back to plenty of examples of quality time filled with love and play). I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the responsibilities we carry as adults and our inability to set that down at the door. We’re always thinking of the pick up involved after or the unlikelihood that this could actually work. We feel the need to correct and make everything into a teachable moment. I wonder if sometimes our teaching results in less learning than these episodes of creativity the kids embark upon by themselves.
I just read a fascinating article on children’s learning styles around the world and literacy, but what jumped out at me was the author mentioning how often kids want to learn in private: “When I entered the room they looked up like kids who were caught doing something illicit. This is another thing you learn about kids when they don’t go to school. They don’t want to be watched all the time. They don’t want to be scrutinized and measured. They often don’t even want to be praised or encouraged. They have a remarkable sense of dignity and autonomy, and they defend it fiercely. They want their learning to be their own.”
So while JJ and I converse about my participation and engagement with our kids (as opposed to work, which I am prone), I agree. Treasure these days with them, sit at the table and make a mess.
Send them to the basement. Direct them upstairs. Shut the door. See what magic they come up with on their own.
JJ has been less than impressed with my contribution to the family garden this summer. I blame it on our constant comings and goings, but the fact remains I nary picked up a hose this summer nor reached into the dirt to pull a weed or 5. Now, as the tomato harvest overwhelms us, I’m left to pay up.
The first time I went into our patch of plants, I realized part of the problem lied in our poor spacial skills. Our plants live very close to one another and, because of it, the leaves on the bottom part of the plant die quickly. I remembered my friend Dan Who Knows Everything had said that those leaves actually inhibit growth – if they’re not taking in sun to nourish the plant, then they’re taking nutrients away from budding fruit. If memory serves me correctly, he used to trim the bottom leaves from his plants as they were growing to increase productivity.
Last week I made an appointment with a pair of scissors and that garden. I hacked away at all the deadness beneath the surface. And lo! What did I behold? More fruit. There were tomatoes in there I couldn’t see through the brush. And now with the plants a little lighter on the bottom, our harvest is multiplying. I’m actually not sure what we’ll do with all the tomatoes other than offer them as a parting gift to anyone within a 50 foot radius of our front door. Perhaps I’ll take them out to the bus stop and give them to small children on their way to school. They enjoy that, don’t they? Fresh, raw vegetables as a treat?
Gardening is my spiritual metaphor so often – I know, it’s largely overdone. I reflected as I snipped and snapped through the tomato forest, I wonder where I need to trim things up in my life. What is taking all that sunlight and energy my body and life is making and rerouting it away from nourishing good fruit? What dead leaves remain that hide the good things already growing so that no eye can behold them, let alone enjoy them?
Am I not showing the fruit of affection for my kids? Serenity with my work? Compassion for those not like me? Perhaps it’s not because I’m not growing fruit. Perhaps it’s because the dead weight in my life keeps them from my line of vision. I often hear people say, “I need to grow more patience.” I’m not convinced you do. I think it’s probably growing – at least budding – in there. Ask, instead, what might be getting in the way? Are we too stressed by a busy schedule to enjoy moments of joy? Are we overwhelmed with financial worries that we cannot slumber in peace?
Don’t be as concerned with the fruit: spend some time pruning the plant.