Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I have this image in my mind, of frolicking—yes, frolicking—through my mother’s large garden as a child. It looks like this: churned, damp dirt beneath my bare feet; the taste of fresh snapped green beans; the residue of tomato plants, rich and inviting, embedded in the grooves of my fingers. My mom is bent over her pepper plants, long brown hair hiding her face. She looks up as I skip past and smiles. There are morning songbirds and bees creating a background hum, an outdoor OM. I remember this moment as some sort of return to my family’s own personal 20x30 Eden in the middle of a suburban subdivision.
So when Noah let out an enormous groan, complete with shoulder sagging and watery-eyes at the very thought of having to head to our community garden plot yesterday, I felt a stab in the heart. And before I could begin to muster the long list of reasons why we should embrace growing our own food and supporting a local family farm at the same time—not to mention my rousing round of “it will be fun”-- Max chimed in “I am so not pulling any of those weeds.” Lizzie, everyday more aware of when she seems to be missing something, let out a hearty whimper/squirm combo as if to cry, “yeah, whatever they just said.”
Our foray into food growing started all right, with all five of us hoeing and raking and planting away early this summer. It lasted, of course, all of 15 minutes, until a friend of Noah’s who was also at the farm invited him home for a play-date and Justin started yelping that he had only agreed to come as “moral support” and Lizzie was sick of trying to sleep in the heat and wind and dirt and Max, well, he fell in a pile of manure.
“Look at me! I’m leaning in by the pooooop! I’m leaning in by the poooooooop! It can’t touch me!” Max sang (to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I think) between giggles. He was standing near the healthy pile of dung that was left for community garden members to spread on their plots.
“Max, come away from there please. Come help Mama plant this spinach. I’ll tell you all about this thing called ‘carbon footprints’ and how we’re doing our part to slow ours down,” I yelled back, pausing momentarily to see my three year old only standing on one leg as he leaned ever closer the pile of poo.
He planted his bare foot back on the ground and tilted his head up enough so that he could find me from under the rim of his hat. I caught myself letting out a long, loving sigh, because even from fifty feet away, I could see the blue of his unearthly eyes matched the pale hue of his floppy sunhat. It never stops amazing me, how as mothers we get these unabashed floods of worship for our children at any given moment. I started to walk over, thinking of the best way to explain how we are slowly eviscerating our planet (without scaring the crap out of him).
“CARBON FOOOOOTPRRRINTS,” Max said in his best deep growl. He was marching (as in, sumo wrestler-style) in place next to the aforementioned poop. I recognized this move immediately as his ever-so-accurate impersonation of a dinosaur, and I actually started to think of how to explain the whole global warming/human impact on the earth and our environment thing from a way-back-when-dinos-roamed place. Seriously.
But just then, as my little T-Rex/cave man/sumo-wrestler went for an extra large step… You guessed it. He tipped a little too far to the right and plummeted directly into the manure pile (of course). Oh boy.
When he sat back up, I expected a flood of tears. Instead, I got a roar—his prehistoric playtime had not even missed a beat-- despite the fact that his arms and legs were smudged with brown and his dad was kneeling in the dirt, vacillating between chortling laughter and comments on how glad he was we brought my car to the farm.
I spent the next month and a half trying to talk to the kidlets about the importance of eating locally, of learning about the cycles of seasons and harvests and the blessings of being able to see our food in every stage, from seedlings to cooked meals on our table. I am passionate about this and feel like it is my matriarchal duty to pass along the understandings I’ve learned via Michael Pollan, Barbra Kingsolver and the whole locavore revolution. My children, for the most part, simply bemoan the fact that kale tastes no better from our garden than it does from our co-op, and in fact, as Noah points out, is perhaps worse after seeing the mass exodus of earwigs escaping the firm green and purple leaves as we harvest.
It took me until just this week (surprise, surprise) to remember that the best way to show our children something of abstract importance is to simply shut up and, well, show them. And so yesterday, I packed them up and drove to the farm. We got out of the car with the usual grumbles, but instead of heading straight to our plot to get in a hurried weed/harvest/healthy-eating-and-good-environmental-stewardship-lecture before the baby cried/the toddler wet his pants/the nine year old just melted, we went to the livestock barn and ogled the still-new piglets. We went through the farm store, feasted on fresh popcorn, and meandered down the raspberry patch lane. Eventually, we wound up back at the garden, where I got to work without a word. Within a few minutes, Noah sat beside me, picking at the leaves of a tomato plant while absentmindedly telling me about his newest Lego creation. Max was pulling a weed out of the ground (only to replant it over and over again). Out of the corner of my eye, I think I saw him snap, bite, and promptly spit out a green bean.
I tell this to my mother late last night, recounting with pride the possible progress on greening my children. She listens in silence, the distance between our two houses seeming bigger than it is, until she lets out a small laugh.
“Are you kidding? You had zero interest in that garden, unless it was to whine about coming to help me in it,” she said, after hearing me compare my idyllic vegetable growing youth to that of my thankless children. “You never ate fresh green beans or most anything else. I wasn’t growing peanut butter sandwiches without crust, and that was about all you wanted. By the way, I had short hair by then. Your memory is hilarious.”
Maybe that’s the ticket: to let my children feel the dirt under their moon sliver fingernails, come to understand life through the cycles of plants and foods and the earth beneath their feet. It can be messy. It can be dreaded or even something just short of disastrous.
And yet, Max looked at me this morning, as I washed blueberries for his breakfast, and said, “did we make these mama?”
Yes, I think there is something to be said about planting the seed and just letting it….grow.