Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Gone to Seed
by Kim Lane

Iíve carved some free time recently to work in the garden, although that sounds more impressive than it is because the woman we bought the house from had done most of the real work already. Sheíd fenced a lovely area just outside the kitchen windows using some sturdy wooden posts and nice curly chicken-wire -- a perfect spot to take in the Texas Hill Country view while sipping coffee, as well as be able to bang on the windows and scream like a maniac if the cat jumps into the garden to pee. Sheíd also hired someone to till and triple-sift the plot to remove rocks, then had mounds of dark, fragrant top-soil delivered and incorporated into the existing dirt. An antique gate (once again, supplied) completes the cottage garden look.

On one side of the garden lives the only resident plant at the moment, an impressive, four-year-old asparagus crown that the previous owner talked about as though it were a child -- leaving me detailed notes on how and when to do what, referring to it as "an enormous treasure." Freshly moved-in and in my strenuous final months of a twin pregnancy, I promptly disregarded all of her instructions and did my very best to murder this green orphan -- neglecting to water it and letting it go to seed so extensively that it resembled a gigantic green afro. I just recently cut it back, and it seems to have forgiven me; sending up tender new shoots almost daily. Or itís faking it and plans to poison my whole family in a tainted pasta dish. Thatís one of the greatest things about nature, you can do your damnedest to obliterate it, and still it comes marching back with a grand "Ha!"

So Iím out there hoeing in the garden, working up an enormous sweat pushing the already tilled, thrice-sifted dirt around. 

"IíM AERATING THE SOIL," I say with enormous conviction when my husband asks. The truth is that Iím stalling, big-time. Secretly, Iím terrified to actually plant anything for fear that one day Iíll glance out the windows only to see the wee seedlings grasping their thin little stem necks with two leaves and dramatically toppling backwards like green dominoes, or worse, Iíll see them slumping to the ground with limp, yellow-spotted leaves and sickly, shriveled fruit, like Iím running some soil convalescence home for terminal flora. And donít even get me started on the possibility of ravenous, plundering mealy bugs.

Itís that annoying perfectionist in me. If Iím going to spend my valuable time nurturing something, then I want assurances of outcome or I donít want to play. I want control, control, control. I want blind obedience and flagrant appreciation. I want to grow leafy Labradors.

Itís so much nicer just to drag around the faultless, rich soil, imagining what vegetables would look nicest where, then at the end of the day, go back into the house and have some iced tea. So much safer that way. Besides, at this stage visitors are still mightily impressed with the appearance of the raked garden plot -- all neat and prepared for potential life. "Wow! Your garden looks GREAT!" they say. I bask with pride, but inside I scream, just you wait till The Killingfields begin.

Greyson, five, has been my little helper every step of the way. I bought him his own kid-sized gardening tools and when he discovers a large weed in the yard, heíll begin whacking and pummeling it until it turns to weed-mush. Then heíll spot another one and say, Robert De Niro-like, "All right you weed... you wanna piece oí cake oí me?" I love it when he gets those bully-boy sayings wrong. Most of the day he trundles along behind me with his pee-wee shovel slung over his shoulder -- him singing, me whistling -- like Iím Stall-y and heís Maim-y, two of the lesser known dwarves.

Last week, after a long day of pushing the garden dirt around, Greyson and I decided to carve a succession of deep circular furrows in the soil, like a big target. Our task completed, we stood back admiring our garden target, then Greyson began digging a hole in the bullís-eye. "We need a flag, Mama," he declared, "to put in the middle." It sounded perfectly logical to me and a good idea to boot; a chance to have a creative project with my son, but more importantly, another opportunity to put off having to plant real live objects in the now over-aerated soil. I canít possibly sow seeds now, isnít it obvious I have a flag to make?

So we gathered a tall, green, wooden plant-stake, an old white linen napkin and some markers and we went back outside, staple-gun in hand. "What should we draw on our flag?" I asked. "The family!" Greyson said with great excitement. "A family flag. Good idea," I replied. I drew a dad and a mom stick figure flanked by a Greyson stick-kid and two twin baby stickettes with curlicue hairs shooting out of each baby head for Gabe and Ella. Above the lot, I wrote, "THE FAMILY" while Greyson beamed approval.

Some people may have a majestic gilded crest on their family banner, our family has a Marks-A-Lot rendering on a ratty napkin stapled to a stick. It just speaks volumes.

We planted our white flag deep in the garden bullís-eye where it waves at us when the wind is right. From the road it appears as though, after a long fight, weíve finally surrendered. At least thatís what passers-by must think -- and maybe thatís a good thing since weíre new in the neighborhood.

All this has me thinking about motherhood because isnít gardening what we do as mothers anyway, on a metaphoric level? We create a (hopefully) nurturing, fertile environment, ensconce our babes within, then aerate and tend our little hearts out hoping for the best.

Recently my husband and I were visiting with some family members.  One in particular is a young man who, up until last year, could have been the poster child for the Bring This Boy Home To Meet Your Mother foundation. A straight "A" student through high school, no drinking, no drugs, had nice friends, clean-cut and always met curfew or called, he even collected a few "perfect attendance" awards. Did I mention he was on the road to medical school? It was a little damned ridiculous.

But things have suddenly changed dramatically. This young man has now dropped out of college, instead, devoting most of his free time to spiritual studies, meditation and a group led by someone referred to as, "The Master." And heís been giving away his beloved material possessions including his computer, his car, his stereo, and a $400 leather coat his mother gave him for Christmas; it was gone the very next morning and his mom is still making payments on it. Among the few things he has kept are a wooden bowl and spoon that he made.

Now, Iím all for spiritual growth donít get me wrong, but because these changes were so rapid and out of character for him, we were all a bit worried that he might soon be interested in hitching a ride on the nearest comet. So we decided to chat with this bright young man about his new world and philosophy of life. During the discussion, I couldnít help but notice his mother who was standing next to him, listening and interjecting a few thoughts now and then. She seemed fidgety and slightly nervous; smiling a bit too broadly, eye contact a little too brief. It was obvious this whole thing was hard for her to swallow, and who could blame her? She wanted her son back. The one who was going to be a doctor. The one who could make old women swoon with admiration while they slipped him their granddaughtersí phone numbers, the one who wanted to marry a nice girl and have babies. Not the now-celibate, spiritual devotee before us.

But as I continued to watch her, I began to see and hear something other than her slight human awkwardness.


Blinding, almost palpable, beams of it.

Even though she was struggling, she had gotten herself a staple gun, a stick and a napkin and planted her white flag of maternal surrender right in the middle of her sonís forehead for all of us to see. And boy did we see it. What incredible grace and courage it must have taken for her to surrender a motherís hopes to a childís will. To find the faith to support him instead of choosing the negative, uncompromising path we parents sometimes walk down.

What I took away from the experience is that I need to work on letting go. Surrendering the control I think I have over the things I most care about -- the things that I desperately want to see thrive, prosper, blossom and evolve the way Iíd envisioned. She reminded me that a hearty surrender can save a hell of a lot of time and anguish -- it can even save a relationship. Of course that doesnít mean that I should or could ever stop doing a motherís core work -- caring, worrying, watching, teaching, squashing the occasional mealy-bug... It simply means I have more than a few freakiní flags to make.

And, as my brave female relative has also shown me, sometimes youíve just got to let your kids grow crazy wild and go to seed as part of their lifeís lessons. Youíve got to smile until your jaws hurt and keep putting that flagpole back up every time the wind knocks it over.

So, Iím going out this weekend to buy seeds and seedlings. Iím going to plant those suckers in the ground, tend them a little, then throw my hands up to the universe with great trust and go wait by my flag. Weíll see what happens.
Kim Lane is the Publisher of AustinMama.com.  Since this piece was first published years ago, her young male relative has continued to be happy, healthy and on a unique spiritual path, weather has claimed Greyson's flag, and -- most likely through very little real intervention of her own -- several successful gardens have come, flourished and gone, leaving behind dirty hands and cleaned dinner plates.