Sunday, April 22, 2012

Parental Lessons from the Garden

In honor of Earth Day, I want to share a few thoughts on what I, as a parent, have learned from gardening.

Number One Similarity
First of all, let me say that the Number One Way I find that parenting resembles gardening would be that I am perpetually making things up as I go along—with about a 50% success rate.

Different Plants, Different Needs
I’m finally getting the hang of this in the yard—begonias in the shade by the front door, Gerber daisies by the pool in full sun.

And there’s no doubt it holds true for the kids as well. S., like her dad, is high-contact. She enjoys life by sharing experiences, she wants to check in constantly, and say everything that comes into her head. Like me, Little A. needs his space. If he can’t come home from school, eat, and disappear into his room for a few hours, he gets cran-ky. Like me.

Pruning v Weeding
Yes, there is a difference. To me, weeding compares to reminding kids to kick those annoying bad habits—you know, whining, leaving laundry on the floor, jumping on the bed, screaming in the car, licking things. Basically, repeated actions with NO redeeming value whatsoever.

I don’t feel bad about weeding.

Pruning, on the other hand…. Take, for example, our bougainvillea. It’s beautiful. It blooms lavishly. But about ten seconds after its most gorgeous display, it’s leggy, leafless, and invasive. I’m always SO satisfied when pruning goes well—but I can’t tell for a week or so if it went the way I intended. It’s a real act of faith to cut off those still-blooming branches!

Parents walk a similar fine line because, let’s face it, our greatest strengths are also are greatest weaknesses—and our kids’ are, too. S. is so strong that she constantly astonishes me, but she doesn’t always know her own strength. She tends to bowl people over—physically and emotionally—without realizing it. We have to help her relish her strength, while keeping it in bounds.

Little A. thinks outside the box. His busy little mind constantly finds ways around restrictions. He finds amazing solutions to some real brain-scratching situations, but some principles just can’t be wiggled around. For example, when I tell him not to jump while brushing his teeth—well, the laws of physics aren’t going to change because he’s hopping, not jumping. Yes, he got the toothbrush in his palate and, yes, it’s given us LOTS of leverage on those laws-of-physics situations.

I don’t want S. to fear her strength, just manage it, and I don’t want Little A. to conform, just respect the laws of nature. Walking that fine line is the leap of faith in parental pruning!

I have so much respect for grassroots.

When we moved into this, our first house, we naively decided to create a flower bed out of our front lawn…just by putting down a border. Needless to say, we’ve been fighting the St. Augustine grass in that flower bed ever since.

Sometimes, when the season and soil are just right, I can start with a clump of grass and pull up a whole network of roots. Thinner white roots lead to knots of roots, lead to more thin white roots and eventually to a thick brown root running for yards. And yet I never get them all.

This, I hope, represents the family in parenting. The values and ideals that have been handed down; that our children share with each other, their cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The connections that never really break.

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