Once upon a time, there was a mama and a glass of wine and a simmering pan of roasted garlic. It was witching hour, that crazy hour of the day when the children are hungry but it’s too early for dinner and Dad is not home but it’s time to start cooking anyway and there aren’t enough snacks in the world to stop the whining.
My boys are eight and eleven now and remembering the witching hour is the kind of nostalgia I can get behind, the kind that doesn’t punch me in the gut or make me want to turn back time. It’s the kind of nostalgia that makes me so happy to be a big kid mama. But I digress.
It was the witching hour, as evidenced by the wine in my hand, and I tossed the last slices of onion into the spattering oil and a turned to grab the zucchini. And it was gone.
That zucchini had been as big as my head. Maybe even bigger. How could I have lost it?
I turned off the stove and made a quick dash to the garden. Nope. I hadn’t lost my mind – it wasn’t left outside.
I went back inside and scanned the kitchen again. Not in the produce drawer. Not accidently tossed in the compost pail. Or the garbage can. Or the recycling bin. It was nowhere.
Then I noticed the quiet that often accompanies trouble and went to check on the boys. I found them in Ronan’s room, playing cars.
Cars and zucchini, that is.
There it was, clutched in Ronan’s hand, being pushed around the ubiquitous roadmap rug like a tanker truck.
“Hey babe, can I have the zucchini? I need it for dinner,” I asked.
“But mama, I grew this! I want to keep it!” my then five-year old replied, hugging the beloved zucchini to his chest.
And so cemented my commitment to gardening.
Here’s the thing. My thumb is so far from green it’s in another color palette. It’s from a black and white movie that hasn’t been edited with Technicolor yet. When we moved into our house ten years ago, and I was swiftly caught up in a gardening dream inspired by my days in AmeriCorps establishing community gardens. We had a big south facing yard and I told myself that I’d be able to put my community gardening acumen to good use, but the truth is, my role in those gardens had focused more on the acquisition of land and the building of community partnerships than on the mixing of soil and compost and earthworms. I’d never even kept a house plant alive.
But I was determined. My gardening dreams came to fruition in the form of an 8 x 8 raised bed that grew tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro. I had salsa! I was thrilled!
And then I got greedy.
Every year, I added to the garden, and every addition brought new issues. The zucchini brought squash bugs, the compost brought pumpkins everywhere I didn’t want pumpkins, and everything brought rabbits. We added beds and took them away. We fenced in the gardens and wondered why the rabbits still came. We added a dog to our family and wondered why the rabbits weren’t afraid of him. We wondered why he acted like a rabbit himself, digging up everything in sight.
One year I was so fed up with the process I ripped the whole thing out and declared it a “no gardening” year. By June I was so full of regret that I started a container garden on my patio.
Elizabeth Gilbert claims that “regret is a fair but tough teacher” and when it comes to gardening, I have learned to listen to it.
I know now that I will always garden, and that I will do so with my less than green thumb, harvesting an unpredictable yield. I will bemoan the squash bugs and forget to cut back my cilantro. My dog will dig up my carrots in search of the rabbits that nested in their roots. I’ll forget to water. I’ll overwater. I’ll never stay ahead of the weeds. No amount of Pinterest pins or garden remodels will make me a better gardener, but I’ll garden anyway, because the very act of gardening feeds me. It has yielded in me patience, which I’ve needed desperately as a mother. It has yielded curiosity and inquiry, and a stubborn determination to try again. It has yielded a connection to the planet that provides life to my family.
And, it has yielded weeds. A lot of weeds.
But as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
I’m still waiting on that one.