How They Will Grow
I know a man who never waters his garden. Every spring, he plants an array of seeds in richly fertilized and cultivated soil, tamps a fond farewell and hopes for the best. He says a little stress is good for the plants, being thirsty will make them hardy, and when they do get a drink of rain they will learn to use that sustenance efficiently. As crazy as personifying vegetable sprigs sounds, this is the way the man gardens, and year after year he reaps a bountiful harvest.
This man parents his children in much the same way: lays a solid foundation, provides the necessities, and then sends them out on their own come what may. He likens giving help in any manner to coddling and has a no re-admittance policy after the age of eighteen. Like their horticultural counterparts, his children are resilient, self-sufficient, and stoic in the face of adversity; but they aren’t very loving, or generous, or kind.
I think of this man every year when I start my garden and consider trying his tough-love approach. Why not? I ask myself. What could it harm? I imagine letting something I gave life to struggle to the point of perishing, dying needlessly when help is a hose-length away. I flirt with his method, yet every year at the first sign of wilting leaves, I shower my little plants with a gentle spray, ultimately not willing to risk losing any of them if I can help it. Does this mean I am spoiling them, raising them to be weak and defenseless in the soiled world? Am I quashing their will to live? And what about my own parenting style, what does my garden say about my mothering?
I rake this question back and forth in my mind while methodically preparing this year’s dirt. Do I make life too easy for my child? I till through tangles of deeply rooted social convention and conflicting opinions. Will letting her cry breed insecurity? Will picking her up make her needy? I break apart the clumpy surface mounds of clay and sand, as common as my daily routine, and mix them with what lies beneath: cool, dark richness. Not just dirt any longer, but soil, ready to impart its magic upon tiny, shelled dormancies. How profound it is to be the medium of growth, to be the one responsible for raw potential, like a mother shaping a life. Am I worthy of such a miraculous mission?
From my sifting thoughts, a single word sprouts and vines towards its flowering. Purpose. What is my purpose in cultivating a person? It would be simple to apply the principles of agriculture to child rearing if I were only interested in one generation, one season, but my purpose is to raise a child capable of becoming a nurturing parent herself one day. Giving nourishment is so much
easier after receiving it. So, while I understand this man’s philosophy, I will still water my plants. I can love without indulging; I can assuage their thirst without rotting their roots.
Michelle Riddell lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan. She is a substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school where source material, both heartbreaking and humorous, is abundant. Her short features have been published in MomSense and Hello,Darling magazines.