One of the features my husband and I love most about our house is the enormous plot of soil surrounded by white picket fencing, a perfect spot for growing things. It was too late to plant when we moved into our house last summer, so this year we prepared a game plan, outlined a budget, and eagerly awaited the spring thaw. Now, not even halfway through growing season, I’m ready to torch the whole area and turn it into a sandbox, if only that would assuage some of the burning guilt I feel for undertaking (and failing at) such a ridiculous project.
But I wanted so badly to grow a garden. I wanted to know the feeling of picking actual food from the ground, showing my kids the circle of life and all that. Like crocheting and bocce ball, gardening seemed like such an adult activity, and as an alleged adult, it felt imperative that I try it. Among all of the other reasons I picked up a hoe and shovel, there is also the fact that I wanted to prove myself to the neighbors. An elderly couple with impressive green thumbs, our neighbors create the most wonderfully organized, fruitful garden every summer season, like a giant “fuck you” to my wasteland of choked out shrubs. All of their plants stand obediently at attention in clean, straight lines; everything has its place, and everything unfolds as it should.
The thing about a garden is, it requires consistent care and attention. Every living sprout requires time, effort, and at least a little bit of basic knowledge about water, soil, and sunlight. I don’t have that kind of knowledge, nor do I have energy to seek it out. I’m already giving my full attention to two living, breathing beings, with their own unique and ever-changing needs. So, after dutifully weeding, tilling, and planting the garden, I lost my steam. Before I knew it, three rain-filled weeks flew by, and suddenly the area looked like Jurassic Park. Weeds grew taller than the tiny sprouting seedlings and overtook the entire space, and with every passing day, more and more work was required to bring the patch back to its original luster.
Thank goodness for that white picket fence. It hides the eyesore that was once a potential cornucopia of produce. The only folks who can see the full spectrum of the disaster are – you guessed it – our well-meaning, green-thumbed neighbors. As I wade through the waist-high weeds to retrieve a few lettuce leaves and onion shoots, I keep my head down, eyes on the ground, desperate to avoid drawing attention to the mess I’ve created. Now, that damned white square of shame reminds me of my failure to finish what I started. The “garden” has now just become another item on my wish-list – I mean, “to-do list” – one that is continuously pushed to the bottom as other more pressing needs arise (like the need to wipe poopy hands, and shoo kids away from the dog food).
I began the ill-fated project during a week when the kids seemed more manageable, when neither was particularly clingy, they were playing decently together, the sun was out, and all seemed well. There are weeks, particularly in the summertime, when this shit show feels more organized; I’m able to break out my shorts and tank tops, get a nice glow back in my skin, and a spring in my step. I begin to feel like my old self again, you know, before “mom,” and I start to think about how truly crazy it is that my kids will probably never know (or comprehend) the Me I used to be, pre-them. I was so much… fresher. It was nice to almost feel that way again, and I put that energy to good use planting seeds and pulling weeds.
But kids never let you rest on your laurels. Now, my precious plants sit sizzling to a crisp in the afternoon sun, along with my dignity. It requires daily effort on my part to remember that nobody expected me to produce the Garden of Eden, and that two small kids are an excellent (and valid) excuse for not following through on my plans. Still, and always, it’s difficult for me to accept these excuses. It’s difficult for me to accept that real life simply can’t measure up to my expectations and ambitions. It’s difficult for me to stop throwing bi-weekly tantrums and pity parties, because my kids won’t let me just do what the fuck I wanna do! The part of me that longs for independence and control simply will not die. Every time I think I’m over it, ready to go with the flow and accept my fate, there it is again. And I’m so tired of wrestling with it, constantly wondering if maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom. Maybe this deep inner misery that keeps rearing its ugly head is a signal that this whole parenting project was doomed from the beginning.
I asked my husband the other day when our children will stop expecting us to play with them. I mean, we had two so they’d play with each other, so we’d have some time to ourselves. Did they miss the memo? After a brief pensive moment, my husband asked me in return, “Do you really want them to?” I refrained from telling him where to shove his positivity, and thought about that for a minute. When we had these kids, it was our intention to be fully present to them, play with them, spend as much time with them as possible. We altered our lives and schedules to be home with them, to be their primary caregivers. And now we have less than three years left until they’re the school system’s problem.
This week, I feel extremely unenthused about the long stretch of road ahead. I’m pissed about my dying garden, weighed down by feelings of failure, and staring down the barrel of about 9,000-plus hours of struggling to entertain two destructive wildlings with bottomless bellies. Right now, our uninterrupted time together stretches before us like an endless desert highway, along which all of my pet projects – like the white square of doom – are strewn, dusty and partially finished, like so many weathered boots. Still, I began my parenting journey with the intention of being here every day to play with my children. While it’s become a far more daunting and exhausting mission than I’d originally anticipated when they were crinkly, inert, and relatively quiet babies, the fact that they now expect this of me says something. Among the debris of my failed projects, there are two that I’ve not yet quit, given up, or abandoned – and truly, they’re the most important ones.