It’s Saturday in mid-November and snow is coming. We just bought our cross-country ski equipment at the annual ski swap, raked up the last of the leaves, and unhinged the planters to store in our garden shed alongside pots, tarps, shovels, rakes and wheelbarrow. I circle in and out of the house, setting another load of laundry, taking out recycling, stacking the empty egg cartons to return to the farm so we can bring home more. Passing through the living room, I make small talk with my daughter as she lays sprawled on the floor- offering a gentle reminder to take a break from her papers, and go outside. She squirms and mumbles, moves the papers around, and after a while sings softly to herself, easing the burden of labor. These are familiar sights; the squirming and mumbling amid piles of paper. High school isn’t what it was when I was a kid. The hours a modern teen can spend at homework (all requiring a stationary position) are astounding to me. And worrisome.
As I head back outside to ready the leaves for removal, I’m aware that tending the garden gets more satisfying every year. Plucking out leaves, cutting back the irises, removing dead branches, planting bulbs; all in anticipation of snow. The beds remind me of children at nursery school preparing to nap. They require whatever comfort I can offer to allow for sound sleep. I stop to think if there’s anything else they need, and smile at how silly and yet important it all is. To watch these plants grow, to tend and nurture the environment around them, to ready the ground for winter and clear it all again, come spring.
When I’ve done what I can and realize the homework girl is probably where I left her, I head back in to inquire: “Can you please rake the leaf piles onto a tarp?” Assuming this will be met with resistance, I’m surprised as she shrugs her shoulders, says nothing and begins to stand up. We’re having lots of talks lately on the need for taking breaks, so a directed plan supports the process.
How simple parenting would be if it were like the garden, which asks nothing but to be what it is, requires nothing but occasional tending. In return, it offers the fruit of its slow labor. Those tender buds who release each spring from their hard stalks, unfurling their colors through another season.
During my writing break, I watch my daughter try to haul an enormous tarp cross the backyard. It’s filled with leaves representing the last of summer’s bounty. She’s bundled and adorable, looking down at the ground, undoubtedly singing. I think of the challenges we’re now in, in this mother/daughter journey. They seem so different from the challenges of early years, yet somehow the same. Her strong will and endeavor, meeting my attempts to support and instruct. How very alike we are, and how very different.
“Are you coming out?”, she now asks, as her high hair-bun and red nose peek round the door frame. The pile of leaves, too big for her to haul by herself, are there waiting, a mountain of brown against a back-drop of grey and barren trees.
“Yup,” I reply, looking up from my screen and smiling. “We can move it together.”