Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Triangles, Tanks, Teabags and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Everyone has a few talents in life, and one of mine is metaphors. Or, if I want to be technically accurate — and who doesn’t — I am good at long, in-depth analogies that include metaphors and occasionally similes.

I was talking today to a friend — who describes herself as a go-getter, a why-waiter, a love-maker and a life-liver — and explaining my garden analogy to her. She encouraged me to write it down, along with a couple others I have shared with her.

So here it is. Maybe it will change the way you look at yards.

You can tell a lot about a person by observing how they garden. Or, as the case is often, how they don’t garden. This is impossible to understand without examples (here come the analogies and metaphors!), so here’s one: There is this….person….I know who fancies herself a gardener. When asked what activities she enjoys, she will mention gardening. Conjures up images of wet dirt and spades and shovels and piles of weeds in a wheelbarrow. Sounds nice, right? However, step into her yard and you will notice immediately that you are not in the yard of someone who truly understands the verb “garden.” The lawn is frequently not mowed; trees and bushes grow out of control, with no pruning or trimming. There is no new growth, except weeds. Seeds are never planted and new plants and trees are never cultivated. The yard looks almost the same as it did twenty years ago, when she bought the house. She simply moved in and…did nothing. The only things she does is occasionally buy showy seasonal flowers: The kind you display for a couple of months till they die. Or, in other words, the kind of beauty that requires no effort at all.

This is not to say there isn’t beauty in this yard: There is. There is a beautiful thriving blue hydrangea, which blooms each spring without fail. The lesson here is simple: Beauty can grow, sometimes without attention or effort or intent. It’s indomitable, and can thrive in the worst of circumstances. And it’s inability to be killed off often speaks more to its own tenaciousness and not always that of its groomer.

So why does this person consider herself a gardener? Who knows, but she really and truly does. And yet her efforts in the garden amount to a couple of hours every couple of months and a few afternoons of raking leaves in the fall. This is also a person who does little to change her life; a person who does not put time and attention into relationships; a person who will take credit for beauty when it is not hers to take.

There are people who plant seeds, and water and weed and nurture and grow. There are people who look at a dying plant or tree and think, I can save that, and do. There are people who plant bulbs each fall, knowing that their reward may or may not come the following spring, but they do it anyway, their patience and faith and optimism is just that solid and formed. There are people who buy expensive plants and then ignore them, leaving them to wither and die, starving for water and light and attention. There are those rose gardeners, in their neat little gloves and usually a wide-brimmed hat, who carefully and strategically snip snip snip, even taking away what seems beautiful, for the greater good. There are those who carefully remove the weeds that are choking their trees. The ones who plant the same things year after year, with amazing results. The ones who plant the same things year after year, with detrimental results. There are those with no yard at all, who have one old plant on a windowsill or fire escape, that they water faithfully for years and years. The ones who have the most amazing flowers, shrubs and trees right outside their window, but they don’t even notice. People who see the beauty in weeds. Those whose street-facing window boxes are perfect, but private back yard is a mess. I could, of course, go on and on, as there is an endless array of gardening styles out there.

Is this an infallible way of learning about a person’s character? I think not. What is, really? But I do think that every action we make speaks to who were are as people. If there is one thing I believe in with all my heart it is this: Actions speak louder than words. This is one of the reasons why all those “It Gets Better” videos bothered me. I can’t stand the hypocrisy of politicians — including the president — saying it will get better and it will be okay, and yet these politicians are not taking steps to make laws that might protect these people and make changes that just might ensure that things will indeed get better. Yes, they get their damn sticker for even making a statement, but back up all those words with some actions. I digress.

So: Actions speak louder than words. And every action we execute helps define who we are. Our words can support who we are, but sometimes they support who we want to be instead. Our intentions, as it were. But our actions don’t lie. Therefore, how a person gardens just might offer some insight into who they are. It doesn’t work across the board, and it is open to much interpretation, and, yes, it is hard to apply to city dwellers (but not impossible), but it does work on a certain level.

I could extrapolate this further and say that the type of flowers we like might also give insight into who we are. Like me, for example. I love hydrangeas. Love them. Blue or pink or white. I want a yard full of them. I have no clue why I am drawn to them, but I am. They are a little fussy and only bloom under specific circumstances and need a lot of attention. Pot, meet kettle. My friend Molly reminds me of a sunflower: Sunny, bright and heliocentric, which means she, like the sunflower, will turn her head into the sunlight. What a great way to get through life. We all need to be sunflowers sometimes. I know a few cacti, of course (who doesn’t?) and a few beautiful vines that really are toxic weeds. But most of the people I surround myself with are perennials.

What kind of gardener am I? We have had the Massachusetts house for a year, and I can now say that I am more of a gardener than I ever was before. My gardening traits are starting to show. I know I should rake, but I love to see the lawn carpeted with those golden yellow, red and brown leaves. I planted bulbs for the first time this year, but am skeptical that those brown, onion-like nuggets I threw six to eight inches into ground will actual bloom into something beautiful. How does that happen? I tend to gravitate toward planting fully grown or partially grown things. I took it personally that the sunflower seeds I planted didn’t grow, even though I literally threw a few seeds in the dirt to see what happens. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty or get down in the mud, but I am not sure what I am doing and need lots of guidance from manuals, seed packets, other people, or the Internet. I don’t like watering plants, because I am not used to standing still for any length of time, but I do it anyway, because I know plants need it. I think weeds have a place in this world.

I want to have the most amazing, lush perfect, sanctuary-like garden by next spring, but I realize that it is going to take years of continual hard work, effort and patience, not to mention weeding, deadheading, transplanting and cultivating, before that even remotely happens. And I am okay with that.

I have gotten into the habit of checking on the girls before I turn in, and re-tucking them in and giving them another kiss or three. Three and a half years old and I still can’t kiss them enough.

Coming soon: More analogies! One about tea bags and one about impenetrable triangles and one about the tanks that we all have…

Pictured above, as someone once wrote (and named a blog!) hydrangeas ARE pretty! Below that, my little gardeners. And Madeline, in the leaves. I am so proud that she sees the beauty in fall foliage. And some of the bulbs: A big seed and a lesson in patience and faith wrapped up in one onion-like package.

I Need A Trapper Keeper For Random Thoughts

A snippet of a typical toddler conversation in these here parts:

M: “Looks Avery, Tape! Tape tape tape!”
A: “Momma got brand new soap for us and it’s pink!”
M: I like tape!

Well, their conversations aren’t always this scattered. They can have full-on chat fests and they tell each other stories all the time. Pretending is big with them now. I’m grateful that they get along so well. Apparently that is a rarity in the sibling world.

I am up in Massachusetts alone. Well, not alone, with the girls too, of course. I think of us as an inseparable unit: Wherever you find them, you’ll find me, and vice versa. Not that I am complaining. I am trying to slow down the passage of time and make these days last longer, especially since my niece and nephew left for China. Time is fleeting, and forty other clich├ęs. This precious time home with my girls will pass, and I will lament that some day. I know I will. Empty nest syndrome is going to hit me hard, in kindergarten.

Coming up here alone is no easy feat for me. I am not a fan of spending the night alone, and being in the middle of the deep, dark woods does not help. I sleep with a flashlight, cell phone and car keys under my pillow. I would put a pocket knife under there too, if I had one. I sleep in the girls room and have an escape plan, should something happen (jump out window with girls and run like the wind). I leave the car parked in the opposite direction that I usually do, to facilitate a snappy, high-speed getaway. Yes, I worry and fret and conjure up all sorts of awful scenarios that are too absurd for even a bad made-for-TV movie. Be prepared: That’s my motto. Which might serve me well in life, if it weren’t for the fact that our lives are defined by moments that we never see coming. So I may be prepared for fires and intruders and bears, oh my, but it’s the wild card scenario that will do me in.

Which remind me…a friend of mine asked me to email her my final wishes. A list of things I want to make sure will happen, should I die. Morbid, no? But smart, especially as we get up there in years.

It is worth it, though, coming up here. We miss Nicole/Mommy, but the girls have such a great time. There is more room for them. We spend so much time outdoors. There are farms and pumpkin patches and llamas to visit. Stores with free day care. Fall foliage in abundance. Today I am taking them to a toddler story hour at the library. Yes, I can do these things in the city but everything is 1,000 times easier out here.

And, starting today some time between 2 and 5, we will have cable. After almost a year of no television, we decided it might be a good idea after all.

Final thought: I hate Play Doh containers. It hurts like hell, ripping those lids off. The side of my finger all ripped up. Yet another good reason to buy a multi-use pocket knife.

Pictured above, the girls first hair cut, and fall is busting out all over. And yet we are already putting up the Xmas lights….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Turning the Shards into a Stained Glass Window...

I am a mother of toddlers, which means if you looked in the giant bag I carry around (it’s a bag, not a purse. I don’t own purses) you will find extra pairs of size 4 princess undies, an extra pair of size four pants, a pink tutu, a random, awkwardly shaped toy that I was unable to negotiate leaving at home, and crushed emergency snacks in a zip lock bag. Today I brought the traveling Mom show on the road, and took the girls to visit Nicole at her office and then onto a play date with two friends and our combined seven children.

The girls lost their little minds in the glass elevator trip up to Nicole’s floor. Madeline actually gasped as we ascended, she was that excited. A few minutes later, as I sat in Nicole’s office, I wondered out loud (Nicole is used to my unedited ramblings…) if this could be one of the girls’ first memories, visiting Mommy at work. “Work” is such an esoteric concept for them, so could being in her office and putting the words with imagines make something click? I always wonder when that magic moment is going to happen, of the first memory. I hope that it is a warm, safe, cozy one. My early memories are just shards. I'm trying to arrange them into a lovely stained glass window, I really am.

Anyway, office visit did not disappoint. The girls were in heaven. Not one not two but THREE computers. A giant phone with a fancy screen and buttons. Avery pointed to various parts of the mega phone, asking Nicole what it is, because she has never seen a phone quite like this. “It’s still the phone,” Nicole said. About six times, as Avery’s finger inched a little more right, right, right. A chair that spins in circles and a round conference table to run around. A strange multi colored wall plug. And, of course, the corporate candy of choice, Twizzlers. Avery even found a Tinkerbell candy at the bottom of Nicole’s candy dish. The girls were in exploration nirvana, and I will not be surprised if they ask me to take them there every day for the next week or so.

The play date was so very pleasant. It was amazing how all of the kids played well together and actually gave their mommies time to (gasp! Can it be?) talk. Of course, she sat around talking mainly about the kids. But it was nice to do that without interruptions. We also discovered that combined the three of us would make the perfect wife: One excels at cooking, the other excels at meticulous cleaning and making a lot of money, and I bring organization to the table. That may seen insignificant compared to what the others bring to the table, but let’s remember that an organized home is a happy home. And imagine life arriving five minutes early for everything. Nice, right? Oh, and I could be the memory keeper and I am good at packing and heavy lifting. Cue up "I'm Every Woman."

Above, we went to a Fall Festival over the weekend. Maple snow-cones and fried dough with maple cream and apple pies and cider and artsy craftsy things. And one of the best caramel apples I have ever eaten (I may be wrong, but I think I tasted marshmallow is the caramel…) And the girls in Nicole’s office. Crappy picture, but I like that I am in it with them, sort of, all fuzzy in the window's reflection. Here we go again with window imagery and metaphors. I have so few pictures of the girls with me. They are my picture unicorns.