May 21, 2010

Grandparents and Gardening

There are four people in my life that seems to love nothing more than making my life easier. Truly, they are the un-sung heroes of my days. Those people are my children's grandparents. Any time they are able, they want to play with my kids, feed my kids, change my kids' diapers... in short, they are endlessly willing to, in short bursts, do my job for me. And for this, I am immeasurably grateful.

We have a 2-5 day long grandparent visit pretty much once a month. It's marvelous- it's a time when somebody I love and trust wants me to go do something else so they can play with the babies. So I do. M and I will go on a rare date, or more often we'll finally accomplish some tasks that have been building up for weeks. Every time I have a paper due for class, I like some grandparents to come to town. It leaves me free to work on something that isn't my children.

This week, my parents came to town. They hadn't seen their grandchildren in a whole six weeks, the longest stretch of time yet. They were amazed at the changes in their grand-kids, and utterly over the moon to change poopy diapers and shovel porridge into reluctant mouths. And what did I do?

I FINALLY got into my garden.

Now, by "into my garden," I mean that I dove in without any of the tools that probably would have been most useful. Say, a machete and a bee-keeper's suit.

You see, my "garden" is the five foot wide stretch of land that runs nearly the length of our building, between the south wall and a chain link fence. The fence borders what is essentially a dog park, so there's no obstruction to the light. However, this plot of land has been thoroughly ignored by the entire condo association until our arrival last summer. Of course I was too busy to get to it then, what with being pregnant and settling into a new home, but I've been antsy to get my hands dirty for months now. And that's just what I did. Unfortunately though, without what might have been the best tools for the job.

The weeds- you wouldn't believe! Saplings from the giant maple in the back yard, thistles, milkweed, run-of-the-mill grasses grown three feet high... and as you might imagine, this area was thoroughly inhabited.

The other gardener types in the building have been warning me that the soil in the yard is dreadful, and to be sure it is sandy, but I think that the neglect along the south side might have been helping that soil get healthier. I dug up lots of worms and snails, most of whom I returned to their earthy homes, but I met a few less friendly squatters as well. All of whom I hope to make as welcome in my garden- if not on my PERSON- as they were in their dense urban jungle.

Living in my garden is a wolf spider carrying an egg sac. Now, I am genuinely arachnophobic. A surprise encounter with a spider can cause me to go into OCD fits of terror and occasional self injury for days. Honestly. So the initial discovery of my tenant and her potential offspring forced me to take a fifteen minute breather on the other end of the building. But wolf spiders are good- they kill and eat the pests that would be eating my vegetables.

The other unpleasant meeting I had was with a hive of bumblebees. Did you know that they build their nests in the ground? Because I sure didn't. Bumblebees and I go way back, my first honest to goodness nightmare was about a bumblebee. That said, they're pretty darn harmless. They're pretty much the least harmless stinging insect I can think of. But go digging up their home, and you can make any animal pretty vicious. Bumblebees are good news, though. They are excellent pollinators, so I'm optimistic they'll keep my veggies healthy.

So I cleared nearly 2/3 of the jungle, leaving the other third for another time or perhaps another year. I've tilled and turned nearly half of what will become my actual garden, where I will (I hope I hope) be planting tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and herbs this weekend. My husband, sister, and sister-in-law all got me credit towards my plants for my birthday, and I've been anxious all month to buy them and put them in the dirt. And now, the time may have finally come.

The girls played with my mother in the grass under the big maple tree for two and a half hours while I sweated buckets into the brush and caked dirt all over myself. I have a few tips for any of you other scatterbrained mamas planning on spending your time in the garden.

First of all, take some ibuprofen FIRST. And maybe stretch.
Secondly, use your damn gardening gloves. I have a pair, but did I use them? No. And I have the spider bites, the nettle scratches, and scraped palms to prove it. Garden smarter, not harder!

That said, I'm looking forward to feeding my girls the home-grown organic veggies. It's never too early to teach them where food is supposed to come from, and to appreciate the simple things. Like getting grass stains on your knees and eating a tomato right off the vine.

Some days, life is simple and beautiful and good. So thank you, mom and dad, for helping me simplify it for a few days. No matter how crazy it gets around here my parents, and my husband's parents, are always willing to shoulder a little of the burden, and that is a beautiful thing. I imagine someday I might be that magical vanishing helper for my own kids, but for now they can roll in the grass with their grandparents and I will get bitten and stung, and it will be some of the happiest moments for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. You're welcome. Thank you for the girls! Anyone I've talked to since leaving Chicago can tell you that I'm still giddy with enthusiasm for them.

    Being a parent, as you're discovering, is great, but a ton of work. Being a grandparent, I'm discovering, is much better, and way less work. Playing with the girls is one of the most fun things I've done in my entire life(*). And I'm *old*. :-)

    (*) Some other contenders: living for a week on a houseboat exploring Holland; living for a month with your mother on a mountain overlooking Aspen, right before starting college; unveiling the Andrew system to a USENIX conference in 1988, or the First Virtual payment system to any of several conferences a few years later; the whole year I met Mom; and singing you and your sisters to sleep, nearly every night for years.



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