I have never had a garden before. I’ve helped people dig plots and planted a few things here and there but I tend to live up to the moniker of House Plant Killer. So this past summer, when a friend of mine from Mindfulness Together offered her garden plot to whoever would cultivate it and I volunteered, a few eyebrows were raised, including my own.
Let me be blunt: I had no idea what I was doing in May. The garden was massively overgrown with dandelions and creeping Charlie whose roots were deeper than the center of the Atlantic Ocean, but for some reason (probably because I hadn’t thought about it) this didn’t phase me. Digging and turning the soil diligently with the help of friends, I eventually got a pizza-shaped plot dug and was ready to plant.
I had no idea how and where to plant things so I came up with a strange pattern, threw too many seeds too close together, watered it, said a prayer and walked away. Throughout the first couple of weeks, I continuously removed the ever-encroaching weeds (feeling kind of bad about that every time) and waited for my sprouts to push through. Eventually they did and I had to get really selective about weeding lest I pull out my precious plants.
The routine of going to the garden every night or every second night became a sacred ritual for me and my daughter. After dinner, when we needed to get out of the house together (as two-year-olds so often do), we would walk ten blocks to our little plot, pull the weeds together, listen to the birds chirping, yell at an over-confident squirrel that “mommy is terrified of” and then water. Watering has been our favourite part – something about quenching the earth’s thirst, watching the soil turn a darker shade of black, knowing that the roots of your plants were taking a long drink…something about this act was calming and reflective for us. It would be time to just listen to the spray hitting the leaves of the plants and the shuffling of leaves in the trees. We would take pleasure in washing our hands after, the stream turning a dark black as the dirt washed back to the ground with it.
Over the summer, we have harvested our five variations of lettuce countless times. We filled bags and bags with fragrant bunches of oregano, savoury and cilantro. We snipped the leaves of baby kale and delighted in the pop of pulling up a buried beet. We beamed with pride as we presented family and friends with our little treasures. Our late harvest cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and zucchini are on the way and each time we have something to bring home to nourish our bodies, my daughter shrieks in delight and my heart soars. Relying on our own labour to feed our family nutritious food has been an incredible adventure, but even more than that – the daily pilgrimage to our garden plot has reoriented and reorganized our lives around delighting in life itself. In a world full of darkness, this is the best fruit our garden can give.
A lot of people look at my life as a business owner, part-time instructor, full-time writer, full-time graduate student and full-time mom and ask… How do you do it?
The answer is: not easily. And not without a whole lot of planning, organization and sleep deprivation. Every minute of every day is filled with things to do, read, write, cook or clean. Places to go. Diapers to change. Forts to build. Papers to write. Blogs to email. Invoices to send. Dishes to scrub. You nameit: I do it.
A lot of people might ask why I don’t get a nanny or at least a regular housekeeper and the answer is simple: I might be a business owner but it is far from being a career and as a grad student, I’m notoriously broke. I also stubbornly refuse to go into debt, so the polite buffer of loans (where the pressure of debt is far in the future, not here in the emptiness of your bank account now) doesn’t exist for me to tap into. This means that I make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all baked goods (even bread!) from scratch the vastmajority of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I have some support. My mom comes to watch my child once a week and on those days she helps me clean and organize my house. She also helps us go grocery shopping and will babysit during “crunch time” at school or during busy work periods when multiple clients are banging on my door for overdue writing! (Don’t worry clients, spring and summer are almost here! I’ll be nagging you!)
But if there is anything I have learned from motherhood, it is that for the VAST majority of the time, it’s just you. And that is annoying, unnerving and empowering. Slogging endlessly, regardless of how tired you are or if you’ve had a break from your own life in the last half century is just the way it is. You’ll wonder how you ever had time to send handmade postcards in the mail or experiment with making pho from home. You’ll wonder if there was a time before the to do list in your mind (that never seems to end and is always scanning for updates) took over. You’ll wonder back to a time when you weren’t needed and try to feel what that felt like. You won’t be able to, but you’ll try.
That being said, it’s the best life for me right now though. I’ve made it for myself and even though it isn’t easy (like, at all), I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And imagining it any other way is something you do alone on a quiet busride (the first time you’ve had one alone in 7 months) where you think about how far the airport is, how you could get some money to escape to Mexico and how long it would take for anyone to notice you were gone. It is certainly not something you tell anyone you think about, never mind blog it into reality forever. Besides, the instant you start all that, you immediately think back to the time your mom babysat for 3 whole hours and your husband was out at the movies with your brother. And when you came home to an empty house, even though you had wide open time to freely read or write or watch the Food Network, you felt empty too so you sat around waiting, absentmindedly skimming your texts for class, counting the minutes it would take for everyone to return, for someone to ask for a snack to eat or a story before bedtime.
I thought I might outline a fairly typical day in a fairly typical week of mine (today, for instance!) so people could see what it is like!
1:30 am – Go to sleep from day before.
6:30 am – Wake up before child. Brush teeth and wash face as silently as possible. Try not to stir child or else the entire morning plan is destroyed and you woke the toddler up. Unrested toddlers are NOT. FUN. PEOPLE. Sit down with books and assignments. Don’t stop reading or writing until child wakes up. Do not prepare breakfast. Do not make coffee. Yet. Anything could wake her up. Don’t risk it.
8:30 am – Child normally wakes up. Change diaper. Throw in bathtub. While she is happily splashing away with toys, you run around making the beds and getting breakfast ready, checking back every few seconds to make sure she is alright. (One bedroom apartment – my saving grace)
8:45 am – Shampoo and scrub child. Whisk child out of tub after putting away bath toys together and singing the “Time to put away” song about 40 times. Diaper? On. Pant and shirt? Another story. Fuss with kicking toddler for 5 minutes before beginning the “I’m counting to 3 game”. Bribe with lies about visits from Nanna.
8:55am – Child in highchair, eating food, watching Care Bears. Make coffee in TO GO mug. Wolf down breakfast. Something. Anything. Breakfast can include 2 spoons of yoghurt, a banana and a handful of Goldfish crackers. (Normally does). While child is distracted by Rainbow countdowns, steal any last minute reading time, then run around hysterically packing kid’s bag, your school bag and getting the stroller ready.
9:10am – Fight to get child’s boots on. Pretend Nanna is downstairs with a puppy. Boots? On. Restrain the child in the stroller as she screams for her bottle which you forgot to make. Formula? ALL OVER THE KITCHEN. Shake, shake, shake. Slam bottle in mouth. Check pockets: bus pass, keys, phone. MOVE.
9:17am – Race one block to the bus stop shouting WHEE WHEE!!! Like an insane woman as you tear down the sidewalk, laptop bag pounding your thighs, hijab flapping into your face. Try to smile at every person who is staring at you like you are a crazy person. Get on the bus.
9:30 am – Daycare goodbyes. Tears. Tear down the hall, the stairs and out the door back to the busstop. Wait. Catch your breath. Check your phone. Read.
9:45am – Enter the classroom and make small chat with your scholarly colleagues before class starts. Savour these few minutes of social bliss when you are neither discussing theories of historical genocide, nor singing the Rubber Ducky song. Try to act normal. Don’t talk about your kid. Break into a story about your kid.
10:00am – 1pm – Class. Joy. Happiness. Bliss.
1:01pm – Speed walk to the busstop with a colleague from class, discussing the class and other academic things. Savour, savour, savour. Human contact.
1:15pm – Daycare pick up. Child is not yet napping but is happy to see you. Kisses, hugs. Get your jacket on. Let’s go. Race to the busstop to get back home.
1:30pm – Strap child to your back in old-school sling and read a book while they slowly fall to sleep. Carefully remove them and place on their bed. Run to the kitchen to find some kind of food. Shove it in your mouth. Read, write, read, write. Hurry now, you don’t know how long she is going to sleep for.
3:30pm – Child wakes up. Present her with lunch. Chat/Babble about her day at daycare.
4:00pm – Child playing with her toys. Tidy house, clean dishes from the day. Start making dinner.
4:15pm – Husband gets home. T-minus 15 minutes until an inquiry about when dinner is going to be ready. Move it, girlie.
5:00pm – Eat as a family. Shove food in your mouth like it’s the end of days so you can get started on the dishes before child and husband are done eating. Wash dishes. Go throw in a load of laundry down the hall. Husband and child playing together after eating.
5:30 pm – Change over laundry. Sit down to do some freelance writing work for your home business. Get interrupted five billion times for huggies, kissies, makemeabottlies. Stop to make husband’s lunch.
6:30pm – Change over laundry again. Sweep and vacuum entire house. Put away laundry. Wash baby bottles.
7:00pm – Take child out for a walk. Try to run an errand at the same time to save time.
7:30pm – Go get the clothes you forgot in the dryer. Fold them and put them away as child continuously unfolds everything and throws around the room. Settle down to read or do more work while child colours. If not possible, read a book or build a fort or just run laps with her around the room pretending you’re the tickle monster. Tire that punk-angel out.
8:30pm – Child is getting psycho. Starts this high-pitched whine you are sure that only you and dogs can hear. Husband watches the international news without batting an eyelash. Contemplate homicide. Eat some chocolate instead. Start making night time bottle and begin the brush-teeth-wear-jammies routine.
9:00pm – Strap kid to back in old school sling (again). More reading and swaying and singing. Try to get her into bed once it is clear she has passed out. If you put her down and she raises her head like a possessed demon baby telling you she loves you or wants another kiss: oblige her. Pat her bum as she resists the urge to sleep and asks for her bottle 7000 times, taking 2 sips and handing it back to you. Resist the urge to shred a pillow with your nails and teeth. Try to scoop up your melted heart when she hugs your back and says Good Night, Love you Mama and mercifully passes out.
9:45pm – Tiptoe out of the room into the dining room where you have set up your “desk” because your real desk is covered in papers and books. Converse with husband if he is still awake. Try to crack jokes and appear natural as you make a mental list of things to do. If not awake, pound some water or tea and start reading/writing/facebooking on breaks.
1:30am – Collapse in your bed and let darkness overtake you. Better to fall asleep immediately as child will wake you up at least 3 times in the night before you get up again at 6:30. Pray for a dream that involves a finished thesis, piles of money and trained monkeys who can write for you while you transmit information to them telepathically.