2009 was the year that I broke down.
Back to back pregnancies and losses had defeated me. Fatigue from caring for a new infant had weakened me further. But I suspect that it was something specific that finally did me in. Initiation into the sometimes tragic nature of life is a one-way street. The terrible endings no longer belong to “other people”. And now you know, KNOW, that the 1 person in X,000 could actually be you.
Because it has.
My demon was anxiety, the overachieving cousin of the fear and worry that are such an integral part of parenthood. So ill-prepared was I to confront the adversity of mental illness that I failed to even recognize it until I had finally begun to emerge from it’s grip. But I haven’t forgotten the way that fears, both everyday and oversize, seize control of your body, forcing it into a sustained, exhausting, fight for survival against an enemy that never shows. Or the absurd way that your mind fails to regain control, even during those times when it can see the risk for what it truly is. I very nearly became a shut-in, in my illogical attempt to insulate myself and baby g from the dangers surrounding us.
But something changed one rainy day while g was taking one of his rare, long naps. I remember staring out the window of our new apartment and noticing a small tangle of bermuda grass at the edge of our driveway. It occurred to me then that I could dig it out. I thought about planting some herbs to the south and lettuce to the north.
That moment was a revelation. At the time, my modest gardening aspirations were overshadowed by the victory represented in my intention to actually DO SOMETHING. And several months later, after I did sprinkle those lettuce seeds onto a newly prepared patch of soil, I couldn’t bring myself to actually harvest them because I saw something in that dense mat of green and red that I had nearly lost sight of: hope.
As g began to assemble steps and sentences, I accumulated strawberries and salvia. Eventually I got a plot in the community garden just around the corner. And I began to heal. Gardening has a way of restoring a healthy relationship to power. It is, almost by necessity, a labor of mutual respect. You work to impose your will upon a space, provide me with peppers, and succeed only by allowing the space to impose it’s will on you, it isn’t warm enough here but I can give you kale.
Gardening can also teach you to appreciate dangers that are real. There is no tiger at the gate after all, but global warming and drought are here. Even better, gardening gives you something concrete to DO about them. Though the actions may be small, you can decrease your waste stream and add carbon back to your soil. You can provide food for pollinators and habitat for salamanders. Anxiety about the health consequences of high-fructose, partially hydrogenated glyphosate* disappears when eating from an organically-grown garden.
A little less than 2 years ago, as g was bravely conquering pre-school and Mr D was tugging at my pant legs, I convinced my then neighbors to park on the street and began to fill our parking spaces with pots and seedlings. Over time, what started as a patch of mixed lettuces has become a garden to me and our little apartment has become a lego and laughter-filled home.
I find myself returning over and over to a vision of these past 6 years as a time of rebuilding. Although neither my life nor any of my little gardens is anything exceptional, I am wholly convinced that we are all headed in the right direction. *Glyphosate is the herbicide Round-up that is sprayed heavily on GMO corn and soybeans that make up a large share of the calories we in the US obtain from processed food.