You can find me in the garden

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.

patiobeforedriveway2015    *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.

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It’s just laundry

I did the laundry today.  There is always laundry in some stage of it’s life cycle.  But today as I dropped the dinosaur underwear and moldy dish rags into the soapy water, my spirits followed.

It has everything to do with the new protocol.  My landlord recently blocked off the door that gave me direct access to our tiny laundry room, forcing me to lug our threads out the front door, down a few flights of stairs, into the garage with it’s master lock and hefty door and through an overflowing storage room, leaving a trail of smelly toddler socks along the way.

He apologized for the inconvenience, politely explaining that he had concluded that this was the best way to improve his living space, formerly an equal half of the 1950’s duplex that we share.  He is taking over a portion of our still unfinished first floor and wanted the stairs to himself.

I took the news in stride.  It’s just laundry, I told him.  And it is.  Prior to this apartment, I had yet to ever have onsite laundry during my decade+ living in California.  No more hoarding quarters or planning entire days around this chore.

But as I cruised the new route a seemingly endless number of times, I was forced to acknowledge something more.  I had no say in this change.  And I have no idea what changes may be coming or when.  Typically, my renter’s lament is centered around not being able to make modifications that appeal to me. I rarely stop to acknowledge just how far my lack of control stretches.  I would have no recourse if he decided that the rag tag collection of pots and planter boxes scattered across the driveway, a humble space that I affectionately refer to as my “garden”, has to go.  And we would be in real trouble if he were to decide to sell.

The truth is that while we get along perfectly fine with my landlord, he would like nothing more than to see us leave.  Since we moved in, rents in our area have nearly doubled and continue to climb.  A dizzying influx of cash is conspiring to paint fences and faces a brighter shade of white. And I feel like a passenger with no say in where we are going or how quickly we get there.  Gentrification is a reckless driver and the most meaningful decision we have is whether or not to get out of the car.

For now, we are lucky to have rent control legislation on our side.  For now, we still love our neighborhood, with a special fondness for the old hippies and odd characters that hang on for dear life. For now, we are lucky to have access to all the amazing benefits that prosperity brings, from wonderful trash to delightful little stores where you can buy a cargo bike or a kombucha scoby.

For now, it’s just laundry.

Minimalism – slowmamma style. Part 2

After writing this, I began to read more about minimalism.  And I’ve discovered that it is BIG. There are books and talks and capital B Blogs and lowercase b blogs on the subject. Lives have been changed and homes have been tidied.  It’s apparent that many people are fed up with consumerism and its discontents and looking to change and all of this is very very good.

It also occurred to me that I’m not a very good minimalist after all.  I have no idea how many things I own, my closet is a mess and, while I do value the goal of owning less, there are many things that I value more.  In short, I’ve discovered that I don’t want minimalism itself to occupy space in my life. I don’t want to count objects or develop a capsule wardrobe.  All I want to do is focus my energy on those things that bring meaning to my life, at the expense of everything else. And while stuff doesn’t bring meaning to me on it’s own, a lack of stuff doesn’t do much for me either.

The message, focus on what’s really important, is so simple and universal that it may be a little silly to be writing it down at all.  But the question that follows is so important and potentially complex that it merits a thousand blog posts.  So just what then is it that brings meaning to your life and how do you find it?  While the obvious answer is that everyone has to figure this out for his/herself, I’ve learned enough about what is important to me to want to share.

Being something of a minimalist on the word front, there is no way that I can tackle this in a single post but I do want to say that pretty much everything that I value most falls into one (or, preferably several) of three categories:

Creativity

Connection

Nurture

It also stands that nearly all of the traps that I fall into occur while searching for something that can be found in one of those categories. I find that by beginning to see how and where I satisfy my needs in relation to these things, I am better able filter the rest. My intention is to write about each one and how it relates to my life.  But, to anyone in an introspective mood, I suggest picking one of those categories and asking yourself: how do I best satisfy my need for this?