I’m not growing vegetables in my garden, I’m growing analogies.
I’m growing the understanding that it’s okay to be imperfect, you can be beautiful anyway because you’re alive and thriving.
I’m growing the understanding that all living things need care to thrive, but that living things are strong and resilient and can survive even the most difficult of things and go on to thrive again.
I’m growing the acceptance of failure. When a seed you plant fails to sprout you try again. When a seedling fails to grow you try again. When a plant fails to thrive you try again. When a plant is happy in one location and unhappy in another you solve the problem by figuring out the difference and you learn more about the plant.
I’m growing the understanding that even a stunted plant can give fruit.
I’m learning how to look at something that cannot speak to me, and see what is wrong because the things we see speak to us even if there are no words.
I’m learning how to watch. To understand when things can become stronger without being helped and when things need help in order to not fall under an assault of poor conditions.
I’m learning that things can survive catastrophe. Things can live through floods, through trees falling on them. Things can survive being dug up if they are lovingly re-planted.
I’m learning about resilience and the desire to survive and thrive.
I’m learning that even plants give priority to their young. A stunted plant in the most adverse conditions will give everything that it has to bear fruit. Even a single fruit. And even if it means that the plant itself will not grow much more.
I’m learning that it’s okay to start things without fully understanding them. And that you learn as you go.
I’m learning that the presence of weeds does not always interfere with the growth of a plant, and that sometimes it helps the plant in unexpected ways. And that weeds are only bad if they compete with the plant.
I’m learning that plants will find a way to climb. And that if they can’t find a way to climb they will try to put out roots where they touch the ground.
I’m learning that you don’t have to be perfect. Nothing has to be perfect. Nothing has to be easy. Life isn’t about easy. Life is about survival and finding ways to thrive.
Growing up deaf outside of the Deaf culture I learned a lot of negative things about myself. I learned that if you’re broken in some way you’re “disabled” and that life becomes about trying to live around that disability and trying to be “normal”. Or that you can eschew what you grew up with and choose another culture that seems so reactionary from the outside. My garden is teaching me that isn’t true. It’s about growing explosively in every direction that is still an option. It’s about existing to the point where that tiny thing about you is so overwhelmed by the rest of your existence that it barely even exists as a point of interest. Yeah. Sure. I can’t grow watermelons. I’m a cucumber plant. Yeah. Sure. I can’t hear. Hearing doesn’t define my life. I’m all these other things. I’m not the normal collection of attributes. I’m the collection of attributes that I am. And those attributes don’t revolve around this one tiny little thing that I can’t do. Plants have taught me that you’re not defined by the things that are missing. You’re defined by how you grow. And if something is missing you grow differently but you grow. And grow. And grow. Did I die when I lost my hearing? No. So that means I’m not the type of plant that dies easy. I’m the type of plant that grows around the missing thing. Great. Moving on.
Having a garden is teaching me about growth. You grow when you have the opportunity otherwise the opportunity passes and winter comes and you die. Which sounds like a horribly depressing understanding. But it’s not. It’s carpe diem. Grow while you have the chance. Grow with everything you’ve got. Grow. After the winter your children will grow without you. But this is all you’ve got. If you spend your life planning for the “next time” you lose all your chances. Grow. Now.
Having a garden is teaching me about the beauty of growing to form. Cucumbers look different from tomatoes which look different from greenbeans and which are different from lettuce. A plant that is beautiful to eat is beautiful when it has gone to seed. There are many different types of beauty. And a plant is beautiful when it is happy and healthy and in an environment where it can thrive. A pumpkin does not envy a carrot and a carrot does not envy a cucumber. The beauty of a daisy doesn’t steal from the beauty of a rose or the beauty of the flowers of a potato plant. I’m no more beautiful than you and you are no more beautiful than me.
Having a garden is teaching me about preference and the security of different choices. My daughter loves cucumbers. My son loves tomatoes. My daughter will not be as happy with a tomato, and my son will not be as happy with a cucumber. My partner would not be as happy with someone else as he is with me, just as I would not be as happy with someone else as I am with him. He sees in me all of the things that he loves just as I see in him all of the things that I love. I do not need to be insecure of this love just because I do not prefer myself over all the other alternatives. He prefers me just as I prefer him. And just as my children prefer the different fruits from different vines.
Having a garden now when my children are small teaches me different things than having it when they are grown. I learn to let go of the notion of perfection when my child pulls up a plant and holds it up to me like trophy. Instead I learn what there is to learn. I didn’t know that the plant had such shallow roots. No wonder it wilts in the heat, it cannot reach any deeper water. It will be happier with mulch. I didn’t know it smelled that way when its leaves were crushed, now I know how to identify it from the weeds. It helps me learn what weeds can co-exist happily, and what weeds kill plants. When I can’t water the plants one day I learn which plants do better with less water and which plants truly need water every day.
I never had the opportunity to go to college, having dropped out of high school when the school system did not provide me with any accommodations for my deafness. It is tempting to say “I cannot do this because I have not been taught how to do it.” Oh but the best way to learn is through doing. I do not need to learn before I do. I can learn as I do. I can learn by doing. I can learn by being imperfect and flawed and by trying and reading and researching. I can leap in and learn.
And my children learn all of these lessons alongside me.
I don’t grow a garden for the vegetables. I grow it for the things that I learn about life.
This is why, when a tree falls on my garden I’m only momentarily upset. It is why the upset passes and is overtaken with fascination. It’s not often that you get to learn what happens when a tree falls on resilient things.
It’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t too pleased when the yard care people kept running over my plants at the beginning of the summer. Metaphors. The people in charge of helping the plants destroying them through a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to care. The case worker in high school whose job it was to make sure accommodations were in place for my hearing loss so that I could succeed, but who instead told me that I was taking myself too seriously when I talked about my concerns that my falling grades would impact my ability to go to college.
My garden has confirmed for me that I do not like people who have a job that they refuse to do because they are just there for the paycheck.
That, too, teaches me a beautiful valuable thing. I will not simply “do my job at a minimum” when it comes to raising my children. I will not follow the poor examples given to me across my life. This is my job. I am not going to do it to the bare minimum. I’m going to be like the teachers that I saw who were deeply invested. I’m going to be like the guidance counselor that truly cared.
I garden because it lovingly rearranges the things inside my head that make me sad and depressed and confused and anxious and upset and angry. I garden because it reaffirms the positive and the beautiful and the strong.
If I wanted vegetables there’s a store just a mile away that sells more than I could ever grow. And it would take far less time to walk there. But I’d learn a lot less, too.