When Hugh and I are strolling about town, me hoisting his increasingly heavy frame in a front facing carrier, we’re frequently greeted by those we walk past. It’s rare to go on a walk and not experience waves, smiles, and greetings of “what a happy baby!”, “he’s so alert”, and “look at his bright eyes”. Hugh loves the attention and, as his mother, I get a burst of energy each time a stranger greets Hugh with a compliment. It’s caffeine for me and stimulation for him. Hugh frequently presents as the happiest baby when he’s in these situations, because as I’ve written before, he loves walks and he loves being outside. (Although since he learned to crawl about a month ago, our walks are now shorter to allow him ample time to move around.) I always leave these interactions with a jolt of positivity, but also with a feeling I can’t quite name.
I feel like I’m not presenting a fully accurate picture of life with baby Hugh when he’s so happy, the light is falling just right, I’m moving at a good clip, and we’re enjoying each other. This enjoyable scenario is truthful much of the time with Hugh, but there’s also the rest of parenting that isn’t captured in these walks.
I also feel this dissonance when visitors see our garden. Friends in our backyard and Hugh’s passersby are witnessing a mere moment. If they view a smile or hear a giggle, not captured is the struggle to dress Hugh just 10 minutes earlier. On the flip side, if Hugh becomes startled by a high pitched noise, as happens, not known are the open mouth kisses he recently doled out or the “der-der-der” noises he was making as he propelled himself an hour earlier. With my garden, I yearn to present it at its “best”. To me, this means weed-free rows, succulent vegetables, creative successions, and late evening light bathing everything. This scenario might happen five times a growing season, and the only eyes enjoying its brief perfection are mine. Instead, visitors to our backyard tend to see row cover, empty gaps in beds, squirrel holes, powdery mildew, and stakes strewn around the yard.
In either case, whether the garden presents as a work in progress or my son presents as “always happy”, I struggle to not describe the surrounding moments in my effort to paint a more complete picture. When Hugh cries, I have to stifle commentary along the lines of “oh, he was so happy just moments ago”. And if people tell me what a happy baby I have, I certainly agree, but I have a hard time not mentioning that “he’s not always like this”. Just yesterday a friend was in our backyard and complimented the garden, a garden which to me is in a total state of disarray. Instead of accepting the compliment, I was compelled to tell her that I had just removed the basil, peppers, and eggplant, that the delicata squash were dying back, that I planted romaine under the landscape fabric, that I was growing parsnips in that bed, closing my long list by saying “you should have seen it a month ago!” I truly doubt she cared.
Though I’m still a new parent, and come from a background of child counseling (and copious amounts of babysitting), I now recognize that before I was a parent, I was guilty of categorizing children (and houses, gardens, and interactions) based on what I saw in the moment I was privy to, not understanding that life, especially life with a baby or child, changes constantly. My desire to paint a fuller picture to those who notice a mere moment stems from my own previous judgements and opinions.
As a parent I now know that when I see a child having a tantrum, that doesn’t mean that he’s always a challenging child or prone to outbursts; it means that he’s having a tantrum in that moment. If I see a baby happily babbling in a high chair at a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that the parents have mastered baby led weaning or have the luxury of dining in restaurants all the time. It means that the baby is enjoying lunch in that moment. On a different day, or really, in another 30 minutes, I could witness the very same tantrum throwing toddler sharing his toys and cuddling with his father. I could watch the giggly baby throwing food everywhere and screaming.
With a garden and a baby, things change constantly. Truly challenging days, such as a day when Hugh woke up inexplicably crying and didn’t stop for hours, could be followed by a day where Hugh happily babbles all day, roaming from room to room playing. Unripened tomatoes, and laments of another poor pepper harvest, transformed into giving tomatoes away because so many have ripened at once, and harvesting large peppers (albeit green) because of a long stretch of warm weather.
When moments switch from sunny to stormy, a parent and a gardener must decide whether to problem solve or to accept the situation: it can be tricky to know which approach to take.
On the gardening side of things, my problem solving versus acceptance ratio currently skews towards acceptance, a result of my lack of time. In the place of active problem solving, I content myself with mentally solving the problem, so that when time does allow in a future season, I’ll be prepared. In some cases, this acceptance worked in the garden’s favor. Instead of ripping out the bell peppers in early August when it seemed like they would never fruit, I left them in, and they did produce. Instead of lamenting about the lack of fertilizer in the tomato pots, I ignored them, and tomatoes are finally ripening. These are tiny victories, and intervention would have hastened ripening, but I can still take pleasure in the garden churning along with a fairly absentee gardener.
Other situations required immediate attention: squirrels were digging holes in the potato bed, uncovering potatoes, rendering them green and inedible. We added more soil and compost to the bed to bury the potatoes to a deeper level. Powdery mildew has attacked the delicata squash leaves and vines, so I sprayed the vines with a milk based spray, deterring the mildew long enough for the squash to (hopefully) finish ripening. I didn’t have the time to spray as much as I wanted, but I may have done enough. Freshly emerged lettuce seedlings were getting dug up by frantic nut-burying squirrels, so I further secured the row fabric with even more stakes to prevent burrowing. But I’ve had to accept the weeds, the gone-to-seed basil before I made as much pesto as I’d have liked, and the ungerminated fall arugula that was overtaken by self-sowing phacelia.
Because Hugh is nine and a half months old, problem solving versus acceptance is still a fairly straightforward proposition, albeit becoming more challenging as he ages. He’s still very much a baby (though we call him a baby-toddler), so if Hugh seems upset, there’s a high likelihood it’s one of a few things: hungry, tired, bored, or in pain. When he’s upset, I try feeding him first, think about his last nap, take him outside, or, as a last resort, give him Tylenol, if it really seems like he’s in teething pain. Ninety percent of the time, one of these actions works, Hugh resets and we continue with our day. Every now and then, nothing works. The first time I experienced this powerlessness, I reacted with frustration and sadness — not being able to help him felt crushing. I had to hold him and wait for him to work through what was bothering him. It was a good lesson of acceptance, and a mere four days later, a similar situation unfolded, and I was more prepared.
Life, whether you have a baby, a garden, both or none, is a series of moments. There are some you long to hold onto and others you wish away as quickly as possible. But, as I’ve noticed with my desire to paint a full picture to a random stranger or a complimentary friend, categorizing one moment as every moment, is inaccurate. No one will ever know the full picture of my baby or my garden except me — just as I’ll never understand someone’s life beyond the tiny moments I witness. It’s time to live in whatever moment I’m in, choosing to accept or problem solve, knowing that the fuller story will unfold in due time — a baby transformed into a toddler and this year’s gardening lessons applied to a future garden.