How often do you think about the passing of time?
I’ve had years where the Christmas celebrations seemed mere months apart instead of a full year, and I’ve endured other periods where each month was elongated, passing by at an excruciatingly slow pace. Time is fickle. Despite each minute being qualitatively the same whether you’re 6 or 26, time moves differently for all of us, depending on age, experience, or things in our lives that make it impossible to ignore its passing.
Before I became pregnant with Hugh, I used gardening as my time yardstick.
In the fall, I plan next year’s garden and tuck this year’s away. In the early winter, the garden sits alone as my attention turns towards indoor activities, like baking and house projects. In the late winter, I eagerly open up my seed starting calendars and start the first seeds for the spring garden.
From there, winter merges into spring and time shifts into overdrive, as seed starting melds with prepping garden beds, beds which are soon full of transplants and row cover. As a gardener, there’s a noticeable period between all of the spring flurry and the summer harvest. Around mid June to early July, most of the spring planted foods are distant memories, and the future summer crops (eggplant, tomatoes, melon, hooray!) are in the ground, but nowhere near ready to eat. This time allows for a pause, a breath, an assessment.
I initially welcome the breather, but inevitably, I start bemoaning how slowly time seems to then move. I check the forecast daily hoping for consistent heat. I repeatedly ask Justin why the tomatoes aren’t ripe yet (he doesn’t know, of course!). Then just like that, the tomatoes (and everything else) do ripen. They don’t ripen when I want them to ripen, they ripen from other factors apart from my will: seed variety, heat, soil fertility, sunlight. Then, it’s off to the races to use as many as possible before the end of the warm days and start of the rainy season. In many ways, just like in planning a trip, some of the pleasure of gardening is in the anticipation. I greedily wait for the harvest and then when I’m actually harvesting, I am pleased, but the pleasure is diluted by the time sensitive nature of needing to cook a vegetable or put it up for winter.
I’m now sitting inside typing this, staring out at an especially dark and rainy day. The leaves sit vibrantly red and yellow on a few trees and stubbornly green on others, but color aside, many are being knocked to the ground by this wind and rain. It’s cozy in here and outside, my garden is tucked underneath a layer of straw, ’til next year.
Next year will be different in ways that I can’t predict. With gardening as a yardstick, there have always been differences to note season-to-season: new varietals, notable weather events, a virulent pest. But because I’m raising Hugh, my relationship with time is more nuanced, and more bittersweet, than it’s ever been. Gardening aside, before I had a baby, I approached time’s passing in one of several ways. I frittered it away by moping, scrolling, watching tv. Or I fought the very concept of time and tried to do too much, often unconsciously — my to-do list, my aspirations, and my hopes went head to head with time: planning too much for a day or becoming stressed when things didn’t progress at an appropriate pace.
With Hugh, I view time differently. Hugh is quickly approaching his first birthday in December, and though I have many more days with him before he turns one, days of books (he likes reading now!), days of diaper changes, feeding, cuddles, clinginess, screeching, not sleeping, laughing and playing, I feel the weighty presence of his first birthday looming around the corner. When I think about our past year with Hugh, time is compressed. I can remember as many details (as I want to) about labor and delivery. I can recall his first few days home, us learning each other’s signals as I established breastfeeding. I can remember celebrating each day of his life and then each week. (I no longer know how many weeks old he is until I look it up on a calendar). Justin and I noticed each pound gained, each tiny new skill acquired.
I can grasp onto how Hugh acted when he was four months old or six months old, sometimes wistfully holding onto those memories even as I’m playing with my over ten month old, simultaneously gathering more memories to tuck away, much like those irritating squirrels are burying nuts into my garlic bed. I want the three month old memories to stay as vivid as the future three year old memories, even though I know that’s not possible.
When I think about my future with Hugh, time is elongated. It stretches before me as a hopeful possibility. What will he be like? What will he look like? Will he finally be sleeping? What will his first words be? What will his voice sound like? What kind of adventures will we have together? What struggles are in our future? I think about this future while desperately trying to absorb the present and be present as a mother to Hugh. Having Hugh has helped me hone in on what’s really important, and these lessons directly translate to my garden, as detailed in this series on gardening and motherhood: when to observe, when to adjust expectations, when to bask in the fun, and how to handle challenges or disappointments.
I’ve planned next year’s garden. I’m eager to harvest the just planted garlic. I’m excited about a few new varieties of tomatoes and beans, to grow collards, and to attempt overwintered cauliflower. My spreadsheet grounds me in this future. What I can’t predict, along with the usual pest problems or weather woes, is what gardening with Hugh will look like next year. I don’t know what his needs will be, I don’t know how much he’ll nap, I don’t know if he’ll want to use all of my beds as his own personal sandboxes. I haven’t met that version of Hugh yet. All I can do is wait, existing in this present time with my son, knowing that there will be slow days and fast days, and the garden is waiting for both of us, next year.