In the garden – away from it all; well away from the kids (sort of)

#456 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2004, Hills Newspapers

From glorious day one I’ve found parenting to be absorbing and demanding, no less so now that my children are ages 18 and 20. They’re big people now taking up adult space and requiring razors and eye liner and numerous clean bath towels.

They drink tea with honey in the morning, carry packets of CD’s with them always, make calls on cell phones all the day long and into the night.

They have cars and insurance, need gasoline and tires, and they get parking tickets. They insist that they are old enough for anything they want to do but they look to me for assistance, my opinion sometimes, but especially for money.

I often want to get away from them, their wants and desires, from my reminders to them to wash the pan and knife they’ve used, to honor their commitments. Sometimes, in the short run, I retreat to the shower where it is quiet and warm and solitary. Other times, I go into my garden and stay, sometimes all day.

My mother also went to the garden. I think it was when I entered junior high school that she began retreating to the uppermost level of her garden. We’d quarrel about something in the morning – it was almost always in the morning – and my mom would walk out the back door, coffee cup in hand, and she’d walk up the wooden stairs to the top terrace, and sit.

I’d peer out the screen door and see her there looking thoughtful, maybe miffed or exasperated. Certainly she seemed calmer now that she was away and alone. I didn’t go to talk to her. I knew that she didn’t want to talk.

I don’t sit in my garden. I can’t just sit. I pull weeds, I pick up fallen leaves and cones and needles that have rained torrentially down. I tidy up, coax the garden clean, and it’s quite satisfying, even healing.

For moments at a stretch, instead of thinking of my children, I think about little tiny things. For example, I experiment with the most satisfactory method for pulling gangs of pinhead size seedlings from between the pea gravel on the garden pathways.

Pluck with fingers? Maybe tweezers? Rake vigorously? No, experience shows that rubbing the gravel back and forth exposes the shafts of the seedlings, and hard rubbing dislodges most.

The stem slivers lie on their sides, dozens, thousands of them. Tiny germinated seeds scatter among the pebbles, barely born babies uprooted.

While so engaged, I am able to let my mind float into nothingness. With a start I come to and find that I am picking up oak leaves, one by one. As it would take longer than a lifetime to collect single oak leaves, I switch to sweeping small leafy piles together, crackly, prickly to my bare fingers, and I start to think again.

Did Annie talk to the other group members, know what her part of the assignment is? Maybe I should make cheese rice tonight. Everyone likes it, I’ll need mushrooms. I’ll bet Nick left his wet towel on the floor again. Oh, those red Bouncing Bet roots, here they are again, everywhere. Little advantage to digging them out, they’ll only come back in force, crawl further.

Annie appears on the patio a distance below me. I look up to see that her purse is on her shoulder. She’s going somewhere. Why isn’t she typing her paper?

“Mom,” she calls up to me, “Julia and I are going to get coffee. I have my phone with me. Love you, bye.”

She doesn’t expect an answer beyond my nod. She knows, trusts that I won’t yell from the top of the garden. I’m involved, quiet, alone. We’ll discuss later, and later is not now. Good old later.

I do wish the Siberian irises would bloom. Maybe they’re too crowded? Or winter isn’t cold enough here for them. The little green triangle tips of the irises have appeared. I tug at the withered leaf leftovers. But I’ve seen them bloom, in huge clumps, somewhere in Berkeley, I think on Woolsey Street. Deep rich bluish purple. My dirt is sticky, hard to dig; I should add something good to it.

Timeless time goes by. I’ve emptied my bucket, climbing down to the patio half a dozen times, then returning to the upper layer. Nick bounds up the garden stairs, stops about half way to me.

“Can I have the gas card?” he wants to know. Oh sure, why not, it’s easiest. His payday isn’t for, how long? Another six days.

“I’ll do some work for you, tomorrow,” he says as he goes away. “Thanks.”

Is there a chance that my children will grow up, find independence, live on their own, make their own dentist appointments, remember to vote? What about balancing a checkbook? Rotating tires? Will they invent, sing, contribute and produce?

Some daffodils are blooming, the whitish ones, pretty and crisp. And the miniatures, I see, are just breaking ground; always they’re later. I scoop oak leaves into my hand, drop them in a bucket, scoop again.

I like the bare ground, nothing on it, not yet anyway. But spring is coming.

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