Our victory garden

July 1, 2020 - 12:00am -- Living City

A family discovers blessings in the forced slowdown due to the coronavirus

Our family has the opposite of a green thumb. Year after year, spring after spring, we excitedly plant saplings and start in the hopes our tremendous bounty of vegetables and flowers will sustain our hearts and bellies throughout the summer.

Nonetheless, it usually falls woefully short, and we end up sharing one deflated Roma tomato in late June, or huddled around a meager marigold, its petals drying up and sloughing from the stem.

It’s discouraging to say the least, but as we’re beginning to realize, gardening — like nurturing a family — requires more than merely going through the motions of daily watering and monitoring.

Weeks prior to our swiftly unfolding health crisis and the subsequent stay-at-home orders, my wife Patty and I noticed a change in our kids: they were overwhelmed. We had them in a variety of pursuits (swimming, gymnastics, math tutoring, drama club, etc.) as we felt it was important for them to stay active and engaged in rewarding activities, which in turn, would only benefit them as they bloomed into their teen and adult years.

While working from home herself, Patty was tasked with the bulk of trucking the kids to and from their activities during the week, and I would pick them up on my way home from work. Then came an hour or two of homework frustration.

It made for extremely hectic days and often late evenings. Many families do the same; sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t seem to be working for us.

As Covid-19 spread throughout the country and our own state implemented stay-at-home orders paired with social distancing measures, we found ourselves gifted with a concept that had been a foreign aspect the past few months: time. Time to grow and learn, and ultimately, reconnect with what it means to be a family.

The weekdays were still spent on schoolwork and full-time day jobs, but there was also time to explore Josie’s puppeteering and ukulele songs, Claire’s hilarious “old-soul” insights, and Benji’s uncanny ability to take junk in our yard to build “army forts” and ramps to jump with his sisters’ toddler size bike.

We listened to and played more music, took long walks, and allowed ourselves time to listen to our kids and unpack the past few months. These evenings (paired with an occasional ice cream, of course) also allowed us to leave the house and enjoy the Georgia landscape, as the promise of spring awakened the colorful azaleas and fragrant jasmine bushes. To borrow an old cliché: we took time to smell the roses.

One downside of social distancing has been the lack of social interaction outside our immediate family. Our kids missed the daily dose of friends and conversation that school provided. They had lots to say, but no friends with whom to share it. The answer came in hand-delivered notes. Patty has long made it a habit in her personal and professional life to send appreciative notes to folks to say a quick “thanks,” or to simply let them know she’s thinking of them.

This practice inspired the kids, and soon we were dropping off notes and cards in the mailboxes of unsuspecting friends. This not only gave our kids something creative to do, it also compelled them to think of others experiencing a similar situation and offer some words of encouragement and laughter.

In mid-April, we stopped at a garden center and bought a trunk full of vegetable plants and flowers. We transplanted them into appropriate pots and containers. We’ve been keeping a careful eye on them: watering, pruning, rotating towards the sunlight, etc. So far, so good.

The poet and author May Sarton said, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”

This has been, and continues to be, an extremely difficult time for many people around the world. People have faced hardship, illness and even death. During our time distancing from others, Patty and I began to realize that we must acknowledge our blessings and be grateful, and that the best way forward would be to depend on each other and nurture our garden — both inside and out.

That’s true for any family — whether that family consists of one member or twelve. We took the time given to us to get reacquainted with our little saplings and rediscovered Claire’s insights and humor, Benji’s energy and depth, Josie’s creativity and thoughtfulness, and our ability as parents to help our little plants grow into beautiful flowers. Here’s to our little victory garden.

- Ben Crawford, Georgia

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