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Unreasonable expectations

A couple of Saturdays ago I was outside in the very cold weather planting peas with the babies. Although I’d recommended that we do it later in the day when it might be a little warmer, they were very insistent. We want to go outside and plant seeeeeeeds, they wheedled. I told them that planting seeds in a job that has to be done all at once–that once we were out there, I wasn’t going in until the fucking seeds were planted. FINE, we want to plant seeds! So out we went.

It’s true that I spent probably 15 minutes wandering around in circles, trying to decide where to plant them and whether to make any effort at all to prepare the soil before giving up in a haze of confusion and despair and lightly raking some dirt in one of the beds. Meanwhile the babies were standing around in their coats and hats getting cold. By the time the bed was ready for the babies to drop the seeds in, both babies were pretty unhappy and begging to go in.

NO! We are planting these peas! their grouchy mother snapped. Run around! It will warm you up! I told you we weren’t going in until we were done! Suddenly I was visited by a global memory of all the times I was freezing my ass off and totally miserable and getting yelled by a mother who was so sure we had to do some fucking thing we were doing. Maybe we did. Maybe we…didn’t.

Maybe I should have taken them inside and tried again later. But if not, I wish that instead of snapping at them, I’d at least been able to be sympathetic. Sympathetic to the little child who kept falling over and scraping his knees and getting his fat little paws all muddy. Sympathetic when he wanted to spend a reeeeeeally long time looking at the worm that popped its head up in the hole he’d just dropped a pea into. I mean, my whole motive for involving my babies in the garden is to help them see the wonder that is Growing Things. Instead I gave him about 30 seconds and then forced him to move on. Sympathetic to the child who was standing so bravely waiting for her turn to plant a row.

Things didn’t go a lot better when we transplanted the tomato sprouts into their larger pots last weekend. It was stressful keeping the babies from squashing the plants, and I’d chosen only to sprout a few because it makes me sad to throw the extras in the compost pile–stakes were high. Bun Bun was doing great, but accidentally grabbed one by the stem and I gasped in horror. I can still see the look of shame on her face.

I feel like I am sucking the joy out of the experiences that I am trying to share with my children precisely in order to create joy. I think the problem is that my expectations are on the side of unreasonable. I am not sure if it’s the expectations I have for myself–the desire to be a parent who gardens and cooks and sews and makes art with her children because these skills and experiences are important to me. Or my expectations for the babies–that they be able to control impulses and exhibit fine motor control and patience and fortitude in the face of frostbite. Or both.

Maybe the secret (rather than feeling like a failure, which, as it turns out, is rarely the key) is to balance all this striving on my part with some visits to their world, during which I try to just be with them. After all, I hear tell that’s what children like best–to feel that you enjoy their company.

Anyway, the peas have now sprouted, and the tomatoes are doing fine. I suppose we are too.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yeah… been there. I finally decided that my critters are only allowed to plant stuff I don’t care about, because then *I* won’t get upset about it. $1 of radish seed? Go for it, kids! (I dislike radishes but they are very rewarding for tots, so we plant lots of radishes. And then we give them away! It’s a lesson in sharing with others! Or, you know, in giving things away when you don’t like them.)

    April 30, 2015
    • They each got their own container of radishes. Which the squirrels dug up. But hey.

      April 30, 2015
  2. Anonymous #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being authentic and real when describing the parenting journey. I have been a reader for a long while but never commented. While reading this post I laughed out loud and held back tears simultaneously. This is me with my 3.5 year old and 18 month old. Thank you from one professor to another

    April 30, 2015
  3. Working mom of 2 #

    I have these experiences too…you (and me) are not alone.

    April 30, 2015
  4. I’m so impressed you manage to garden and sew while working full-time, let alone involve the babies. I have all these ideals along similar lines, but (at least for now) lack energy and time. So, you’re already doing great.
    JF’s radish idea sounds good, too.

    April 30, 2015
  5. It sounds like you’re taking good lessons from the experience!

    April 30, 2015
  6. By the way, I don’t want to make it sound like my kids are all sweetness and light and I’m full of saintly patience or anything like that. They drive me up the fucking wall and Bug never shuts UP and some days I go down into the basement and scream. They just drive me nuts in *different* ways now because Bug is six so we’ve already gone through some of the stages you’re having now.

    April 30, 2015
  7. It sounds like you are a braver soul than I. My approach to gardening with the little ones is to distract them with other things (here is a trowel, you can dig here – No NOT THERE!!!!). I too dream of involving them – for their benefit and mine – but I just can’t bring myself to actually do it, ahem, yet?

    But cheers for the tomatoes doing well. My new, very exciting (fingers crossed) job involves breeding them. Perhaps next year I can send you some seeds…..

    May 1, 2015
  8. Nicky #

    30 seconds is an appropriate time to let the child wonder at a worm, while second child is waiting to plant peas. I’d say you succeeded there. The planting with children will get much easier as they get older, and keeping your expectations extremely low will help. My 7-yr-old says he wants to plant potatoes with me, but he doesn’t really want to wait around for an hour while I prep the community garden bed. My 5 and 7-yr-old boys would prefer to rescue seeds from the Halloween pumpkin and tuck them into my garden in the fall, or smash old cherry tomatoes into the soil for plants for mommy in the spring. That’s good enough for now.

    May 1, 2015
  9. “I suppose we are too.” You likely are, even when there are difficult moments of not being the exact embodiment of the mother you want to be.
    In parenting, I bring it often back to Baumrind: High control (expectations) and High warmth parenting produce the best adjusted human beings long term. I think it is a combo of meeting your kids where they are at developmentally, but also setting out some goals for them to strive towards. And that’s a moving target. In the mean time, they planted peas and tomatoes, which is AMAZING!

    May 3, 2015
  10. Steph #

    Bunny, you rock. I was asked to plant seeds this year and I denied them this experience. I’m always in awe of your gardening skills. Thank you as always for honestly sharing how things really are.

    May 4, 2015
  11. I missed commenting on this. You’re doing it – you will keep doing it – those babies are getting their hands dirty. That’s all you can hope for – I suppose, that and the plants growing. It’s so hard when we have IDEALS and then the dang babies and our own dang imperfections get in the way. E for effort.

    May 11, 2015
  12. It’s hard, you know? I am quite guilty of trying to Get Things Done at a pace that actually isn’t warranted, and doesn’t achieve any of the things I’m aiming for (like spending quality time with The Kid and, erm, not shouting at him all the time). I think having this time-sucking baby around has made me chill the fuck out, but lordy, we have had our pea-planting moments…

    May 14, 2015

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