As my regular readers are aware, I am usually wearing my kiddo on my back when I’m gardening or building stuff. This is not because I’m angling for an attachment-parenting mother of the year award or because I can’t be parted from my little boy for even a minute. No, it is because my almost-seven-month-old son is under the impression that I am his human mattress.
My little guy is mellow and easy going but he just does not sleep well. The average number of sleep hours for a kid his age his 14. On the bad days I suspect he sleeps a little more than half that. He is a light sleeper, and if he falls asleep while nursing or being held and then is put down in his crib or jostled he usually wakes up relatively content but with no intention of falling back asleep, like his whole nap schedule has been re-booted by 45 seconds of shut-eye. The great consequence of this is that I haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a stretch in almost seven months.
We are working on this; I am aware that this is a key age to instill good sleep habits and I swear we’re trying. We’ve tried the No Cry Sleep Solution. We’ve tried the Sorry Kid You’re Going To Have To Cry Sleep Solution and yesterday we tried Mom Walks Around The House Uncontrollably Crying Because the Kid Won’t Let Her Sleep Solution.
I don’t recommend that last one. But if you do try it, video record yourself because I’ll bet 15 years hence a film of you holding your infant and sobbing, “Please, please just go to sleep. Please go to sleep. For the love of God, kid, please just sleep,” while your baby bounces and blows raspberries in your arms (totally happy unless you dare to set him down) will seem quite funny and charming.
It didn’t seem funny at the time, though. It felt like I had a massive garden spring-planting to-do list as long as my arm and my darling child, one of the loves of my life, was maliciously thwarting every attempt I made at productivity. It felt like he was almost deliberately adjusting his clinginess to be at its height just when I really needed an hour of two-handed productivity to get shit done.
Which brings me to my point: pretending to be in control when you just aren’t.
I spend a lot of time figuring out how to spend my time in the garden. I make lists and spreadsheets to help me calculate how to optimize my growing space and growing season. I do all this to give the shiny reassuring facade of control to the process of growing a garden. But I am not really in control. Seeds have varying degrees of vigor when I scatter them across the soil; the sun shines or it doesn’t; soil temperatures rise quickly or barely at all; the soil is loose or it is clay; the insect populations rise and fall; natural and artificial irrigation over or under waters.
Garden writers before me have described these natural variables as pitfalls or traps to avoid. They have described the weapons to help you win the garden battle: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, hot caps, poly tunnels, cold-frames, beneficial insects, organic and inorganic mulches and more.
The hand of the gardener is but one variable among many that will determine your success in the garden. Everything else, tossed together and shaken hard, is randomness.
You cannot control randomness just as you cannot control whether an infant will sleep. Perhaps you can stack the odds in your favor: establish a good bedtime routine or sow your crops at the right time of year. But once you have done your part, you have only to respond to what is presented to you.
When your infant cries you can respond by picking him up or waiting to see if he will self-soothe. You can “rescue” your plants with organic or non-organic insecticides or you can leave well enough alone and see what happens. But in doing or not doing these things, you are not controlling the situation, you are responding to it.
Gardening and mothering has taught me that the more attuned we are to what we are growing – plants or children – the better we can respond to their needs. Sometimes they need our help. Sometimes they need us to not help.
For many years I treated my garden as a glorified produce stand. I expected that I could decide what I’d like to eat, go out to the garden, pick it and eat it. I expected to be in control of that choice. It was only when I realized that I needed to pick the vegetables on their schedule, not mine, that I started hauling in bumper harvests. The green beans do not care that you picked them yesterday and would prefer to have another vegetable with dinner. If they are ready to be picked (and they are always ready to be picked) you must respond to their needs by picking them. They will not wait for your convenience.
If your child is ready to talk to you about that thing that’s been really bothering her, you must be there when she needs you. Her desire to confide will not wait for your convenience.
I have learned in my garden that when I submit to the needs of that which I tend, and when I stop working so hard to control every variable, I am rewarded with bounty.
Now I just need someone to tell my son to reward me with sleep.
What has your garden taught you?2