As I pleasantly ponder and sift through ideas during my winter strolls in Arizona amidst the palms, bougainvilleas, and cacti, my thoughts have been filled with gardening ideas…ways of nourishing myself, our students, our world. This is always an ongoing process for me. As I began to jot down some thoughts, I realized that more than 2 years ago I wrote a blog on this same topic, which I see after re-reading, pretty much plants a fairly straight row in the soil of my current thoughts. So, with a few minor updates, I present these recycled thoughts once again in the spirit of re-thinking our gardening, watering, and weeding opportunities… so prerequisite to growth, blooming and blossoming.
Gardening with a CLEAR PURPOSE: This gardening metaphor has been sprouting and blooming in my thought for some time now… so I thought I would share what has come to shape so far, especially as it relates to our job description of “gardener” as we parent and guardian our children, our world.
- a person who likes or is skilled at working in a garden
- a person whose occupation is making and tending gardens
- someone who prepares the soil, plants seeds or seedlings, cultivates, weeds, nurtures, trims, loves, and maintains the grounds in order to glean a harvest
It strikes me that these definitions are so similar to what we do as parents and guardians. Recently our Scholars students, while studying aspects of our year’s theme of ROOTS, made some wonderful collages that included many parts of the cycle of growth… parts of which are pictured alongside this narration. These collages really spurred me on to sharing my inspiration for this whole Parent/Gardener idea that has been wafting in my thoughts. When I say parent, I mean it literally, as those who have children and are tending and nurturing their growth…but I also mean ALL of us who are gardeners in this world, whether we have children or not, or have even chosen the job…as we are ALL gardening one way or another as we journey through our day…planting, cultivating, nurturing what is truly important to us by the way we live.
The first thing gardeners need to do is to figure out what they would like to harvest…looking ahead to that vision that supercedes any of the planting and nurturing stages. They need to get focused on what they would like to see when the garden blooms and produces. If this step is passed over, we may just as well scatter the random seeds from a box of wildflower mix, not actually knowing for sure what is in the box, but hoping something pretty comes of it. Do we sometimes do this in our parenting? With some focus and follow-through we can feel more confident about the harvest.
If I want to have a harvest of enough Roma tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers, to end up with 50 canned jars of my grandmother’s special spaghetti sauce, then I have some planning and figuring to do, to increase the possibility of actually reaping these specific vegetables, the quality and quantity. And similarly, if my hope is that my daughter become a productive, wise, joyful and responsible citizen in this world, I need to think about what goes into making that happen…to BE clear about what that is and means…what does that look like? Just as a sculptor or painter needs to look continually at his/her model to bring out the qualities s/he perceives in the model, I as gardener-parent, must look OFTEN at what my goal is for my daughter’s “harvest” so that I truly plant and cultivate those skills and qualities. ..and also to KNOW that these qualities are innate in her, in all of us, but that consistent cultivation is needed.
If my goal is to harvest tomatoes and onions, I need to PLANT onion and tomato seeds or seedlings. I can’t plant bean seeds, if I am hoping for tomatoes. I can’t scatter just a few seeds here and there every once in a while if I want to grow these vegetables. I need to do so in an organized and consistent manner (in calculated and measured rows or an insightful pattern that makes sense) in rich and healthy soil. So, if I want my daughter to acquire the skills of responsibility, productivity, wisdom and inner joy, then that is what I need to plant in our home environment. I need to express those things in my own life and show that they are truly my values and priorities. I can talk about those qualities and read stories about them, but it’s more meaningful (like planting them in healthy soil) to express those qualities myself and point out others who do the same. I need to keep asking myself, “How can I do this consistently, sincerely? Is this action or activity in line with my harvest goals?”
And what is the rich soil in which I will plant these qualities? …an environment that shows the advantages and the naturalness of the expression of these skills and values…an atmosphere of active DOing and following through…putting our actions ahead of our words
. Just as the seedlings need to be planted with their roots down deep, so do these qualities and skills need to be planted deeply, too. Will I show that getting things done in a timely manner, being thorough in what I do and expect, and finding joy in doing simple things, brings me happiness? In what ways will I convey through MY living that I am responsible for my behavior and the consequences of it? What are concrete ways that I can show my children that staying on task really matters? How do our discussions and activities show that maturing means being able to make good choices, not just celebrating another birthday? Perhaps we have an actual chart placed in a prominent place that lists the qualities we are working on as a family and discuss and mark that chart as we see positive expressions of these skills and qualities…have that topic come up each day when we eat or sit together? These seeds can’t be left in the package in the garage for some future use, but need to be defined and planted.
As the seedlings begin to grow, it is always necessary to keep the soil cultivated and weeded, so that the plants have room to grow. It is much easier to remove those weeds when they are young and not intertwined with the plants’ roots…and to do it often. Clearing away “weeds” of negative habits is necessary for plants and our children …that they may have the space to grow strong and tall, without outside influences taking over. And as our children grow, they too, become aware of this process and are able to remove these “weeds” as they see them. That is true cultivation… when it leads to self-awareness, self-examination and the tossing out of those things that don’t serve us.
If we are in the correct climate, it usually rains and shines just enough for our gardens to grow and bloom beautifully. And usually all that is needed in that respect is faith that they WILL bloom and grow. How many of us have ever watered a plant too much and then seen the effects? Is there an analogy there too, with watering (giving or doing) too much for our children?
But sometimes we go through a dry or cold spell and have to use our garden hoses or cover our plants. These are the times that we can use our intuition and resourcefulness. Are our children in need of any extra tending? Do they need a bit more encouragement, sincere compliments, a buckle-down-and-get-to-business session or an extra dose of tough love? This is the time to revisit our harvest goals
and get specific about the many possibilities of how his harvest comes forth. Our children are not going to wake up one morning without ever having had any REAL experience or practice in these skills and qualities UNLESS we provide extra experiences and practice times as a regular part of their day
, sprinkled in with our reassuring and nourishing dialogue. Do we find ways to share our own challenges and solutions as we also strive to embody these qualities in our own experience?
Just as most tomato plants need
a wire cage put around them in order to keep the plant supported and straight so that the tomatoes don’t lay on the ground, so often do our children need a set of boundaries, guidelines, and natural consequences in order to allow them to grow to their full potential. It is much easier (and makes the most sense) to put the tomato cage on the plant when it is young, than to have to try to tug, squeeze, and twist the tomato plant into the wire support. When our children are young it is freeing to them to have their boundaries and supportive discipline clearly defined and all around them. This can pan out in a variety of ways that aren’t punitive, but wise and loving.
Do we enforce our guidelines by following through with our agreements with our children? Is the TV on during their homework time? Do we fold, due to a child’s begging or manipulation, and then loose grasp of our commitment to our harvest goals? Do we plan family or entertainment events during the week or before homework is completed, giving a mixed message about what is important?
Another facet of our cultivating and support system is the questions we ask our children. Do we ask nurturing questions about their day, as opposed to “Did you have fun today?” Is our cultivating with a purpose really just about having fun?
What about asking him what turned out well today? or what was tough today and how he handled it? Or who helped you out today? How were you empathetic or helpful with someone? What did you do today that was better than yesterday?
What was something that was brand new today? What did you notice that went well for a certain friend…and can you figure out why? In what ways did you show responsibility, creativity, or promptness? What choice did you make that made you feel proud? Asking stimulating, thought-provoking questions brings our harvest goals into focus.
As the plants grow, as our children grow, they need lots of space to reach toward the light, to feel the rain and freshness of experience on them. This is where practice opportunities come in. As they see US expressing the qualities that we want to see them express, they also need the time and space to try these qualities on for themselves, too…and to see the natural consequences of doing so and not doing so.
Do we allow our children the opportunities each day to practice being responsible
? ….to have the chances to make wise choices? …to complete their tasks, chores, and homework on time and without excuses? Are we showing them that these are real priorities in our family? Do we allow them to regroup and own up to mistakes, or do we try to “fix things quickly” for them. Providing this environment takes skillful cultivation and the conveyance that mistakes will be made along the way, but that those mistakes help us to learn and grow. Nurturing is sometimes vocal, and other times it shows itself by being a quiet support…letting our children discover almost on their own, while we know that it IS their natural tendency to grow toward the light and to learn and grow
at a regular pace…that everything worthwhile takes hard work and persistence
. This is gardening/parenting with love, with a purpose. Too often we do SO much, TOO much, for our children because it is easier, quicker, or to avoid complaining…but we are depriving them of a realistic view of life and the opportunity to work hard in order to achieve a desired outcome
When we have been intuitive and responsible gardeners, what a treat it is to be around and see those first blooms…to see those seeds take fruit in thought and then action….to see the natural bending in order to face the light…. and then to see and experience that harvest! There is nothing quite like seeing something, someone, grow to their innate fruition! And nothing quite like seeing their ability to reseed and nurture their own next garden crop. There seems to be a reason why that old, but wise saying, “You reap what you sow” has served us well for so long.
How does YOUR garden grow? How bountiful will the harvest be?
written by Tien Stone Langlois, Director – Scholars Together Learning Community