Pulling Out: A Religious Experience

My husband, Matt, earned his boating certification this week. He’s now qualified to pilot a 25-foot sailboat. In honor of his achievement, and to celebrate his efforts toward building his obituary instead of his resume, I’m running this post. I wrote this a few years ago when we lived in Maryland and owned a motorboat. Congratulations, Skipper Matt! You’ve come a long way, Baby!

As a first-time boater, I approach boating with some trepidation. It’s understandable when the boating world presents a “safety” class and all they talk about are fires, drownings, and crashes. (Oh, and sinking. Did I mention sinking?) Because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it’s also hard to defer to my fiancée’s experience on bass boats. So you can understand why, when we finally pulled the boat out of the water (in December), I had my doubts. We tried to pull it the week before, but it wouldn’t start. Fun afternoon, really: I stood on the dock, watching Matt crank the engine repeatedly, in rapid succession. “Let it sit a few minutes,” I coached (or nagged, depending on your point of view). “You’ll drain the battery.” Which is exactly what happened. Sadly, it was the last nice, warm day we had.

Well, Matt extracted the battery, bought a battery charger, and set the whole contraption up in our powder room, right under the sink, so you couldn’t wash your hands without getting electrocuted, but I didn’t complain. If this was the key to extracting the boat, I would tolerate it.

The next week, bundled in three warm layers, juiced battery in hand, we set out for the marina. I jogged the three blocks while Matt brought the truck around. Some people get religious when they face their mortality; some just on Christmas and Easter; I always get religious on the way to the marina. “Please, God,” I repeatedly huffed on the jog, “Help us get the boat out this time.”

Matt backed the trailer down the ramp without incident. He unsnapped the boat cover and got in the boat, installed the battery, sat in the driver’s seat and turned the key. Rrrraur rrrrraur rrrraur rrrauh. Please, God, make it start. Please just make it start. Rrr rrr ch ch ch ch ch ch, rrrraur rrrrraur rrrraur. Rrrrraur rrrrraur rrrrraur vroom room roo… After many pleas to the Creator, the engine did catch and hold. As I threw him the ropes, I prayed the engine wouldn’t stall on the 20-foot drive to the ramp. Matt made it to the ramp without incident, even got the boat halfway on the trailer. “Thank you, God,” I thought, “the hard part’s over.”

To avoid the frigid water, Matt climbed up on the trailer, straddling wider on the frame as he moved toward the boat, pulling the cable to the hook. He almost split his jeans, but all went well. He attached the hook, cranked up the boat, and got in the truck.

God definitely has a sense of humor. Matt started his four-cylinder, rear-wheel drive truck, hit the gas and wheeeeeeea, went the right rear wheel. Tried it again. Wheeeeeaaaa. Again. I walked around to that side of the truck and found the problem: the paved part of the ramp doesn’t extend its whole width. It drops off abut 2 feet from the edge and the unpaved part consists of gravel and mud. Matt’s tire was digging into the mud. Frustrated, Matt got out of the truck and found a plank in the grass, shoved it under the wheel and tried again. Wheeeeeaaa! Big, puffy clouds of gray smoke obscured my view of the truck. He jumped out, shrieking, “What’s on fire? What’s on fire?”

Impotently waving away the smoke, I yelled, “I DON’T KNOW!” Turns out the tire’s frantic spinning burned a groove into the plank. “It’s not under right,” Matt said. Uh huh. Kicked it under, got back in the truck. This time the smoke didn’t bother him. I, however, screamed “STOP! STOP!” He pretended not to hear me. Wheeeeaaaa! When he finally did stop, I said, “Honey, I think if you backed the truck down on the paved part of the ramp, you could pull it.”

“No, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gonna work.” Nevertheless, the man climbed back in the truck and, well, you get the picture. After several more tries and lots of smoke, (I swear it’s a direct quote) he said, “Maybe if I pull the truck up and back it down on the paved part, I can get it out.”

“Ok.” That’s all I said.

So we power-launched the boat, driving and stopping short so would it slide back into the water. I held the rope while he created a huge wave with the trailer, wetting the formerly-dry, traction-enabling pavement; pulled it out and backed it in again, this time on the pavement (Hallelujah) and began the whole process again.

Hooked the boat, cranked it up (with roughly a half-inch between it and the dock, got it mostly on the trailer, but not all the way and decided to pull it out of the water and crank on dry land. After a few tries, the tires caught, the truck hauled the boat out of the water, (and this I will never understand) he stopped it while still on an angle to finish cranking. Matt got out of the truck, climbed up on the trailer and I could see him straining as he began to crank. Every time you crank the boat it creaks, and this has always scared me. The boat slowly climbed up the trailer, good, good…PING! “SHIT!”

“What happened?”
Frantically: “The cable broke!”

Normally I am not good in a crisis (ask me about setting the toaster oven on fire), but I was perfectly calm, perhaps because I’d imagined this happening every time we used the crank, and said “Ok, there’s a rope still attached. Tie it to the trailer. Tie it to the trailer, ok?” And God bless him, he did.

Once the boat was tied, Matt said, “I wish it was close enough for the safety strap.” Stretching it to the limit, he was able to attach it. Thy will be done. I owe you one, Big Guy.

We drove it the three blocks home, maneuvered it into the back yard and Matt happened to have a strap to replace the cable. The boat is now out of the water, winterized, we don’t have to buy a new trailer and I am going to church, next week.

The Perils of Pregnant Purchasing

“Are you going to have a baby shower?” my friend Deborah asked.

“No, you don’t really do it for the second one,” I said.

“But don’t you need stuff?” she asked.

“Not really. The only things we need are a double stroller, dual-room monitors, and some blue blankets. We’re exchanging baby clothes with a friend who’s having a girl, so clothes are covered, and everything else is unisex. He’ll drink from pink bottles. He’s a man of the millennium.”

I’ve heard of showers for the second, third and even fourth baby, but I don’t see the need. I’ve always been very practical, and after experiencing the torrent of stuff that comes with a baby, I’ve decided that I want to be able walk through the house without having to clear a path. Rose was born the day after Thanksgiving. Before she was born, I worried that she’d come in December, thereby cheating herself out of separate birthday and Christmas presents. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have crossed my legs and held out another month. As it stands, she gets legions of dolls, litters of stuffed animals, and assorted toys consisting of roughly three million parts for her birthday, and then a month later, several refrigerator-sized crates full of toys arrive on our doorstep. This phenomenon stems from two sources: the distance between us and Matt’s family and my sister-in-law’s shopping compulsion. At least if Rose had had a different birthday, she might have some time to grow out of the first wave of gifts before she got the second, but this is our destiny.

To top it off, when Rose was born, we lived in an apartment. It was a big apartment, but baby gear and apartment walls soon find themselves at odds. We bought our house right before her first birthday, the same week Matt’s firm announced a huge layoff. Spooked, we almost backed out of the deal, but we looked around at all of our stuff, stroked the bruises we’d collected from bumping into the furniture, and signed the contract.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my innate practicality and my anti-clutter conviction. Aside from producing a vulnerability to any magazine headline that screams “Organize Your Life,” (thanks, Real Simple!) it’s saved us from a materialistic focus and the dust devils that come with it.

So when I flipped through The Bump, a mini-magazine at the doctor’s office, the ads and product recommendations read like the jokes in Reader’s Digest (magazines say the darndest things). And boy was I thankful for my status as a seasoned mom. First-time moms are so much more vulnerable to the siren song of unnecessary accoutrements.

My favorite product in The Bump has got to be “BabyPlus.” “BabyPlus” calls itself “a developmentally appropriate prenatal curriculum designed to strengthen your baby’s learning capabilities.” It’s a strap-on speaker that advertises sounds “similar to a maternal heartbeat.” Lord, where do I begin? First of all, what’s an “appropriate prenatal curriculum?” It’s a fetus, for God’s sake. It doesn’t even know how to crap yet. Who sits on the Board of Prenatal Education composing syllabi for a “developmentally appropriate prenatal curriculum?” I was cool with playing classical music (Trans Siberian Orchestra, once) for Rose in utero, and I read to her (“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to coax her out), but a prenatal curriculum? What kind of educational Nazi do you have to be to buy into that? And this curriculum is composed of sounds “similar to a maternal heartbeat?” I got news for ya, new moms. If baby isn’t already hearing actual sounds of a maternal heartbeat, you’ve got much bigger problems than choosing an appropriate prenatal curriculum.

My second favorite item as seen in The Bump has go to be the “IntelliGender” gender prediction test. This product calls itself “the world’s only in-home gender prediction test,” promising “a fun way to learn your baby’s gender as early as 10 weeks.” Ok, I admit this one’s a desirable product – if it works. But if it did, wouldn’t it appear on the cover of the Journal of the American Medical Association and not as a paid advertisement in “The Bump?” I mentioned it to my doctor. She said, “If it worked, we’d be using it.” And by the way, it’s not “the world’s only in-home” gender test. Those gypsy women who’d dangle your wedding ring over your baby belly have been making house calls for thousands of years.

Another belly laugh came from reading about “push presents.” Apparently there’s a new trend among parents with too much money. A “push present” is a token presented to the new mom in appreciation for all of the pushing she did to give birth. Ok, nice concept in theory: You brought my baby into the world. I love you. Here’s a diamond tennis bracelet. Unnecessary and ridiculous in practice. While I’d love a token of appreciation for popping out a pup – and I get one every Mother’s Day – more timely, and trust me, better appreciated gifts from dad include diaper changes, midnight feeding shifts, babysitting, laundry and ordering/cooking dinner. Got it, dads? If your wife expects a diamond trinket for pushing, congratulations on your trophy, you old coot; and good luck teaching that kid some values.

“Who buys this stuff?” You’re asking. Well, look no further than the “Glow Q&A” column, which features the following reader question: “I can’t seem to find a diaper bag. If it looks nice, it isn’t functional, and the more utilitarian ones are too childish.” Honey, let me set you straight. You need a diaper bag that holds all of your stuff, doesn’t hurt your back, is washable and repels the stench of sour milk. That’s all. Even if you find one that does all this and looks nice, in two weeks it will sport scratches, old vomit, milk stains and pee. And if the reader question wasn’t illustrative enough, the tagline on this page says, “Submit your own pressing fashion and style queries at thebump.com/look.” The only reason an expectant mother should have “pressing” fashion and style queries is if she works for Vogue. And if she does, she’d be surrounded by fashion and style experts with no need to consult a pregnancy magazine. As most of us know, when you’re pregnant, there aren’t a lot of fashion choices and few of them flatter. You make yourself presentable and you take what you can get. That’s how it works.

Well, if there’s a sucker born every minute, then there’s a sucker mom carrying one for the preceding nine months. And new moms are vulnerable to this kind of marketing – moreso if conception was difficult. Many new moms view pregnancy as a beautiful time in their lives to be cherished and commemorated. The rest of us just try to survive morning sickness. Seriously, pregnancy is wonderful, miraculous, it makes babies, we glow, etc. But focusing on the pregnancy instead of bringing up baby is like focusing on the wedding instead of the marriage – transposed priorities. Once you have the baby, its well-being becomes your top priority — at least it should. Once you become a parent, you remember your childhood and you realize how far-reaching your actions can be. It’s up to you to give that kid the foundation for a well-adjusted, productive life. It’s not about the right gear or instituting a prenatal education. It’s about doing your best to raise a good person. And that’s a lot more complicated than picking the perfect diaper bag.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I learned something new about men this week. I’d like to share it with them. Guys, listen up: Women take your behavior personally. You know how, in every chick flick, women will take the tiniest thing, say the WAY a guy said something, not WHAT he said, and discuss, dissect and deconstruct it for the next 30 minutes? We really do this. Women spend hours on the phone, at brunch and in salons, discussing small details of masculine behavior because a) We are analytical by nature – we need to understand stuff and b) You don’t tell us what we want to know, so we have to guess.

So, over the millennia, women have developed interpretive skills. We’ve done this by discussing, dissecting and deconstructing your every move while we crouched in menstrual huts, ground wheat at the mill, drove rivets into B-51 bombers, and enjoyed a half-caf nonfat latte while texting at Starbuck’s. Are we obsessed? Pretty much. Is this adaptive? Probably not, but neither is throwing up when you’re pregnant, and we do that too. Is it important? Yes. I am offering you crucial information, so please pay attention.

Now, most of the men discussed in chick flicks are single. You don’t see a lot of married women interpreting spousal behavior on screen, mostly because the 18-35 set thinks singles make better entertainment. But that doesn’t mean that behavioral interpretation stops at the altar. I bet you thought so. Nope, we do it forever. Everything hubby does means something to us.

And that’s where you guys make your mistakes. In every marriage, each partner will do things that make the other crazy. That’s just marriage. But some of the things we do hurt you. And some of the things you do hurt us. And if you keep in mind that we continuously interpret your behavior and that actions speak louder than words, you can avoid the angry, tearful confrontations that result.

Here’s an example. Thursday morning, I had to do laundry. I am forbidden from carrying heavy loads while I’m great with child, so I dragged my laundry basket down the hall, bumped it down both flights of stairs, to the washer. I lifted the washer’s top and in it, there was a wet wash that my husband, Matt, had initiated the night before. I opened the dryer and in that, there was a dry wash that he’d completed the night before. So in order to start my wash, I had to first unload the dryer into his laundry basket, then switch his wet clothes to the dryer and start the dryer. Then and only then was I able to load my clothes into the washer. I grumbled as I did so, then tromped up the stairs, exhausted and out of breath. (I can work out for an hour and not break a sweat, but laundry and stairs completely wipe me out. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is.)

Exasperated, I emailed my husband and told him that if he wants to stay up until 3 a.m. (because he does) that’s his decision, but when he does it and I find routine household chores undone the next day, it frustrates me. Because somehow, factoring in two jobs, a two-hour nap in the afternoon and a 9:30 bedtime, I manage to shop, cook, change diapers, entertain our daughter, run errands and keep the kid and myself in clean, matching clothes.

So while I know that he spends less time at home than I do, he is here and awake from 6:30 p.m. until 3 a.m., amounting to 8 ½ hours in which he could complete those chores. And when he doesn’t complete them, it makes me feel like he doesn’t care about me because he expects me to pick up the slack or, if I refuse, I’m still angry all day. Ultimately, the message his neglect sends is that he just doesn’t care. I added in the email, that I wasn’t angry right then. I just wanted to explain how I felt because I want him to understand how his behavior affects me.

Well, he was pretty upset about that email. We talked about it that night and never reached a meeting of the minds. He said he forgot about the laundry and apologized and couldn’t understand why I kept pushing. Besides, he said, he’d gotten much more responsive with daily chores such as the dishes. I could not understand why he was upset when I was never, in fact, angry. My objective was to explain how his behavior affects my feelings and all I wanted was to make him understand. I also explained that when I brought up the dishes, I referred to an ongoing pattern that had revealed itself over years’ time. He took that to mean that I didn’t give him any credit for recent improvement.

Last night, as I brushed my teeth, I heard the garage door open. What’s he doing? I wondered. Rose was already in bed and the garage is below her room. We avoid using it when she’s asleep. Should I go down there? He could be fighting an axe murderer right now. Then, as I popped a zit, I heard him come down the hall. He opened the bedroom door, winded, and said, “Make sure you close the garage door when you come up. I found it and the door to the house wide open.”

“It was?” I said, “Oh, yeah. I left it open because there were groceries in the car and you like the garage door open when you unload. I’m sorry. I thought you’d be right down.” He’d forgotten to unload the groceries.

“Whatever, just make sure you close the door,” he said, as he left the room.

Well, looks like the shoe was on the other foot now. To me, leaving the doors open was an oversight, meant to be helpful, forgotten. To him, it was a grievous security breach. Truth be told, I’m glad he spotted it because I completely forgot and I don’t feel comfortable unless all the doors are locked either. But to Matt, my behavior demonstrated a lack of concern for his values and my family’s safety.

So it’s clear that both men and women react to spousal behavior as a personal affront. So where’s the chasm? Why can’t we think about each other when we leave the laundry undone or forget about the garage door?

The problem is that there is a chasm, but it’s not that obvious. It’s all about nuance. Nuance in the way we think and nuance in the way the world looks to each gender. “What the hell is nuance?” you guys are asking. Nuance refers to subtle differences that can completely change the message received. It is what women discuss when we dissect the WAY you said something instead of WHAT you said. “Oh, chick stuff,” you’re saying. Believe it or not, guys are intimately familiar with nuance, and you discuss it all the time.

Let’s say Ronnie Brown receives a long pass at the four-yard line. He bobbles it, recovers, then gets knocked out of bounds and the ball comes loose, landing in bounds. New England recovers it but the ref blows the ball dead. Was it a catch? The refs have to decide in seconds. Let’s say they call it a catch and Miami dinks it into the end zone. Imagine you are for Miami, and your bud, though you love him like a brother, loves the Patriots. You argue that Brown did, indeed, have possession because he recovered just before the tackle and your bud says no, he fumbled it and it should have been New England’s ball. You and your bud discuss this through the end of this game (Miami 21-14) and the next. You are discussing nuance. The subtle difference in this play, between a fair catch and a fumble – did he have possession or didn’t he? – is nuance.

With all of these subtle differences in the way we see things, how do we come to agreement? Based upon my conversation with Matt the other night, we probably don’t. What we can do is try to see our own behavior as an if_then statement. “If I leave dishes on the counter, then Maria will think I’m slacking and get all pissed off. Therefore I won’t get any tonight.” That is an if_then statement, followed by a logical (and accurate) conclusion. Ladies: “If I don’t close the garage door, then Matt will freak out. Therefore, it’s better for him to open it himself than for me to forget it again.” That’s also if_then statement followed by a logical conclusion.

It will take practice to think this way, but take heart. The “Actions Speak Louder than Words” doctrine works in a positive direction as well. I lost my job a few weeks ago. One of my first thoughts was, Oh, no, now we won’t have money for the fence. I’ve wanted a backyard fence since we moved in, so I can contain my daughter and keep her safe when we play outside. Without it, she hurtles toward the cliff, or runs out toward the road, stressing me out as I run after her. Being great with child makes this activity even more difficult. So to my great joy and relief, we’d planned to put up a fence this summer, before I lost my job.

I’d never shared the fence lament with Matt. Two days after I’d heard the bad news, Matt said, “I’ve been thinking about the fence. We can just buy it in pieces, whatever we can afford, and it should be done in a month or two.” I cried. For a long time. Matt knew how much that fence meant to me, and despite our financial concerns, he found a way to make it happen, job or no job. At that moment, and as the fence goes up, I am overwhelmed at how much he loves me, and I love him, section by section, more and more.

Communication between the sexes takes a lot of work and there’s a steep learning curve, but we maintain enough understanding to keep us together. And if that isn’t enough, we must remember that we love each other. Love fortifies our relationships enough to make us keep trying. And that’s the secret. That’s all we have to do. We may never get it right, but it’s enough for our partner to see that we just keep trying.

The Hallmarks of Fatherhood

Rose can pick a Father’s Day card in seconds. She can’t read yet, so a picture of Elmo or a Disney princess is a sure sell. My shopping experience is not so simple. Now that I’ve got to pick out two Father’s Day cards – one for my father and one for my husband – we spend a good 45 minutes in the card aisle. Rose clutches her card, but I have to find just the right message – for both of them.

My dad’s card is tricky. I pore over available sentiments, looking for one that’s not too sweet, not too personal — just a nice thought — because that’s where our relationship stands right now. When I was a little girl, our relationship was playful and harmonious. During my pubescent years, it turned uncomfortable. From teenhood through my twenties, it grew mutually hostile. In my thirties, our interactions evolved to guarded but necessary; and now we’re a friendly kind of civil.

So the cards I pick out don’t say “You’re My Hero” or “World’s Greatest Dad.” They say “Happy Father’s Day” and I write in “Thank you,” because despite our relationship’s complicated path, there are things my father’s done for which I am very grateful. Most of his contributions were monetary, and for my father, writing a check is like cutting off a limb with a plastic spoon. It’s not that he doesn’t have money. He just doesn’t like to give it up. Money’s always been his main love. Nothing takes precedence. So the fact that my father financed my education and supplemented my income each time I struggled with money really means a lot. I know how difficult it was for him to give that money up, and I know that he wished he’d given it to someone who hadn’t disappointed him so early and often.

The card I pick for my husband is different, though gratitude is still the prevailing sentiment. Matt loves Rose so much, and he’s a great daddy. He works a lot, so I tease him by humming “Cat’s in the Cradle” from time to time, but when he’s with Rose, he’s her hero, and that’s exactly what a little girl’s daddy should be. He crawls on the floor and plays blocks and horsie with her. He reads to her. He’s charged himself with nightly diaper and jammies duty. And he took her to visit Grandma for four whole days.

He helps me too. He takes Rose to the gym so I have writing time. He agreed to take over swim lesson duty when I told him how much it stresses me. And if I need to lie down, he tries to keep her out of the bedroom until I get up. And sometimes he succeeds.

Matt is the reason we had Rose in the first place. He wanted me to bear children. I never wanted to get pregnant or give birth. My plan was to adopt a potty-trained two-year-old. But about two years into our relationship, I changed my mind. I remember the moment. We were sitting on the couch in our Shady Side, Md. house, and I realized that I wanted a child with this man. And if I had to get pregnant to do it, I could. With this man, I would always be ok.

So my heart, and the card that serves as its ambassador, is full of gratitude. Sure, he’s my husband, so he still does things to annoy me, but when I’m in the card aisle, I put that aside and focus on how much I love him and how lucky I am to have him in my life. And I try to find a card that reflects that.

I just hope that Rose keeps buying the same “Best Dad Ever” cards. Elmo and Ariel can go, but I hope the sentiment remains the same. At Rose’s age, my dad was my hero. I said I would marry him (How textbook Oedipal is that?) and in some ways, I have.

Matt’s personality is nothing like my father’s. My dad was a mechanical engineer, and he’s got the typical engineer persona. He’s comfortable with problems and constructs, but he never looks anyone in the eye, and isn’t interested in people enough to understand social mores and customs. We traveled six hours to see him once, and he left us sitting on his living room couch while he retired without a word to the dining room to read the paper.

Matt’s a social savant. I envy his ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, for any length of time, for any reason. He’s entertaining and funny, smart and perceptive, speaks his mind, and everyone likes him.

But my father and Matt have two things in common: worry and anger. Neither one of them knows how curb worry. My father worries about money. Matt worries about everything. Since money is everything to my father, their worry quotient is about equal. With Matt, worry leads to stress, which leads to anger. It may work the same for my father. I just remember he was angry all the time.

Last night, Rose wanted to jump off the easy chair in the living room. It’s about 18 inches off the ground, the floor is carpeted – no great danger for a two-year-old. She said, “Can I jump?” I was fine with the jump, but before I said so, Matt yelled “NO! I don’t want to go to the hospital when you break your leg! Bad enough Daddy broke his arm when he was five. And that hurt!” Clearly, she was not in danger of fracturing a femur, but Matt’s knee-jerk worry pumped up his volume. I know he really believed that she could break her leg, but I also know that worry is so powerful that it distorts reality.

At other times, Rose’s defiance stresses him out, as only a two-year-old’s can. He loses patience and he yells at her. If it were up to me, he wouldn’t yell at her at all, but I understand that he hasn’t logged the hours with her that I have, and has not yet learned all of the alternate methods of disciplining a trying toddler. I also understand that he did not spend half of his life in therapy, as I did, and he doesn’t realize how damaging yelling at a child can be. And I know that sometimes, kids can make you so crazy you just can’t help but lose it. But yelling sends the message that yelling is ok, and Rose has already started to yell at him. Additionally, since everything he does will shape her relationships with men, if he keeps yelling at her, she’ll think this behavior is perfectly ok if her boyfriend does it years from now.

We’ve discussed the yelling and I’m happy to say Matt’s improved. His outbursts are much fewer and farther between. And I’ve noticed Rose has laid off the yelling as well. She’s replaced it with other undesirable behaviors, but none so clearly attributable to our mistakes.

My father would never have been as amenable to improvement. I can attest because I used to write long, heartfelt messages in the cards I would give him, detailing how I would like our relationship to improve and he’d say something like, “Ohhh. I didn’t know you felt this way.” He’d look serious for a few minutes, leading me to believe he’d work on our relationship, but nothing ever happened. As far as I could tell, he never made an effort. Ultimately, our relationship evolved according to circumstance, not because of any effort on either part.

I think Matt and Rose’s relationship will be different. He’s always wanted to be a dad, and it’s obvious that he adores his little girl. He’s committed to dadhood, because his own father failed him so miserably – even before he left. And Matt knows that relationships must be built from the ground up. So far, I think he’s laid a good foundation. The rest of the relationship depends on time and materials. Hmm, Matt the Builder. Can he build it? As Rose would say, “Yes, he can!”*

*Adapted from “Bob the Builder

Victory Garden

This year will be different, I thought. This year she’s old enough to really enjoy the garden.

We started in February with the peas. “You love peas, Rose, and you know what? We can grow them in the garden. Would you like to help Mommy plant them?”

“Yeah! Yeah!” exclaimed my excited two-and-a-half-year-old.

“Ok, well here’s the seeds,” I said, handing her the envelope. “I’ll get my gloves and we’ll go back to the garden.”

“Ok!” she said, fiddling with the envelope. Halfway back we had to stop.

“No, Baby, we don’t open them yet. No, don’t shake! We don’t want to lose them! Ok, I’ll take them,” I demanded, holding out my hand.


I grabbed them. “Yes! I told you, if don’t have the seeds, we won’t grow any peas.”

“I want them!”

“We will play with them in the garden.”


“Ok, sit here, Sweetie. No, no, don’t walk in the garden. Sit on the grass! Sit!”

“I want to go here!”

“But how are we going to plant the peas? We have to plant the peas over here!” I said, grabbing her arm. “Sit!”

“Ok, so here’s what we do: take the little rake like this and run it across the dirt like this.” I showed her.

“I want to do it!” Finally.

“Here you go.” She ran the hand rake over the soil, dug it into the ground, and catapulted a divot onto the grass. “No, Baby, now we have to dig holes for the little seeds. A divot flew past my face. “Honey, give me the rake. Give it to me.” I reached out for it.

“NOOO! I want it!” she said as I yanked it out of her hand. “I want it!”

“Don’t you want to plant the peas?”


“Ok, Sweetie, why don’t you take the rake and go over there.” Happily, she settled down on the site of the future tomato bed. A divot shot past my face. Breathe in, breathe out. “And Mommy will plant the peas.”


“Today we’re going to plant the strawberries, Sweetie. Oh boy, looks like we’ve got a lot of weeds. Guess I’ll start pulling them.” Rose climbed up on the rock wall with my trowel. Fountains of dirt flew, peppering the driveway. I grabbed a weed and pulled. Rose looked up.

“What are you doing Mommy?”

“Pulling weeds,” I said.

“Can I pull weeds?” she asked.

“Uh…sure, Sweetie. Come over here and I’ll show you.” I pointed, “This is a weed. Grab it at the bottom and pull it out.” She grasped her little hand around it and pulled. It came up, roots and all.

“Can I do it again?” she asked.

“YES!” Hallelujah. “Pull this one right here.” And she did. “No, not that one! We want that plant!” I pointed out some more weeds, and she kept pulling. Fantastic, I thought, It’s just destructive enough to hold her attention. And she’s really helping.


“Today we’re ready to plant the lettuce,” I said. “Help me pull out the weeds first.” I wielded my hand rake. “Pull that one, right there.”

Rose grabbed the hand rake. “I want to dig!” She raked the ground. Divots of tilled, fertilized, composted soil flew into the grass.

“Do you want to dig up the weeds over here? That’s where we’ll plant the tomatoes.”

“I want to dig!” she said as the ruts got bigger and the grass got buried.

I sighed.

The books said that kids are supposed to like gardening. It’s playing in the dirt, after all. Rose loves eating vegetables off the plants, so I know she’s got gardening potential. There are so many great lessons for me to teach her in the garden too. Science, work, sustainablility. She’d benefit so much from this. If only I could get her to like the process and not just the result.

We were working on the herb garden and Rose tromped across my seedlings. “NOOOO!” I cried. She kept tromping. “No, don’t walk there!” I nudged her backwards, out of the garden.

“MWWAAAAAAA! You pushed me!” I’d made her cry. How could she like the garden if Mommy made her cry?

“Ohh, Sweetie. I’m sorry I pushed you. I’m sorry. Can you listen for a second?”

Sniff, “Yeah.”

“Ok, those little plants? They’re babies. Little babies, so we’ve got to be gentle with them. If we walk on them they break and then they can never grow up.”

“Ohhhh.” She kneeled down and stroked the babies. “Hi babies.”

Wow, I thought, it worked.


May came along and I set out to buy tomato plants. I had an idea. “Rose, would you like to grow your own tomato plant?” I asked.

“YES! I want one!” she yelled.

“Ok. Mommy’s going to the farmer’s market and I’ll bring you back a tomato plant and it’ll be all yours. You can take care of it and eat all the tomatoes it grows. Ok?”


Ok, maybe we’re getting somewhere. I’ll believe it when I see it, though. I came home with some plants.

“Is that mine?” she asked, holding up a yellow pear.

“Uh, no, Sweetie. I got this one for you,” I said, pointing to a Sweet 1,000 plant. They’re supposed to be hardy and prolific, so I thought it would be perfect for her.

“Can we plant it?” she said.

“Now? Well, sure, ok.” We set out to the garden. I pulled out a big pot.

“Fill this with dirt, Sweetie. Take the shovel and get the dirt from the bag, and put it in the pot.”

“Ok,” she said, as I tried to guide her hand. “I DO IT!”

“Ok.” And she did. She scooped dirt out of the bag, and dumped it in the pot. She had almost filled the pot when I stopped her.

“Honey let’s plant the tomato. We need to take a little bit of this dirt out because we need to make room for it,” I said as I scooped some soil out. “You go get your plant.”

She brought it over. “Ok, we’re going to take it out of that pot and plant it in this big pot,” I said. She turned the pot upside down and began to shake.

“NO, BABY, GENTLE!” I gasped as I grabbed the plant and turned it upright. I pulled it out of the pot and clipped the lower leaves. Deep breath. “Ok, now we make a hole in the pot. Can you do that?”

“I DO IT!” she yelled.

“That’s what I said.” Soil started to fly. “Ok, Honey, that’s deep enough. Let’s plant your tomato.” I put it in the hole. “Now you get to bury it. Bury it with dirt up to about here.”

“Ok,” she said, as she pushed dirt onto the plant.

“That’s enough, Sweetie. Good job,” I said, smoothing soil. “Now we just have to water it and we’re done.”


“And you will. Let me get the hose.” I brought it back and held it for her.

“I DO IT!” she yelled.

“Ok, Honey, let Mommy hold the hose because we have to be gentle and Mommy knows how. You can point it at your plant.”

“Ok.” Whew! We watered her tomato, and then I let her water the rest of the garden.

“That’s it, Sweetie, we’re done. We just have to check it now to see if it grows. And you’re going to take care of it from now on.” Satisfied, I took her inside.

The next day, Rose ran out on the deck, peered down at the garden and cried, “Yaaay! It’s GROWING!” She couldn’t even see her tomato plant from there. She was happy about my garden. Victory.

Care and Feeding

A week later, we shopped at Lowe’s and I bought her some Dora the Explorer garden mats. They were cheap and I needed a mat anyway. She saw the Dora gardening gloves and wanted those. Sure, anything to encourage her in the garden. I threw them in the cart. We went to another department and my brilliant husband said, “Did you see the ‘Sesame Street’ garden tools?”

“No!” I said, surprised. “Do you think she’d like them?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I think she’d love to have her own tools.”

I took her to the display. “Hey, there’s Elmo and Cookie Monster and Abby!” she said, picking up the little bags of tools.

“Which one do you want, Sweetie?” I said.


So we bought the Abby Cadabby bag. It held a plastic hand rake, two shovels, five tiny pots and a pack of pumpkin seeds. Rose insisted on carrying it around the store. She napped after the store, but the minute she woke up, she picked up her bag of tools and said, “Mommy, can we go to the garden now?” Victory. Matt is a genius, I thought, thank God I married him.

Now whenever she sees the Abby bag, she wants to go to the garden. This morning I told her to wait until I’d had a shower and she walked into the bathroom, asking, “Are you done yet, Mommy? Can we go to the garden now?”

Today we planted her pumpkin seeds. Victory.