The perpetual dirt under my fingernails confirms spring’s arrival. I’ve been craving those late evening hours of sunlight after work and the gym where I can disappear in the back yard. Forsaken weeds beg my attention. In the garden, real world anxieties dissipate. Mother Nature decides how many days until harvest. Nothing else has to make sense.
Lately, it seems, little else does.
Try though I might, I see no discernible sequence for these maternal waves of longing. They seize me when least expected or welcome. They attack with little warning, often accompanied by sneaky tears. It happened today after I’d congratulated a coworker on her engagement. I’d expressed joy while hugging her, but the instant her feet exited my classroom, it happened, like I’d just popped the top on a shaken Diet Coke, the maternal longing liquefied into carbonated soda now bubbling over.
Apart from rare occurrences like this, school is typically a safe zone for the mama overdrive. We don’t birth teenagers. My students have been molded and nurtured and directed when they get to me. I tend to their minds for a year or more if I’m lucky. I remember last year when one of my kids told me she wasn’t going to be able to participate in the yearbook in the fall. Young Beauty knew I’d be disappointed, though I doubt she suspected it was neither her editing nor leadership skills that I would miss. It was her presence.
Her genuine laugh lifted the mood of my classroom. She’d make a delightful protagonist in a modern day fairy tale, her big, trusting heart likely finding a central conflict. When I first wrote her into my weekly annals, I said she was “Beauty before she met the beast, head in the clouds, knowledge in her hands, ever aware there’s something more beyond her reach. “ I would miss seeing her every other day.
Her conflict with Yearbook was participating in a Pharmacy Tech program at a partnering technical education center off-campus. As it turns out, now I see her every day. The bus brings her back to school well before her next class, and Young Beauty spends that time in my room. She keeps her things in there and uses my microwave. Sometimes we talk. When AP assignments abound, we just work in silence. I wonder if she realizes I just like having her around, even if when we’re not engaged in conversation. Then again, I’m sure she has an assigned locker, so maybe she likes seeing me every day, too.
I told Young Beauty once that if I had a daughter, I hoped she would be just like her. In a Grimm’s Brother’s tale, she’d be the hero whose goodness and virtue would thwart the villain. That’s the character I’d hope my own offspring would embody. Young Beauty, though, is almost grown, a product of nature and nurture, no doubt. I can imagine what she was like as a child, wide eyed and hopeful to a fault. It’s safe to imagine that because this takes place at school, in the safe zone.
But give me four hours with four boys under the age of ten on a Saturday at The Pentagon, and all bets are off. Friends of Charming’s from Wheaton days had reached out to him about giving their kids a tour of his work before their upcoming cross-country move. It was a D.C. weekend for me, so I was happy to see some familiar faces from college and get to hear Charming’s tour narration again.
That maternal wave hit as a hurricane just after the 9-11 Memorial in the Chapel at The Pentagon. These four boys were as unique as the four elements. Each, so young, had his own presence, mind, and interests. Their eldest reminded me of my oldest brother so much so that I almost predicted aloud he’d be a doctor someday. Whether they will choose a Pharmacy Tech program or Wheaton College is still a decade off at least. Like with my toddler nieces, I couldn’t help but guess at what sports they’ll play and what careers they’ll pursue. Their futures are still a blank slate.
That blank slate is incredibly beautiful to me. It’s what I began from last week in my garden. I started with 144 tiny pods of soil, carefully counting out three seeds for each hole, then gently covering them with peat. I labeled the rows with markers detailing sowing, germination, and harvest dates. It was systematic. Long after the sun had set, I was on the couch, night after night, having transformed the coffee table into a seeding station.
I can’t expect life to emerge from every hole, though I hope it will. Some green sprouts have surfaced, but most are still in nature’s womb, fighting to exist beyond seed. I do know, however, what will bloom if life does take root. The future of each seed was predetermined. It’s clearly labeled which seedlings will someday yield cherry tomatoes or Johnny Jump Ups. Planting a garden is the kind of investment that I can get excited about because those hours where I would be at Little League games I can spend nourishing something. They won’t ever choose a Pharmacy Tech program, but they’ll be fruitful and beautiful and bountiful if fulfill my role and responsibilities.
I think I’ve been craving the garden because I need to see something grow because of me.
I’m doubling the size of my vegetable garden this year, and staring from seeds is a new venture for me. I transformed my guest room into a modest greenhouse. When I drove up to see Charming Friday night, I worried about leaving my new seeds unattended. I’d closed the door, hoping to keep the heat in. I’d secured the domes, hoping to keep the moisture in. They’d be fine for two days, I assured myself.
I was back in Hampton the next night, earlier than planned. After our tour of The Pentagon, we had lunch with our friends and their kids, and we had even enjoyed a nice afternoon nap which is rare for me. Waking up, I still felt the stickiness that maternal drive’s carbonated bubbles had left that morning. What would my children be like? Who would they become? What character? What talents? What interests?
Outside the safety of my classroom, dreaming is dangerous. I told Charming I didn’t know how long I could wait for him to choose to marry me. It was a logical progression for me. What will my children be like? I don’t have any children, and I won’t have any children until I get married, and I won’t get married if Charming doesn’t decide I’m the one. Hoping to stifle a budding resentment, I opted to head home early, agreeing to spend some time in prayer before his visit next weekend.
There were tiny green shoots waiting for me in my guest room. I was so excited I purchased more materials the next day and started another 144 seedlings. Where the dead old oak tree’s remains sat for months, I finally planted new grass. I’ve lost count of my hours in the garden this week. The soil and the seeds make sense to me. Toiling in the ground, sweat on my brow, head down, I focus on doing what I know to do to make good life grow.
I imagine that I’ll do the same if the stars align and see me raising a Young Beauty of my own. Without any labels, the surprises of who she will become will delight me whether she’s like Young Beauty or not. I pray for that season. I pray for the stars to align.
I work in the garden, and in the garden, I pray for the future. For life, blossoms, and harvest.