Last night I dreamt that all my plants had died. I walked out onto the porch and stared at them, noticing the empty spaces that used to be filled with their broad, green leaves. Every step I took toward the bank of deceased plant life was punctuated by the crunching of dried, discarded leaves underfoot and I felt sad, profoundly sad.
I know why I had this dream. Yesterday I sent my boys off to Cincinnati with my mother for a one week hang out. For years, my daughter Riley spent a week there and then one at a time, the boys would get their Grammy time. This is the first time all three boys have been able to go at the same time. They’re finally mature enough, civil enough, potty trained enough. It seemed like the right choice considering that our “school” plans are shifting in the Fall.
Rather than homeschooling everyone again, my daughter will begin her Sophomore year in High School at a private arts based, “real” school. My oldest son will begin his 6th grade year at a technology/game theory “real” school and my middle son will begin his 4th grade year with Chicago Virtual Schools. So, while Henry is still technically “at home” he will be reporting to teachers and following a strict curriculum for like the first time ever.
And it’s a lot of pressure…for me and for them. It’s exciting, change is good. We’ve had a great run of it this last 9 or so years of homeschooling. The freedom to go anywhere and do anything whenever we wanted was a bonus and as I came to discover last year, a burden too. It’s difficult to be the only oversight on this particular garden.
The thing about having a garden, whether it’s a container garden on my deck in Chicago or a full on raised bed in my yard in Tennessee, is that it needs tending. Our years in homeschooling never really looked like an organized garden with specific rows planted for sweet peas and tomatoes and kale. Instead, we opted for the wild, unfettered prairie grasses and natural cycle of fertile and fallow. We embraced weeds, we scoffed at tidiness, we watched with interest to see what the seeds falling from passing birds would produce. It was all very organic in practice but not terribly measurable for the rest of the world. This garden is beautiful, it is so ridiculously fruitful and outrageously satisfying but the truth is that this garden never was meant for me. This garden is a movable feast and my work isn’t to create a stagnant decorative addition to my own landscape but rather to help cultivate in my kids the garden they will take with them anywhere they go.
As parents, we are in the business of letting go, almost from Day One. At the start of parenting our whole lives center around teaching and discipline and cataloguing moments on Facebook and then one day we look up and realize that it never really was for our own benefit. Before too long they are filling in their own answer blanks and choosing their own playdates and picking out political candidates and moving across the country. Those toes we counted with such passion when they were small were never ours to keep, it seems. Every step toward independence is right and good and painful and grief worthy.
So, I know why I dreamt about my garden dying. I simply do not want to let go yet. I’m afraid and I’m grieving already. A friend once told me that “our children are not the fruits of our labor” and I always kept that idea in the back of my mind. Our children are not our fruits, they are the whole garden, each one a lush and beautiful, growing and miraculous garden. If we tend to them well they will get up one day and move somewhere else, somewhere that needs the beauty they offer and it’s going to feel empty in those places they used to occupy here at home. And I’ll be here, watching those empty places and waiting for the return of the wild, unfettered prairie grasses in the natural cycle of fertile and fallow, this moveable feast.