Tyler Jacobson reflects on the lessons his mom taught him, and the seeds she left behind for the garden of his children’s lives.
My mother always described gardening as a brave adventure. As a child, I remember spending many hours staring at the cornucopia of crunchy vegetables, juicy fruits, and bright, beautiful flowers wondering what in the world she meant by “brave.” I have never really forgotten that time, but I had never been brave enough to begin my own gardening adventure until this year.
This year gardening—or at least being brave enough to start a garden—was the right therapy for me and I suspected for my family as well. My mother passed away in February, literally surrounded by her family and seed catalogs. It is a touching and slightly comical memory. As I sit here now looking back on myself, the rest of the family, and her beloved seed suppliers, I cannot deny the pure bliss she was in for the last moments of her life.
My wife just blinked that blink she gets when she’s sure I’ve gone ‘round the bend. I gave her my ‘trust me’ look, but her face barely softened. My announcement was sudden. We usually talk through all such decisions, so I gave her a wink to let her know it was going to be OK.
My oldest son is right smack in the middle of the terrible teens. He is a good kid but with the social media pressure and the attachment to devices common to today’s teens I felt he needed to know what an unconnected life feels like. My daughter is 12 going on 32 just like most girls her age. She reminds me so much of her grandmother. They share the same quiet glow. She is missing her MeMaw so I felt a garden could be a way for her to stay connected. The flowers she grows can be placed on her grandmother’s grave.
My youngest son is only seven, but he is the one who really needs the garden. My wife and I adopted him from the foster care system. His early years were very difficult and without much stability so he developed reactive attachment disorder. We are constantly concerned what we have to offer him won’t be enough. Sometimes it is hard for me to stay objective. I spend my days writing about all that can go wrong in raising teenagers. He is so young, but I cannot help but feel like we need to act now.
My youngest son is also taking the loss of MeMaw harder than I anticipated. He loved my mother’s garden. The creepy crawlies were a source of endless fascination. He would pick a bug and watch it journey through the biomass. Over rocks, around stalks he tracked the bug, but he also did something he is unable to do in other situations—he told me stories of all the adventures of his new bug friend. His language was creative and involved. Light would dance from his eyes as he told me the tales of a ladybug he named ‘Jane’ or a pill bug he named ‘Roy’. His facial expressions were appropriate and his gestures animated.
That night over spaghetti, I realized if I did not carry on my mother’s tradition I may never see that sort of response from our youngest again.
“We’re starting a garden,” I said again slowly but resolutely.
My still blinking wife tried to speak but she did not seem sure of what to say. The 16-year-old started to grumble, the 12-year-old’s lower lip started to quiver just a little—I know she was thinking of her grandma’s flowers—but to everyone’s surprise the 7-year-old sprung to life. “You mean I can have bugs here too?” He was so animated it startled us all.
My wife stopped blinking. Tears began to pool in her eyes. Her shoulders, which had been pressed to the back of the chair, relaxed. She understood my madness as he spoke.
“I’m sad about MeMaw, but I was going to miss bugs. I’ve never had my own bugs before.”
It was the first he had talked of her since the funeral. When the other kids talked of her, he remained as stoic and silent as the garden angel statue in the butterfly flower patch under MeMaw’s kitchen window. Until that moment, I had no idea he had made the association between her death and the loss of his beloved bugs.
Four of us stopped and the one who never really got started talked. He made plans for bugs.
In that tiny garlic-perfumed moment I am not sure I quite felt brave, but I did feel my mother’s presence.
It has been five months since that night. Lettuces and radishes grown from our own hands decorate the azure glass bowl that used to hold an assortment of fruits from my mother’s garden. The dining room is ready for another spaghetti dinner. This time the sauce is homegrown, including the garlic.
As I flash back, so much has changed. I am still worried about the need for residential treatment for our youngest son when he is a teenager. Considering his past, I think I’d be crazy to not worry he will become a troubled teen. However, I think I finally have a glimpse of what my mother meant about the bravery needed to grow a garden. Selecting and nurturing seeds is pretty audacious if you think about it. It is not unlike raising children. There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a family,” but what my family has learned on this great gardening adventure is it takes an entire family to raise seeds from the Earth.
My son puts down his electronics to willingly pull weeds. My daughter talks to her MeMaw through flowers. My youngest son talks too – and not just to bugs anymore. My wife has found a peace in the garden that resembles my own mother’s. As for me, I am grateful for quiet moments of bravery and for seeds, weeds, and the wonderful wisdom of my mother. I am still not sure I feel brave, but I know my life and my belly are full.
Originally appeared on Familyguiding.com. Reprinted with permission.