The kids have been back at school for a couple of weeks, but today is the first day that the parent volunteers will be taking the third grade through a full day of garden curriculum. We arrive a half hour before the kids, just enough time to get our assignments and for me to work up an appropriate level of fear. Last year T was the official, paid garden teacher. This year, thanks to budget cuts, she’s volunteering, just like the rest of us.
[Though she’s a far cry from the rest of us, with her deep commitment to this class in which she has no children. As much as I’d like to think of myself as someone with a passion for the gardening program, there’s about the same chance of me spending an entire unpaid day (plus) each week teaching gardening to a group of kids that do not include one of my own progeny as there is of there ever being leftover bacon in my house. The rest of us like the garden too, and believe that it’s important, but we’re here for our own kids. Or maybe I should speak for myself: I’m here for my own kids. Because as much as I want a garden program for the school, what I’m willing to pour the sweat equity into is my own boys’ classes.]
Anyhow, with T as a volunteer, though she still takes on the entire task of planning the curriculum and teaching the group, there’s an increased psychological burden on me. Before, I was parent, she was teacher, and I would gladly, willingly, gratefully defer all discipline issues to her. Disruptive kid? Look at T. Defiance? Go talk to T. Rampant rule-breaking? Defer all responsibility to T. But now, um, there’s no hired teacher in the garden, so I am going to have to step up and handle some of this on my own (gulp), which means (gulp), telling Other People’s Kids what to do, something I’ve never really liked doing, and am not so great at. Fortunately, T breaks the kids up into groups and I’ve got only five. Five Other People’s Kids. Yikes.
So, T divides up the groups, and tells me, “You’ll take the weeding and seed-saving group.” Now, I’m all into seed saving. As a concept. My attempts at it so far have mostly consisted of washing off the seeds I scrape out of a winter squash we are about to eat and throwing them in a drawer until spring, when I throw them onto a patch of garden with a bunch of other stuff “shotgun style” and hope something comes up after I toss the dirt around a bit. The squashes I have managed to produce in this manner have been less than impressive. T clearly has no concept of the breadth and depth of my ignorance. Terrified, I fake it: “Sure, no problem.” I look at the bowls and frames filled with screen that she hands me, and am about to ask, “So…what do I do?” when she turns away to give instructions to the parent volunteer of the cooking group.
Thankfully, my group has a garden bed to weed first, which is something I know how to do. Trowels to the ready, mates! Plus, we get to harvest these giant overgrown-past-needing-harvesting garlic, which have huge seed balls balanced atop their thick stalks—there’s really not any point in doing anything but temporarily surrendering to the throw-around-the-seed-ball game. We’re having so much fun weeding that one of the students from the cooking group comes over to ask us to pipe down. We respond by supplying the cooking group with more garlic than they could ever use for their day’s work. So there.
Alas, our weeding enthusiasm sooner than later flags, and it’s time for the second part of the lesson: seed saving. So, off we go, them asking questions, me alternately faking it or saying, “Hm, that’s a GREAT question. Let’s save that one for Miss T.” We manage to gather some seeds that look, well, like seeds, and feel pretty sure that we know what the plants from which we gathered them are, when it’s time for us to be back for the treat prepared by the censorious cooking group, and here’s the magic, beyond my group's love of having their hands in the soil, and their careful discovery of the way the columbine blossoms turn upside down to hold their seeds safely in little dried flower cups for us. The magic here is that I’m watching my kid, who will not eat a raw tomato at home for love or money, clamor with the rest for seconds and thirds of the bruschetta the cooking kids have made.
Toasted slices of French bread (be sure to have some rice crackers on hand for the gluten-free child)
Have the kids pick, wash, and chop up a bunch of ripe tomatoes into small pieces. Make sure they do not include any fingertips. Take the garlic from the rowdy weeding group, peel and crush a couple of cloves, and assign either the most patient kid or the one who just loves to chop, or both, to hacking it—I mean, carefully, carefully slicing it--into tiny bits. Let the others chop fresh basil leaves, mix it all together with some olive oil and sea salt, and take turns spooning it onto the rounds of toasted bread (and rice crackers).
Make the kids all salivate madly while they have to think up gratitudes as they stare at the plates of bruschetta. When they have thanked the earth, sun, rain, and Miss T, let them have two each, and then count to make sure there are enough for thirds. If there’s not quite enough, pass around to the parent volunteers and take the rest up to share with the office staff. Encourage the kids to make more at home.