It’s getting warmer, with that energizing spring heat, and we are all glad to be back out in the garden after the last week of standardized tests. For the morning, we must all band together to get those tomatoes into the ground! They are getting spindly-tall in those little pots. We review how to pinch off the lower leaves and plant the plants deep enough to give the too-long stems a strong foundation. Sometimes the kids feel like this these days: they’ve all grown a few inches when I wasn’t looking. A few weeks of neglect: vacation, testing, a sick day, and suddenly they no longer fit in the little plastic boxes of my preconceptions.
I’m somehow assigned to the pair of girls who usually get under my thin, non-teacher skin within the first few minutes of class. They are strong, bright, willful girls, with a lot to say (and no sense of when it’s someone else’s turn to say something). They are also self-involved to the point of not seeing the full range of hurtful behaviors they can so easily turn on the less vocal, less opinionated members of the class. And so, in my role as enforcer of the general peace when T is trying to get us through some curricular hurdle, I often have to pull them aside for “reminders,” which they usually interpret as unfounded attacks on their unblemished characters. Which means, in blunt, that they don’t like me so much. And if I’m honest and lay aside my “teacher” hat, I have to admit it’s mutual.
Fortunately, I did remember to wear that “open heart, open mind” teacher hat today, even though it sometimes chafes my temples. So when T sends the three of us off to plant our tomatoes, I leave my hopeless sense of “boy, won’t this just be so fun… not” in the greenhouse. Off we go to our assigned garden bed, with the seemingly simple task of planting two whole tomato plants. We’ve got our work cut out for us. When we get there, we find a whole clutch of broccoli plants on the verge of going to seed. Wild Child #1 turns around, and seeing no adult more likely than myself nearby to give the answer she wants, warily focuses the full force of her long-lashed eyes and wheedling voice on my person: “can we eat some, please please?”
“Sure, as much as you want,” I shrug. She needn’t have tried so hard. I generally encourage grazing, and we just have to pull these plants anyhow if we want to have room for the tomatoes. The next several minutes pass with the girls enthusiastically chomping broccoli and chard, and pulling up the broccoli plants by the roots. This proves to be so much fun that they keep wanting to pull more and more, going way beyond our assigned area, rather than settling down to the job of getting the tomatoes on the ground.
As I expected, the whining sets in, just about when I call them back to the task at hand.
“It’s soooo hot.”
“Yep, so the sooner we get these plants in the sooner we can get out of the sun.” I’m masking my sweat-induced irritation by cleaning up around the edges of the bed they are theoretically supposed to be “working” in.
Whine, dig, complain, lose focus, work even slower. WC#2: “It’s REALLY hot. Can I get a drink of water?”
“Sure, as soon as we get the plants in and watered, we’ll take a water break.” (After all, it’s only two plants—if I were doing it myself it would take about 30 seconds. Not that I’m feeling a wee bit impatient or anything.)
“But, but, but..”
“Let’s just get it done, guys.” I’m such a mean hard-ass; I can see it in their set jaws and hear in their whispers.
Whine, dig, complain, lose focus… but eventually, with many deep theatrical sighs, the tomatoes get into the ground. Once that’s done, there’s no more asking for water, as the girls have caught sight of the big pile I’ve made of the broccoli plants they pulled and left helter-skelter all over the path. “Can we do something with that?”
Hmm, that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing, really—we should clean up the beds more--but I’m sick of nagging them. “Sure, let’s head down and wash it and trim off the edible bits—we can add them to the salad.” So we all three head into the shade of the kitchen work area.
The three of us, out of the sun and now with no assignment requiring timely completion, somehow all simultaneously decide to drop our annoyance with each other. These girls, the ones who usually make me close my eyes and breathe slowly before I speak, are just chatting with me, politely. And I with them. We fill a big colander with trimmed-off bit of broccoli (yes of course the stems were woody, but we didn’t care), washed it, mixed it with salad greens and dressed the whole thing with leftover mango dressing from the Mayday picnic.
Our salad was beautiful (tough stems and all) and delicious (if you spit out the stems) and more than that, we had fun doing it. All three of us. Together. The wild girls are getting taller, and more mature, and if their stalks are to have the proper support, I’ve got to let them out of the little boxes I’ve been keeping them in, and shore them up with some good soil, and watch them set their own roots. We’ve all got our jobs cut out for us here in the garden; just sometimes I’m looking too closely at the task at hand to see the bigger work. (Thank goodness for the strong-willed girls who can push at my edges.)