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Gardening With Kids Tries Your Impatiens

July 01, 2001|JEANNE MARIE LASKAS | WASHINGTON POST

The thing they don't tell you about parenthood is that once you enter into it, you can never, ever get anything done. This is what I'm thinking, standing here with temptation in my heart and Anna on my hip. We are in the garden section of our local Super Huge Discount Store, surrounded by flats of sorry, leggy snapdragons. Pinch! Pinch! my inner gardener is shouting. Rescue those poor things! Take them home and put them in between the day lilies!

I am just saying no. Ever since parenthood, I've had to silence my inner gardener. I feel guilty about this. I think about all the time I used to spend on my knees, weeding and pruning and digging and dreaming. All that uninterrupted time! The kind of time that seems to go by in the blink of an eye until suddenly it's dusk and you've got sunburned shoulders and the total body ache only a gardener knows. You stand there marveling at all you've accomplished, at all those honeysuckle vines finally cleared out so the spiderwort can breathe. You stand there overwhelmed with all there is still to do. Divide hosta, plug in pachysandra, stake dahlias, mulch, mulch, mulch. How will you ever get it all done?

A garden, if you give in to it, can consume your every ounce of energy and each beat of your heart.

Parenthood, to a gardener, is a bomb going off. Kaboom!

No more uninterrupted time. I did not go down easily. Last year, I got one of those playpens with a net roof on it so Anna could play beside me while I tried to plant flowers. Yeah, right. As a 1-year-old, Anna was a full-body-contact kind of kid. So then I got one of those backpack things and carried her around papoose-style. Yeah, right. Ever try to pull weeds with a 20-pound lump on your back? Bend over, and guess where that lump sends you? Right on your nose. Not so good for the lump, either. So then I got a baby-sitter who sat on the porch and played goo-goo games with this baby I've waited for my whole life, while I was out sweating in the stinking hot sun digging dahlia ditches and getting zapped by a swarm of yellow jackets. And I was paying for this?

The whole thing got mixed up, my heart twisting inside out, my allegiances rearranging themselves, and the end result was: Goodbye, garden. It was just that abrupt. Probably I owed my garden an explanation, but let's face it, most intense relationships don't end smoothly.

See, I should never have walked into the flower section of this Super Huge Discount Store. Because now I spot some zinnias that need help. Doesn't anybody ever get any water around here? And look at this poor, homeless lobelia. And what about these wave petunias? They'd look so pretty down by the barn.

Just get a shopping cart. How hard can it be?

Good thinking, inner gardener. I'm actually pretty good at pushing a shopping cart while balancing Anna on my hip. (No, she won't sit in that seat part.) And so I load four flats of flowers in a cart. I feel the tingle. I push that cart around the store, feeling as proud as a kid with a new pair of cowboy boots.

When we get home, I open the hatchback. "A garden!" I say to Anna. "We're going to make a beautiful garden!" Hmm. Well, she is only 2. But we can do this. The trick is to keep her entertained while I quickly plant. "Wheeee!" I say, digging with a trowel. "Wheee!" she says, trying it out. This buys me a good seven minutes. "Wheee!" She's pouring dirt on her shoe while I plug in snapdragons with machine-gun speed.

OK, now she's plucking them out behind me. "No, no, Sweetie," I say, and invent a grass-plucking game that buys me another session of furious planting--um, well, I'm just sticking the lobelia up front here and plopping these zinnias in this bald spot. No time to think. See, in the old days I thought. I had a scheme. It was like doing needlepoint, except with flowers. Now, it's more, well, see, now Anna is marching on the lobelia. And I'm way over-snapdragoned over here on the left. Maybe if I just sing "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed," Anna will go over on the grass there and do her monkey dance. But, oh brother, now she's dropping all the little plant markers down the back of my shirt. Fine. As long as it keeps her amused I'm happy, the lobelia is happy, uh-oh, not the snapdragons again. "Hey, Anna! Come look at the worm!"

Eventually, I get it done. Four flats of flowers officially in. Not really the gardening experience I'm used to. But hey, I answered the call. It feels like a breakthrough, like when you run into an old boyfriend and realize maybe it will be possible to become friends.

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