By Kaci Mason
It was hot outside, and the clouds of mosquitos seemed impervious to our bug spray. Soil clung to my palms and crusted under my nails. My husband had taken the baby so that my six-year-old and I could do some work in the vegetable garden, just the two of us. It was sure to be relaxing. Rejuvenating, even.
At least, I had hoped that it would be. Instead, I was sweating, itchy, and arguing with my son about the proper way to pull weeds.
My way was the better way, of course. It was the most efficient. I pulled the weeds from the bottom, by the roots, removing them entirely and promising a longer period before I would have to return and pull weeds again.
My son went about things his own way. He ripped the tops of the weeds off, moving quickly down the line as he left the remaining halves still embedded in the soil. For some reason, I found this to be incredibly irritating. Why couldn’t he do it my way, and save me the time of having to re-do his portion of the garden? Why do it at all if he wasn’t going to do it properly?
“You’re leaving the roots,” I said, trying to keep my tone light. “Remember what we talked about?”
He bobbed his head. “I know, Mom. I’ll go back and get the roots, too.”
I huffed and wiped sweat from my eyebrow. “If you would just grab the weeds from the bottom, you wouldn’t have to go back again, and we’d be done faster.”
He looked up at me, shaking dirt from his handful of growing things. “People do things, differently, Mom.”
He went back to his work, tossing broken stems into our shared bucket, and I sat back on my heels. My irritation vanished, replaced by the humbling realization that I’d just received a valuable reminder from the person that I was supposed to be teaching, and not the other way around.
Efficiency was a necessity in the current season of my family life. While trying to balance my baby girl, my kindergartener, and a small farm full of animals and gardens, efficiency was what kept me afloat. I was responsible for doing the farm chores (twice a day), running errands, trying to keep a clean house, and cooking. I tried to fit the gym into the mix four or five times a week. I tried to make time for friends and play dates. And if all of that was miraculously accomplished, I tried to find the time to do something for myself; to keep struggling after my own personal goals, which seemed so far out of reach amid the daily grind.
Efficiency was a lifeline for me; a coping mechanism. A way of salvaging a few minutes of breathing room from all the demands and expectations I placed on myself.
As a mother, it was my job to make sure that my children had no need for that lifeline. Not for many years, at least. My son had reminded me that there was more than one route to any destination. My way was, perhaps, not the best way after all.
Efficiency spared no time to notice the praying mantis perched on a stem. It didn’t pause to dig a hole for a searching earthworm, or curiously examine a new, vibrant flower. It didn’t build dirt ramps for monster trucks, or pretend to explore a humid jungle.
Outside the realm of school and homework, my oldest shouldn’t be required to regiment his time. His job was to play, to imagine, to learn how to be to be kind, compassionate, and a hard worker. His job was to be a kid, for as long as he was able.
In the garden, I went back to pulling weeds. I was still sweaty and itchy, and the mosquitos still whined in my ears. But when my son ran to the back porch and returned to the garden with a handful of hot wheels cars, I smiled encouragingly.
“Thanks for helping me,” I told him as he began constructing racetracks in the dirt with a small bulldozer.
“You’re welcome, Mom.” He said, eyes on his cars. “I like to be in the garden with you.”
I finished pulling the rest of the weeds, giving him as much space for his cars as I could. “I’m glad.”
Kaci is a mom of two and a military spouse. If she’s not doing farm chores (or mom chores), she enjoys reading, baking, and gardening.
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