This is the first year that I've had my own garden. We have enough space on our deck to put in a couple large planter boxes, so I lugged a couple home and filled them with dirt. I wanted to show the kids (and learn for myself) how rewarding it is to grow your own food. I also wanted to show them where food actually comes from: that it doesn't grow in bags on grocery store shelves, but actually in the dirt. We even started from scratch, starting some seeds indoors in the spring and transplanting them a few weeks later.
It's hard to keep a garden with toddlers around. Not because there isn't time to tend the plants, but because of the toddlers themselves. Or the toddler himself, I should say. Over the course of the summer, Leif has dumped out at least six pots of flower seedlings. He has also scooped out dirt from the planter boxes, destroying the roots of some of the lettuce plants. And the neighbors' dog dug a hole where I'd had a row of carrots.
The most damaging event, though, was visiting my in-laws in Devon, England.
My father-in-law has a large, lovely garden, where he grows potatoes, onions, carrots, strawberries, peas, and string beans, among other things. The kids loved it. They loved eating strawberries straight from the bushes, digging for potatoes in the dirt, and yanking carrots from the ground. England's outdoor growing season begins much earlier than ours here in Sweden, so his vegetables were mostly mature and large enough to harvest when we were there in July.
When we got back to Sweden, August realized that the carrots in our garden were just like the carrots in Granddad's garden, so he wanted to pull them up. We pulled up one about the size of my thumb, so I said we'd have to wait a few more weeks to let them get bigger. At which point Leif ran over yelling "Carrot! Carrot!" and yanked one up, too. The kids were thrilled that we had actually made our own carrots, and I was so happy to see their excitement.
But the next day, August wanted to pull up another. And whatever August does, Leif does. Two more inch-long carrots. The next morning August woke up and asked if he could pull another carrot, to which I said no, to which he begged and whined and begged some more. I tried to explain that we have to leave them in the ground longer to grow big enough to make dinner with. Somehow, though, three-year-olds don't understand the concept of delaying gratification for a month.
I complained to James that if the kids kept pulling up carrots now, we'd never have even a single mature carrot.
"Do you want to have a bunch of big carrots, or do you want the kids to have a fun experience learning about growing vegetables?" he asked.
"I want a bunch of big carrots," I said, pouting.
At which point both kids pulled up more tiny carrots.
I suppose James has a point--they're loving watching the tomatoes ripen and seeing how big they get--and I'm glad they're enjoying this experience. But I do wonder if we're missing an opportunity to teach them about waiting, and helping them learn delayed gratification. Are we missing an important chance to develop executive function in our kids? If I don't teach my children to wait until the carrots mature, will they always be oriented to short-term goals? Will they ever know the value of patience, and waiting, and maturing?
And then I said to myself, who cares? I mean, really. As parents every single moment with our kids is a potential learning opportunity--which means that we can let a few slide by. It's too easy to take everything so seriously when it comes to raising our kids, to worry about the impact of every word and experience, to turn "parenting" into some crazy, never-ending, high-intensity workout. So I think sometimes, a bunch of 1-inch carrots is a good reminder, to me at least, to chill out.
But I'd like to know: have you had any success in growing a garden with little ones around? How do you get them to stop picking everything too early (and to stop throwing unripe tomatoes into the neighbor's yard)? Have you ever had a moment that helped you to chill out as a parent? I'd love to know.
Photos by me.
(For a delicious post, check out this poem.)