A child's garden in Chicago – A great introduction to life's disappointments

Daddy says, Water while you can, little Viva, because winter will sneak up quickly
 
 

By White Dad Problems

 

This week's blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood  of Chicago with Professor Foster (his “Brown Mom” wife), and their daughter Viva, who hasn't yet realized the sunflowers she planted will all be mulch soon.

My father is quite a gardener, as was his before him, and his before him, etc. When I was a child, Dad always wanted me to help in the garden. It was entertaining at first, then I started to think of it as hot, itchy, buggy, dirty and frustrating. Now that I am myself aging Italian man, I've embraced gardening, and it's really only a matter of time before I keel over between my tomato plants with an orange peel in my mouth. And now that I'm a dad, I like to garden with my daughter, even though we're city folks with just a balcony, deck, and some pots.

So, what do I want Viva to get out of her experiences getting her hands dirty before she deems it too gross and slams the door on me? All the simple, essential lessons that come with nurturing a plant to fruition — a zen sense of truth, an earthy kind of wisdom. I've now gardened enough to know that all one needs to learn from life is there in the balcony planter waiting to be found.

1 The world is a filthy place

Mud, worms, mosquitos. Weeds, burrs, tick. You can't really garden without getting dirt under your nails, stains on your clothes, and dirt on your shoes. You can't really live without getting your hopes dashes, your idealism sullied, and your heart broken. With each ruined dress and soil-caked sandal, your child, too, can better understand what an ugly, squalid backwater our world can be.

2 Life ain't fair

The neighbor's fancy shed throws shade where I used to grow peppers. Our friends in the suburbs have more square footage, our friends in a high condo have more sun. Weeds are heartier than flowers. Work overtime on a hot day and your petunias scorch. One unseasonal cold snap and there go your beans. Making art is a rich man's game. It's who you know. The game is rigged. The sooner you learn that bad things happen to good vegetables, the thicker skin you'll have when life give you lemons. Have I confused the metaphor enough?

3 Beauty is fleeting

Just as a bright Gerbera Daisy has a only a few days in its prime, Daddy looks back at grad school and wonders where his muscle tone and hairline went. Enjoy your bright eyes and perfect skin, my dear – why, just this exposure to the sun will leave you mottled and oily by next week.

4 Everything dies

Congratulations on your zinnias, your impatiens, and your basil, Little One – now get in the house as September arrives and they shrivel and droop and worms eat them. Then your planters will be filled with dried sticks and rotted leaves and it's back to Tivo and hothouse tomatoes that taste like mealy water. Your best days aren't behind you yet – but that time is coming, then we're all just so much mulch.

5 Vermin and pests ruin everything

What a beautiful sunflower you've grown from a seed. What's that, a squirrel dug it up and left it on its side just to watch you cry? Just wait till the first time you get your identity stolen.

6 Hard work is not worth it

Tomato plant, six bucks. Soil, 10 bucks. Planting box, 30 bucks. Hose, 35 bucks. Watering bill, who knows? But the one sad tomato you managed to grow by Halloween is going to cost you a pretty penny.

Organic tomato in the grocery store? 98 cents. Laziness pays, people. If God had wanted us to be farmers, he wouldn't have let overalls go back out of style.

7 Give up

Look, putting in some black-eyed susans with a toddler is adorable – but the West Nile you just caught isn't. Your fertilizers and watering are making you about as eco-friendly as an oil rig. And your child will resent you and your stupid cracked terra cotta on the deck soon enough. You tried to be cool and grow your own food – now you're ordering from Renalli's and sighing with slumped shoulders. The garden has broken you in private, so you don't have to suffer in public.

Valuable lessons, to be sure. Next week: Lemonade Stands and the Death of the American Dream.

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