Guest Post by Jeanne Zuniga
I am not a gardener. I can’t always recognize plants by their leaves and I don’t know when is the right time to harvest. I have little understanding of the weather patterns, soil composition, seasonal planting, or how to combat pests. I do not garden because I have confidence. I garden to accept the wildness, to practice peace, and to remember hope.
My life is anything but peace and hope right now. I have been the primary conservator of our two children for the six years since our divorce, but in the already difficult year of 2020, my coparent opted to bring a lawsuit against me to take over as primary. I haven’t been a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination, but now my days and my thoughts feel like I’m in a war zone of constant fear, anxiety, and rage. Not only do I feel as though I can scarcely contain my own emotional chaos, but I ache for my kids who are confused, rebellious, withdrawing, frightened, and hurting as every adult meant to protect them, pulls at them, coaxing them to make grown up choices. The whole process is a guaranteed gauntlet of loss.
And in these days of woundedness, the garden has been a salve to my soul. Some days I come to feel the joy of watching the dogs run without restraint. Some days I come to quiet my thoughts with the stillness of the trees standing in protection over me. Some days I come to sweat past the tears, to feel the ache in my muscles instead of my heart. And some days I come to sit in grieving solidarity with the destruction of a seed bringing forth a brilliant burst of tender green.
Right now my son is living primarily with his dad and, unfortunately, I have had very little opportunity to see him since this upheaval to our routine and our relationship. But this past Saturday I had a couple hours alone with him and I decided that we would go to the church farm. I ordered takeout BBQ, loaded all three pups in the car, and then we headed to the garden. With amused trepidation, we climbed the tree fort while precariously carrying our food and drinks. But once we were up there, it was like our own little haven tucked away from the noise and clutter of everyday life.
He told me the jokes between him and his stepbrother along with the scary dream he recently had of being in a decrepit darkened house with many snakes biting him. We talked about ADHD, school, therapy, and hatched a plan to get him qualified as a diabetic to have a service dog because he misses the puppies so much. And I had to sit in the pain of watching him grow somber and quiet before slowly forming the words of his biggest wish right now: that his dad and I could just live together and not fight anymore. He doesn't want to have to choose between two people who he loves.
After we ate, we went back down to the earth to tend the garden together. I asked him to water while I repositioned the wayward weed barrier and hauled more logs to hold the paper down on the garden rows waiting for the tiny bits of vegetation stretching taller in the greenhouse. He laughed at the puppy splashing in the puddles of water and then abandoned his job to go sit in the car and play with her. I said “no” to the car, but let him go cuddle with Bunni; it wasn’t really important to me that he completed the work as much as I wanted him to stay connected to the dirt, the sunshine, and the companionship, even if we were quiet, even if we were doing two different things.
Being together in the garden, we didn’t do that much gardening. I think I only planted maybe eight more tiny starts of swiss chard before it was time to take him back to his dad. And as I looked around at the garden, I knew there is still an immense amount of work, I am so unqualified, and the brutal summer heat is on its way. But what I truly need from the garden does not depend on the produce or the perfection. What I need and what my children need is just a space of wild acceptance, to sit in the dirt, to practice peace, and to remember hope.