I raked the last of dry grey twigs into two large piles, leaving feathers of scrape marks in the black soil. My bent back, warm from the sun, felt strong and capable. I had five raised beds ready for planting. The newly exposed dirt smelled like fresh rain in my hands. One by one, I released a plant from its tiny package and dug a home for it in the soil.
This was my home, my garden. It was my earth to till and these were my vegetables to grow. This is what it felt like to be single and on my own. I was a grown-up. The creator of my life.
I put the last of the wintered remnants into the green bin and stepped back to look at the rows of sprouts.
My garden was beautiful. Life was good.
My students often ask me how I "grew myself up," a phrase that we use to describe the maturing process between emotional childhood and emotional adulthood. They want to know how to stop feeling helpless or dependent; how to release themselves from feeling inferior and insecure, and how to let go of childish entitlement issues.
My answer involves this garden story from a few years ago. Not because this is a story about what emotional adulthood looks like. On the contrary, this is a story about just how deep the crazy runs when we are acting like emotional children.
In my classes, we call this being an Emo-Child. Among the Urban Dictionary definitions of Emo, you will find this
A group of white, mostly middle-class well-off kids who find imperfections in there [sic] life and create a ridiculous, depressing melodrama around each one. They often take anti-depressants, even though the majority don’t need them. They need to wake up and deal with life like everyone else instead of wallowing in their imaginary quagmire of torment.
This definition might help paint a clearer picture of the inner ridiculousness I'm about to share with you.
Instead of focusing on the budding vegetable garden, I want to move your awareness for a second to the green bin on the left hand side of the garden. Yah, the one right by the garden hose. In my town, we have three trash cans: one for trash, one for recycling and one for green waste. All three of my bins had a designated place on the side of my fence in the front yard. I had wheeled my huge and heavy green bin through the stupid gate that always gave me splinters on my knuckles (because the bin was too wide and the gate was too narrow) to the backyard over rocks and dirt and grass to find its current spot on the side of the garden. Over the course of the day, I filled it with leaves, branches, twigs and one thousand pounds (weight of contents might be exaggerated) of weeds .
When I stepped back to survey my work, I only looked at the beds and the little vegetables and flowers that were planted there. My arms were tired. My shoulders were sunburned. My face was dirty from sweat and dust. I was proud of my accomplishment. I was a single mama with a beautiful backyard. One that I had tilled myself.
That night, I slept hard from the exhaustion of my labors.
The following day, I went out to water my garden. I pulled the hose around the green bin, annoyed that the bin was still there. The hose got stuck under part of the bin, I had to wrangle with it to get it untangled, which led to even more annoyance at the damned thing.
The next day, I went out to my garden to water it with the hose. Again, the hose got tangled with the green bin. Again, I was annoyed by the bin.
On the third day, I went out to my imaginary quagmire of torment (read: garden) and miracle of miracles: the bin was still there. At which point I was pissed.
Why hadn't someone put it away? Didn't they know it was annoying? Didn't they realize that it was in my way? Didn't they know it was too heavy for me to move? It wasn't fair. Why was my life so hard? Why did I have to do everything? I had done so much, couldn't someone just do this one little thing for me.
I know this sounds bat-shit-crazy (because it is) but these were the actual thoughts that crossed my mind. You're welcome.
When I was married these were the thoughts I thought ALL THE TIME (sub in the word "husband/he" and it sounds a slightly less nutso). But here I was: single and alone still waiting for some invisible hero to save me. Waiting for someone to move my green bin. Waiting for someone to do the work that I didn't want to do.
Who the hell was this person that I was waiting for? I started searching for who I could blame and my list was only two people long. It certainly wasn't the other person living with me; she was only six years old and truly unequipped to move a five-foot-tall-thousand-pound-behemoth of a green bin.
I looked at the bin and laughed. The person I was waiting for was me. I finally got the cosmic joke. I rolled the damned bin across the hazardous terrain of the backyard and replaced it in its spot by the fence out front.
Standing there in front of my three garbage bins lined up in a row, my knuckles full of splinters, my arms exhausted from battling the big green monster through the wild backyard, was the moment where I finally grew myself up.
It had nothing to do with my age, being a mother, being an entrepreneur, having a beautiful garden or living alone.
Growing myself up meant that I stopped waiting for others to make my life easier and just got busy living. And finally, after a lifetime of avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood, I had found freedom in the responsibilities of adulthood.
Photo source: http://dancollier.org/2009/03/27/very-old-family-photos/3_victorygarden_june1944/