How Does Your Garden Grow

Baby Cukes

The first spiky baby cukes appeared today. The cherry tomato plant next to it is sporting a few green ornaments.

I once had the boys convinced that cherry tomatoes and sugar peas were so sweet because they were candy. I admit it, it was fun of watching them fight over vegetables.

The only problem is I think they still believe it, and there’s only one cherry tomato plant this year.

Fathers and Sons

The Big Guy and Thing1 have been working to replace the radiator in Thing1’s Volvo wagon, a car that’s seen more winters than he has, gifted to him by my parents when they bought a new one two years ago.

The Big Guy went to a car show with a friend earlier in the day.  Interested more in exotic cars, our boys Stayed home while I worked. I’m working Sunday, Fathers Day, so the holiday atmosphere is a bit muted.

We’re closing out the afternoon as the Big Guy and Thing1 closed out the repair job. Thing one was so engrossed in the project he forgot to try to dodge the camera.

It’s a quiet, gorgeous afternoon, but it’s not the shared love of cars and fixing things that makes the afternoon glow. It’s watching them bond and the Big Guy’s pride as he remembers he had a big hand in raising the capable, affable mechanic next to him.

I can’t help feel like that’s the most best way to honor a relationship between father and son.

Zoom Out

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man,Undeterred

For most of the almost 6 years that I’ve been writing this blog, almost every single post has been accompanied by an illustration. started to change about a week ago when my stack of unillustrated but otherwise just finished posts started getting that musty, too-long-in-the-drawer smell.

I don’t have anything against photography. I actually shot weddings and portraits for almost 5 years when Thing1 was little. Thing2 came on the scene, and suddenly I needed both my hands to focus on him, on a new work-at-Home-mom role, on everything except focusing lenses and clicking a shutter. 

I traded a DSLR for a point-and-shoot, and then the point-and-shoot for whatever camera happened to me on my cell phone, operating on the theory that the best camera for Snapchat‘s of the kids was the one I kept with me all the time. 

I thought art was secondary.

I still scribbled my notebooks. When we took the kids to the art museum, I sketched my sketchbook pretending I might one day a great artist. It wasn’t until I started my blog as part of writing class, that I began drawing again in earnest.

The funny thing was that the drawing was not about art – or so I thought. It was something to add to the writing on the blog. It was stock illustration I didn’t have to buy and images I didn’t have to wait until the kids were occupied during daylight hours to make. 

It was utilitarian. And then it became something more, it reminded me it had always been something more. The drawing took on a life of its own, enabling but also becoming an integral part of the blog.

I will never stop drawing again.

Just as drawing became a tool to enable the blog, however, an old creative outlet, photography – altered and not, is starting to re-emerge as a facilitator. I doubt I will purchase another expensive DSLR, but I have reclaimed a mirrorless camera I traded to the Big Guy before our trip to Iceland. 

Right now the photography is a tool. It helps writing progress without letting the creative and meditative but time-consuming task of illustrating slow it down. It helps make sure nothing gets in the way of responding to inspiration.

I’ve been at this a few years now. In that time I’ve learned that the art is never secondary; only the tools are, and allowing yourself to zoom out, to pick up a new one, can become a source of inspiration all on its own.

Take Me to Church

During our first years in Vermont, my garden was my church. In both of our homes, I spent the winter months planning the aisles and the rows; I spent the summer on my knees planting and weeding, harvesting and cooking.

Then life sped up. A fractured foot benched me for a year. Between two Little Leaguers, family travel, work and time creativity that was deemed even more sacred than the weeding, I became a non-gardening gardener.

I’ve never been big on flower beds. They’re pretty, and I like other people’s beds, but when it’s at home, it’s a lot of weeding and nothing to eat. Our border is the forest – we pick a line in the lawn, mow up to it and let mother nature pick out the flowers or the weeds.

A few weeks ago we added on a deck. It’s pretty basic – a step, no railings. I’ve tried dancing on it, generating a warning from Thing2 that people (via Google earth) could see me, so I know it’s a good deck. The main purpose was to replace the weed patch we used to call our patio so that the house looked less like the set of the Addams Family when we celebrated Thing1’s graduation.

But it’s had an unexpected effect.

Five minutes after the deck was finished, I started filling my mismatched collection of planters with green. Still a vegetable-tatiana, the planters now nurture tomatoes, cucumbers and salad greens. We may not get much actual food from our mini kitchen garden, but the cucumber tendrils wrapping around a trellis and the tiny ruffled row of lettuce is making a growing sculpture gallery. Thing1 helps himself to a few leaves of lettuce for his sandwiches each day, but for me, the garden is a feast for the soul. 

For this lapsed worshipper, it is a rebirth.

What Kind of Mother

It’s two day before Thing1’s graduation. I’m on hold with the pharmacy for the third time this week trying to find out what’s happened with the most expensive of his five prescriptions. The insurance company won’t approve an increased dosage.

I’m scrolling through Facebook while I wait, stopping to like a friend’s post about a daughter’s scholarships or add a frowny-face to a post about a shelter dog on ‘death row’. I’m thinking about Plan B and C, including a three hour drive to Montreal to buy the temperature-controlled drug there. 

The hold music is still playing as I pause at a picture of a crying toddler. I click on it and open the article.

The boy in the article has been recently separated from his immigrant mother. The article doesn’t mention if they entered the US illegally or were seeking asylum, only that he is traumatized and that his mother is now incarcerated several states away. I break a strict self-imposed rule and scroll to the comments below the article. There is outrage at the child’s situation. There is also indifference and even smug vitriol cast at the mother and, by extension at the child on whom our government is visiting this psychological trauma, for his mother’s ‘sin’, a misdemeanor at worst, of crossing the border.

The pharmacy customer service rep returns and pulls me back to my current battle, which suddenly seems almost insignificant. I harden my heart and head and click the back button, for now forgetting the child and the hundreds like him.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” she says, her voice almost robotic. “The insurance company has denied the claim again.”

“Well can you at least send out the original prescription?” I ask. “He’s getting way behind now.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” she says again. “The old one was canceled with the new one. We’ve sent it back to the hospital to reauthorize.” 

I want to ask her if she worries about job security if medical marijuana – a derivative of which we are on now wholly dependent to stop my firstborn’s internal bleeding – ever gains real traction. Instead I thank her for nothing, knowing I’m being rude for no good reason and with no expectation of an improved result. I call the hospital as soon as I hang up. 

The nurses – there’s a special place in heaven for them – are already faxing and calling and liasoning between the doctors and the ‘experts’ at the insurance company (there’s a special place for them too). The nurses inform me that the insurance company’s chief pharmacist denied the new dose again, and they are appealing the denial a second time.

By Friday afternoon, company is due to arrive for Thing1’s graduation. I finish most of the cleaning and sit down to call the hospital before the weekend starts. I sit on hold, thumbing through the Facebook feed on my phone again, smiling in spite of my frustration. Images of kids smiling at parties and beaming parents flood my feed. I know they have their worries too, but, for a moment, I feel like I’m looking through a window at another world.

Stories of children being separated from parents also appear. I don’t click on the articles; I’ve just heard their stories on the radio. A father, separated from his young son, has killed himself. Mothers in detention are being told they may never see their children again. Today, knowing I can do nothing, I choose to be blind.

The nurse picks up and tells me the insurance company is still stalling. My son is now over a week behind on the main medication he needs to know will work before he makes too many plans for fall. 

Saturday I tune out, focusing only on our small family celebration. At noon, our firstborn, my baby crosses the great divide from high school to a world that expects something of him. It is a huge step, and I constantly think how fortunate we are to have been able to travel toward and cross over that divide with him. Now, increasingly, he will travel independently. 

Once, I thought this part of the journey would be like ripping a band-aid off of an unshaved leg. 

Before Thing1 was born, I did not want kids. I was a wretched sinner. I had fornicated. I had lied — to people I hated, people I loved, to myself constantly. I had been guilty of almost every deadly sin. I was selfish. I was the worst candidate for a potential parent.

Somehow the miracle of my son happened. It would trite to say that he saved me, and he didn’t. He instead brought out a best part of me that I didn’t know existed so that I could be there to save him if the need ever arose.  

When he was first born, in my dreams, the need always arose. Shortly before I went back to work my dreams became colorful scenarios of someone pointing to my past sins. A judgmental family member or actual judge would tear him from my unfit arms, a rhythmic, colicky cry providing the nightmare’s soundtrack.

Initially, I thought these dreams were more selfishness — the fear of losing the one good thing I had ever been a part of making. Eventually, I began to see my anxieties about losing my child were really about the fear that my earlier sins, in the form of karma, delayed ‘justice’, or just incompetent mothering might threaten his foundation, that the sins of his mother would be visited on him.

Tuesday is Thing2’s last day of school. Our older son’s case is still under appeal. The three of us decide to go to lunch rather than wait by the phone. It’s a perfect Vermont summer day until we get back to the mailbox where we discover the first denial letters, signed by the insurance company’s chief pharmacy officer. 

I call the hospital for a status report. As I wait on hold, I google the pharmacy officer, a woman I discover. Knowing it’s psychotic, I get on Facebook, stalking the woman who’s denied my child’s prescription. I find her profile easily, discovering a professional portrait and a few snapshots of her with a little girl, maybe her daughter. 

I want to message her, to ask her what kind of mother can look at my seventeen-year-old’s charts and deny his chance at health. How can she be so blind to his condition?

The nurse returns and informs me that the doctors have conferred with the insurer for yet another review. We’ll know more Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday after lunch I start my daily calls. Our son is anxious to go back to work. Three weeks without his medication, however, are causing a backslide, despite the cannabis oil on which we’ve pinned too much hope.  

But I still have hope. I have a Plan B and C through Z if needed, and Thing1 knows it. That knowledge is letting both of us see his future through an optimistic lens. 

I keep Facebook open for a few more minutes after I hang up the phone. Graduation photos still appear in the feed. So do more articles about children being torn from their families in the name of national security. 

I click on a few, avoiding the comments, focusing on the families, on the children. I mull over a new Plan A, then Plan B to help safeguard those futures. They are not my children anymore than my son is the pharmacy officer’s child, but they are someone’s children. I still don’t know exactly how to help, anymore than I know if we’ll win our second appeal, but today, as I wait, I refuse to be blind.