Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Growing children

Have you noticed how many passionate gardeners (myself included) are women whose children are grown?  It is as if we transfer our nurturing tendencies from children to plants.  I am sure I have read this theory elsewhere and although it is an interesting idea I am not sure that I buy it.  I was not a natural earth mother and, passionately although I loved my children from babyhood, I got better at mothering as they grew older.  I spent twenty years of my life climbing the corporate ladder so I didn't feel a void in my life when my children left home which could only be filled by propagating dogwoods and dividing snowdrops.  Somehow the garden ran alongside a frantic work and family life, taking its place after the immediate and pressing demands of family but always a sanity saver, always giving me a place to breathe and dream and find myself again without the pinging of the blackberry and the incessant call of the mobile phone.

Up here now, with more time and the demands on me being overwhelmingly family ones, I find I am gardening differently.  I am learning how to strike cuttings and grow things from seed and to understand what will and will not thrive for me.  It takes particular attention.

For the last few days my elder daughter and her family have been staying.  It has been lovely to spend much concentrated time with her and with my younger grandson, now two and a half.  Last weekend we also had older grandson and his mum to stay and my son and daughter in law passing through to collect their dog and catch up with us all.  Next weekend older son is coming with his partner and older grandson is coming back again.  There is a lot of family around.  I love it.  I will also love the silence when they go but that is another story.  But I have been thinking a lot about the way both plants and children need attention.

Two and a half year old Joseph loves to sit on your knee and play with his cars on the kitchen table.  In a way you are not there, you are just a human chair, providing him with somewhere comfortable and warm and loving to sit.  And in another way you are completely essential.  He doesn't just want to be lifted up physically to the table.  He wants the feel of you, he wants your engagement.  He wants to tell you what he is doing: "Tractor going round.  Bus going to London.  Little dog get off bus.  Little dog go to sleep now.  Oh light come on!  Sun coming out.  Little dog get up for breakfast!"   He wants you to be with him and he flourishes under the light and warmth of your attention to him.  He is a sunny child, quick to laugh, quick to hug, happy too with his own company before coming back to the warmth of your lap for stories and games.

Older grandson Samuel is six now, whizzing out of the car for a hug and a kiss and bouncing with energy.  "How are you my love?"
"I am six now."
Out in the field with Joseph and the dog he is in his element, throwing sticks, hiding balls, telling the dog what to do and looking after his little cousin with surprising ease.  At one point he is running away from me to get the stick for the dog when he comes wheeling back and crashes into my legs for a hug.
"I love you Grandma."
I hug him back and smile at him "I love you too."
He is already running away again as he throws a cheeky grin over his shoulder at me.  "I know you do."
I love the fact that he is so confident in my love, an older version of the two year old's happy confidence.  And where does it all come from I wonder, this happy confidence?  It is in so many ways attention, the readiness to give a child time and attention while also drawing boundaries for them so they know where they fit in and that they are loved but not all powerful.

It is that attention that reminds me of growing things.  You need to water, you need to look, you need to take lids off propagators and mist your cuttings and close up the greenhouse at night.  When your life is too busy for all these things you may be able to have a garden outside your windows but you can't raise the next generation of plants.  And children, like plants, need the close attention, the rhythms and routines which could be boring were they not so necessary: mealtimes, playtimes, bathtimes, storytimes.  Happy, willing, close attention.



46 comments:

  1. Such a lovely post and so very thought-provoking too. To nurture, is perhaps the greatest joy of all. Your grandsons are adorable and I love that picture; it sends out such warm vibe, something similar to the 'I love you Grandma'.

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    1. I love the picture too. The way my daughter leans in and gives him her full attention is so close and loving and he stands on the edge of everything.

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  2. A very well thought out post. When we gardeners look at a garden, we look into a future that others might not visualize. Tiny nubs of green that will be splendid bold cannas a few months from now. Our belief in the potential of our children gives a tangible boost to their self-confidence. Great parallels.

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    1. I love that - looking into a future that others might not visualise. That is exactly the right phrase for it.

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  3. My gardening has always been alongside other things and it's the same now as it was when my children were growing up, it's always been my place to relax and disappear into my own little world for a while.

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    1. The disappearing into your own world is one of the ways gardening works for me too. I am looking, I am thinking, I am seeing what is in front of me and what is not yet visible.

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  4. So true, so true. But maybe you see only the best (as is your tendency). The relationship between some mothers and their children, just as between the same mothers and their gardens, is one of neglect. If you are a caring sort of person you will care for everything in your world and if you aren't then maybe you won't. Plants, like children can become bitterly demanding. I can understand why some people want to live in city flats and keep children at arm's length. I have been blessed with my own children and now I try to look after my plants, though not very well. You make me wonder now whether I ever looked after my children well. Oh dear!

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    1. I am very much aware that this business of nurturing and attention is not always got right! I see parents who seem to have no time for their children and those who give them so much attention and praise for no reason that the children cannot learn to be and to fail. I cannot imagine from what I know of you Fennie that you did not look after your children very well indeed! And your grandson now of course.

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  5. Oh, I loved this post - it really spoke to me, as I left behind my (dry, scrubby, and small, but still mine)Texas garden and have no garden at all here in my Seoul apartment. On the other hand, I left a job teaching high school students and traded it for a job teaching English to little ones who now fill my days with their hugs and stories and happy presence and crave my attention. My older son is already out of the house, and the younger one is busy with his teenage life. I wonder if I'd be gardening more if I were back home and still had a garden?

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    1. I love the way you adapt to what life throws at you! Clearly you show that it is possible to thrive in an apartment without a garden, an idea that seems quite extraordinary to me and I am impressed with a flexibility that allows you to move from teaching high school to teaching little ones!

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  6. I remember a close friend telling me that she was gardening and felt a presence beside her so she was talking about the plants and what they liked...and taking the weeds out etc...then realised it was the dog...not one of her children!!

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    1. I love it! My son's dog is an excellent gardening companion as long as she has something to chew for when I get too boring!

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  7. Lovely - got a warm fuzzy feeling right in my middle reading this. I havent ever wanted to be a Grandma - but this makes me think again.

    Agree about the nurturing tendencies philosophy too.

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    1. You would be a fabulous grandma Zoe, not that I am hurrying your children just yet!

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  8. I am a gardening woman whose children would be grown, if I'd had any. On the bright side, flowers (and kitties) don't need braces, date inappropriate people, or go off to college. 8-)

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    1. One of the things I have enjoyed about my children getting older is making new friends without children. When your children are young you are stuck in a sort of a ghetto where most of your friends have children too. Through work and writing and gardening I have made some very good friends who have never had children and I find their perspective on things fascinating, sometimes just like mine, sometimes quite different!

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  9. I loved reading this post. What you have expressed is so true. I also think it is interesting how the garden changes, based on the different stages of our lives…just as our children do.

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    1. I agree. I might post about gardening changing through life as well. Mine used to be a football field!

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  10. Thought provoking post - it is interesting that so many women have a nuturing streak, but in some it is expressed in different ways. I'm a child-free zone by choice so I nurture my family and friends by cooking and growing vegetables and flowers.
    So far I have had a wonderful and enriched life and gardening has always been at the heart of it. It is an occupation that nourishes my body and spirit and hopefully does the same for others.

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    1. There are many ways of using the nurturing part of oneself as you so eloquently describe. I feel just the same about gardening. I feel better physically for being outside and working in the garden and better emotionally and spiritually too growing and looking and thinking and painting on the land.

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  11. I am a child free zone and my cats have catered to my nurturing requirements. Have always enjoyed having a garden, but have only really discovered gardening and plants over the last few years. Probably something to do with Karen!! I did enjoy your post though. But even now, I don't have the patience for children for more that a couple of hours!

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    1. But now that you have discovered gardening you have discovered it in a big way! Still want to see your garden. Everything you gave me is really flourishing now, thank you.

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  12. I love reading your blog and really enjoyed this one, although some what enviously. The way you write is always so beautiful and your love of gardening always comes through but the love of your family is what shines. If every family was like yours how happy would all children be. Lucky children and grandchildren. Hope I have grandchildren one day. x

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    1. I am sure you will have grandchildren and will love it and will be a fabulous grandmother. I do love my family dearly but am uncomfortable with the idea that we do it right. We don't. We do our best. I might not tell you here about the hard stuff. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen!

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  13. This is such a brilliant thought provoking post. I have always loved gardening but I think it's just got a bit more intense as I got older.

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  14. You could make me cry - weep with longing for our little boys.
    Perhaps it was because I had to wait so long - or because my children were, quite literally, a gift - but I loved mothering. Perhaps if every woman could wait, be in the work force and then have the luxury of leaving it for those years, more children would be raised in tolerance and love. Or I could just be talking through my hat.
    Whatever - this was so beautifully written - thank you.

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    1. I do think it is easier to take things at a small child's pace if you have had to wait and long for children first. Know just what you mean about your boys. I am a bit bereft without my daughter just now!

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  15. It's true. Empty Nest Sydrome makes you look around and think 'what now?' and the garden and cat help. A garden gives you a sense of purpose and is cheery. Always something happening or needing to be done in a garden, even if it's to build up the soil or prune. The sadness I feel in missing my daughter is often compensated by flowers bright faces!

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    1. I think the way the garden makes you look forward is a really powerful thing.

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  16. This sentence, I hope you allow me to, will be kept in my secret book: "When your life is too busy for all these things you may be able to have a garden outside your windows but you can't raise the next generation of plants."
    How very well observed and said. And now you have the time to even write it down and share it, thanks for it, Elizabeth.

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    1. Thanks Bayou. I do appreciate your saying this.

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  17. A great post, truly. My four children, though grown, aren't quite at the stage where they are nurturing the next generation - soon my elder daughter tells me, and I can't wait. And I don't really garden, simply because we don't have more than a courtyard here. But I give my attention to other things - dogs, designing knitwear - and they blossom too. I agree that it's not necessarily empty nest syndrome, more that we nurturers have to find something to do with all that loving energy, at every stage in our lives.

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    1. Ah now, spot on. It is about energy and how it is spent.

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  18. A beautiful post Elizabeth, and perhaps true indeed. Although my children are all still at home, they have almost grown up and need a different sort of attention than before. Nowadays they often accompany me to my garden. We even work in it together, which I enjoy very much.

    Your week sounds delightful. Have a good time next week to with your visitors from the Provence. I hope you will get some lovely weather too!

    Happy weekend,

    Madelief x

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    1. I think the idea of working in the garden with my adult children is entirely delightful. It hasn't ever happened but who knows, one day it might!

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  19. You just might have a point there! i've been wondering what I will do when my opportunities to mother pack up and move to Australia and other parts, as they are about to do. I love going back to Calgary where all three of them are at the moment, making big meals for them all, mending clothes, being useful, all that stuff that is ridiculously fulfilling. When I was a rabid femeinist 20-something I would neve have believed it would come to that. So gardening might be my next phase, if your theory is correct. it makes sense. Maybe that's why I've been eyeing my little back garden wistfully for the last few months.

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    1. I was a similarly rabid feminist and still am I suppose! But like you I find the making of big meals etc ridiculously fulfilling. I think it is probably essential for me that I have done a lot of other stuff too, as you have. Gardening does all sorts of things for me: yes, it satisfies the nurturing tendency but it also occupies me intellectually and creatively, and drives me nuts from time to time, obviously. Maybe you should give it a go!

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  20. Dear Elizabeth,

    A beautiful post which I so needed to read. You have analysed the art of good childraising at a time when I am feeling a little shaken in the everyday repetition of tending my children. Being present and working from home is not an easy task. I firmly believe in routine being the foundation of centred children. I also believe, because it suits my parenting manner, that during a normal day I love to engage completely with my children but at other times they are living beside me learning to persue their own interesting activities whilst I tend to other things which mostly need to be tended to. I think you have put it well: a child likes to be accompanied. This is NOT the same as being accustomed to 'round-the-clock intense attention which will, I believe, not serve him well as he grows up.

    Thank you and enjoy the family's presence... and the quiet which will ensue.

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    1. Ah, how did you know that I was sitting in the quiet? I agree completely with the distinction you draw. If you will forgive me pursuing the gardening analogy, your "round the clock, intense attention" is the equivalent of over watering!

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  21. Lovely family images you've conjured here, Elizabeth. was astounded by this post - such warmth and feeling, made me look forward to the next time 'the noisy ones' come calling. Wish my children had not grown and gone to cultivate other plots!I hate any gardening book with the word 'perfect' in the title and this applies to parenting too but 'willing and close' attention is the best there is

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    1. Ah I am with you on the word and the idea of perfection! Its pursuit causes unhappiness in my view and I hate the pressures and unrealistic expectations that are encouraged by magazines promoting a perfect family, a perfect home or a perfect garden. Years ago I came across a reference to a "good enough" mother. I associate the idea with Libby Purves but that might reflect my far from perfect and not even good enough memory. Good phrase though.

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  22. Hello, I was wondering how your Pictorial Meadow turned up? I would love to see pictures of the progress of it, in fact I'm doing a research of public perception on Pictorial Meadows (and other naturalistic plants) in response to seasonal change, if you have any pics to share please do?

    Cibele

    cibeledonato@hotmail.com

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