It was that time of year again when I cleaned up my summer garden, pulling blighted and dried up tomato plants, shriveled vines, and sundry weeds to pile in the compost. I watered and watered and hardly got one tomato that wasn't split or blossom-rotted, so it felt good to wipe the slate clean, to discard the frustration and failings of a dry summer. Now that the rains are returning, my plans were to put out some cool weather crops like spinach, cabbage, and fennel.
It had been a while since I did something with my four-year-old daughter, so I took her with me to the back yard. As much as I enjoy playing Barbies or Teddy Bear dress-up, I savor the times when I can do work outside that doubles as play time for her. I got out her pink wheelbarrow and plastic rake and shovel, along with my own wheelbarrow and yard tools, and began pulling up the tomato cages while she yanked up clumps of grass. It takes twice as long when she helps, but I wasn't in a hurry as there is still plenty of daylight in the afternoons. When we were finished, we carted it all off to the compost pile at the edge of the woods. Then it came time to till. She was right in there with her yellow plastic shovel, hacking at the dry ground and throwing dirt in the air over her shoulder. I wanted to tell her to let me soften the ground with my mattock first and then she could make little rows for the seeds, and tried explaining to her just that. Her efforts were futile, but she was having too much fun.
Her efforts reminded me of how many times I concern myself so much with getting to the end result, that I don't enjoy the process of doing it. My grandpa told me as a child many times that I wasn't doing something right, then make me watch while he showed me the correct process. He meant well, of course, but by then I had lost all interest in what I was doing. Sometimes, there are more ways of doing things than the right way or the wrong way. For my daughter, it was the "fun" way, maybe the "longer" way, but not necessarily the "wrong" way. So I gave her some room and let her sling that yellow plastic shovel. While I tilled the rest of the garden, I gave her room to dig her little four-inch-wide hole, where I later let her plant some cilantro. There will be time when she's older for lessons on spacing and planting depth, and all those other little nuances of gardening.