I once read the phrase “hand-watered garden” in the book East of Eden, and now I think of it each time I water my plants. The author’s intention was to imply that the man who owned the land was a small scale farmer/rancher. He had no complicated system in place to irrigate acres of fertile soil and crops. He just had a dusty plot of land, and he grew enough to feed his family without relying on abundance.
I have a few plants I water most every day of the summer. If I skip a day—just one day—the heads of my baby blue hydrangeas I planted in late Spring in the front corner flower bed will be drooping on the mulch and my tomato plants in the tall container on the patio will look dry and shriveled and the flowers in the planters on my porch—the spiky, purple Veronica, the lime green Coleus, the fire red Impatiens—will begin to wilt.
I have two watering cans for this task. When we’ve had rain, I fill them up from the rain barrel situated under a downpipe, but lately I’ve been filling up my watering cans with the outdoor faucet. Once full, I carry them in each hand, sloshing and spilling my way over to the plants. Then I refill. The whole thing takes up a good part of my morning, but I don’t really mind it.
Today, as I filled and hauled and poured, I remembered that phrase “hand-watered garden” and I savored this chore as if it were a consecration—a carefully performed duty made sacred by its difficulty and importance. Then I was struck by how similarly I felt about my job as a parent.
When my kids were babies, I was sleep-deprived because theywouldn’t sleep. They would get their days and nights mixed up or their sore, teething gums would make them irritable and uncomfortable. Now that they are getting older, there are times whenI can’t sleep. I lie awake thinking of their hopes and their future. I worry over seen and unseen forces lurking around, waiting to pounce on their innocence.
Like those 55 steps from the house to that corner flower bed, parenting is not a job that can be done from a distance. It’s not always efficient and it’s often very, very hard. Carrying all that we know about the world and how it might hurt our kids is back-breaking, but nurturing a child and walking with her through both the miserable and the glorious is thrilling.
When my hydrangeas have been in the ground for a few more seasons, I won’t have to hover over them quite so much. Their roots will be secure and their stems will be stronger. I will still tend to them but in a different way. When my children are old enough to move out, I will need a new kind of strength. As John Steinbeck, also wrote in East of Eden: “Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.”