Sunday, September 4, 2011

A bit of earth

Our teeny veggie garden

"Might I," quavered Mary, "might I have a bit of earth?"

In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.

"Earth!" he repeated. "What do you mean?"

"To plant seeds in--to make things grow--to see them come alive," Mary faltered.

from 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodges Burnett

Our apartment bedroom

When I got pregnant with Nik, we were living in a third floor walk up apartment a block from the train tracks, in an inexpensive area of town. We liked the apartment, with its two bedrooms, tiny kitchen and plethora of closets. It was the perfect place for newlyweds. But when the time came to start adding to our family, we started house shopping. Not for the space, so much. Our bedrooms in our house are actually smaller than the ones we had in the apartment. And not even because a mortgage seemed smarter than paying rent, although that was a factor. No, the real reason we looked for a house right then, is because I couldn't imagine raising a child without a backyard.

Until I was ten, my family lived in a one-and-a-half storey house, with a white fence and a blue shed. We had yard on all sides of our house, which seems so uncommon, now. In the front yard, we had a big and bumpy stone step that led up to the front door, flanked by two flower gardens, and one large elm tree. On one side of the house we had a sidewalk that led back and around to the back door, and on the other side, there was another tree with a tire swing, just outside the kitchen window. Our backyard was home to a vegetable garden pushed up next to a fence, a gravel driveway, the shed, a large sandbox, a birch tree and an old, green, metal swing set with two swings, a hanging teeter totter, and a slide that got blazing hot in the summer. We also had an old fashioned clothesline strung above the wooden picnic table that sat on our patio. In reality, I know that our yard was small and crowded. But in my childhood mind's eye it is spacious and full of possibility.

I remember the buttercups that grew through the stones in the driveway. I remember hanging from the cross bar on the 'A' that made up the side of the swing set. I remember my brother climbing the fence and the wood pile to get to the roof of the shed, and then watching him throw his plane off the top. I remember walking on the bricks that bordered the flower garden, digging in the black earth of the vegetable garden to find worms, and climbing the trees.

So how could I even entertain the idea of having kids of my own, and raising them without a backyard?

It took us a little while to find a house. In a seller's market, it is so common to bid on a house, just once, and be outbid by someone else, and there goes your chance. We bid four times, got outbid four times. It was discouraging, but, fifth time was a charm for us, and before Nik was born, we were moving in. In the following months, we painted and renovated and welcomed in our freshly born baby boy. A home of our own.

That first summer, we did not go outside much. Nik was fussy, and didn't like to be hot. if I went outside with him, he would usually squint in the sun and complain. If I left him on his own for a bit to pull weeds or what have you, he complained. We used the backyard a handful of times, for a BBQ or fire, maybe to splash in the wading pool for a bit, but... We weren't exactly living out there.

First time in the backyard wading pool

The next summer I had returned to work half-time, and so there was even less time to spend outside. Those days that we did go outside, it was usually to walk to a park, or down to the library, or to my grandparent's apartment building for tea. And last year, IT RAINED. And rained. And rained. Nice days that happened to coincide with my days off from work were spent again at the park or nearby wading pool. We did manage to put in a vegetable garden, but it was largely ignored. It certainly didn't need watering!

This year was finally different. Nik is three, now, and so much more capable of playing. Thanks to my second maternity leave, I am home so much more, so we can take advantage of all the nice weather days, and this summer there have been many of them. It has been dry and hot, so the garden has needed watering, prompting me to get out there, and weed and putter around. My dad and brother surprised us at the beginning of the summer with the gift of a small wooden swing set - a green slide and two swings.

And Alexa is such a happy baby, content to be left to roll around on a blanket in the backyard.

We have a small backyard, with a rickety wooden fence. It is crowded with a tiny patio, sandbox, swing set, vegetable garden. My mom could have said the same thing about my own childhood home. But seen through my son's eyes, I can tell it is different. It is a place to run, to catch grasshoppers and frogs, to roast marshmallows and to swing up to the sky.

It is spacious, and full of possibility.

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