My assistant was dressed in a pink baseball hat, Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas, a bright orange apron, garden gloves, and two right-footed frog boots. In my jeans and sweatshirt, I felt plain and underdressed. Despite the differences in our uniforms, we cooperated nicely to get the basil seeds planted in the plastic six-packs. I placed the seeds into shallow depressions in the soil, and my daughter patted them gently, singing a quiet lullaby to the tiny flecks.
Watching her crumble the soil through her fingers and listening to her questions about the social needs of seeds in dirt (Do they get lonely?), I wondered if this project would have any lasting effect on her. When she grows up, will preparing soil and planting seeds be something that she anxiously awaits every spring like I do, checking the progress of the daffodils and crocus in her yard to make certain that life is returning to the ground? Will there be any lasting effects on my daughter from this time shared, hovering over dirt on a cold March morning?
We had eight trays to plant, and her attention lasted through five. Unable to resist the temptation of the LEGO vehicles her brother was building, my assistant stood up, brushed the dirt off her hands and onto the floor, announcing that she was all done gardening. As I swept up the dirt that her abrupt abandonment had scattered across the floor, I wondered if it had been worth it, investing thirty minutes preparing and cleaning up a project for a shared ten-minute gardening experience.
The answer didn’t hit me until hours later, talking with my own mother, a Minnesotan who spends her winters in Arizona. As winter waned and spring approached, her enthusiastic reviews of the desert warmth in Tucson were sounding tired and bored. In contrast, her queries about the progress of my crocus and primrose were pointed, even desperate, too excited for polite conversation. While I was planting basil with my daughter, she was scanning the seedlings in the Arizona garden centers, hedging her bets about which ones would have the stamina to travel north and survive to give her Minnesota garden a jump-start.
We are alike, she and I; we share joy in the first greens of spring, the love of planting and the satisfaction of growing and harvesting. What I realized is that I learned those things from her. I was learning it when I was four, digging holes with a cast-off trowel in the freshly tilled soil of her garden. And I was learning it during the hundreds of times we walked through the yard, celebrating each pea blossom and tomato as a masterpiece created, a treasure found.
I don’t know if my daughter will enjoy gardening when she’s my age. She may not be interested at all. But there’s a chance that she will find the same quiet joy in a garden that I do.
This I believe: time spent sharing the simple joys of my life with my children—including sweeping potting soil off the floor—is a worthwhile investment even if the end result isn’t guaranteed.