I want this post to be about this zucchini. About this pathetic, limp, underdeveloped zucchini. The singular zucchini that grew in my garden this year.
That’s right. That’s accurate. And for any renowned gardeners, for any beginner gardeners, for anyone with a handful of zucchini seeds that sprout into the weed-like plant that I’ve always labeled zucchinis, for anyone who has, year after year, made enough zucchini bread to feed the entire nineteen-person English department and half of the block at Christmas, who has had enough zucchini to make pies and cakes and dinner every night for weeks, you could understand how painfully small and broken and brutally ugly this zucchini is.
And can’t I just sit here for forty minutes on a Monday night and cry over the singular garden zucchini that I chopped up and put into chicken marsala tonight, its flavorless flesh still so perfectly adaptable to any recipe?
No, I cannot. I cannot cry about how much I failed in my garden this year no matter how perfectly this pathetic zucchini encapsulates how much I have failed in my life.
What I am really writing about, English-teacher-symbolism be damned, is parenting. Or lack thereof. Mental health. Or lack thereof. Pain so deep, so dark, even a limp zucchini is too weak to be an accurate representation.
Oh no, you’re not gonna do this. You’re not gonna put that up for the whole world to see, are you?
I can already hear the critics. Like voices in the back of my brain, like cobwebs in the corner, telling me that We don’t talk about this.
And isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that exactly the whole problem? That it’s a secret? That it’s a faux pas? That we can’t say it out loud? That we can’t take that damn zucchini and throw it out into the middle of the street, ready for the next set of tires to splatter it, to expose its soft center and ready-for-next-spring seeds?
When they were little, and something broke like their finger nail or their Polly Pocket head or their sister’s promise to share, when they came to us crying, we knew just what to do. Trim the finger nail. Reattach the doll’s head. Have a conversation with their sister.
What about now? What about pandemic-social-media-climate-crisis-humanitarian-crisis-societal-collapse-adolescent-angst NOW?
Can we even say the words aloud, on a page, to each other?
What do you do when the one who is hurting your daughter is herself? With her thoughts, with a razor, with words on a page, with repeated mantras in her mind?
What do you do with yourself, Mama? How many times will you think, “If I had said this… If I had done this differently… If we weren’t in this situation… If I had listened… If I had stopped…” The ‘What-Ifs’ will haunt you worse than a Shel Silverstein poem.
But we’re no longer reading children’s poetry. We’re listening to screaming-guy music and painting our eyes as black as night and hiding in our rooms and holding dark secrets and shaking with bad news and confronting no one.
Until someone confronts us.
I don’t have a picture of the courtroom. I don’t have a snapshot of me standing at my door at 2:30 in the morning last Friday, my husband out on a call for a telecommunications emergency while I dealt with the emergency that is my household, five and a half hours after calling 911, and the police officer bluntly telling me that a protection order against a juvenile is not likely to be approved in court, that I could invite him in for a criminal investigation if we’d like to file criminal charges, that if we miraculously got the order approved, then his job would be to protect and enforce it, that I could find the paperwork online, that
I don’t have a picture of Monday morning, of how surprising it is how many people are out to breakfast in this diner downtown two blocks from the courthouse. Our consolation breakfast. Our after-filing-for-a-protection-order-against-one-of-her-best-friends breakfast.
Where did it start, and when? March 13, 2020, when we were all sent home for eighteen months of remote learning nightmares? The day we moved our kids away from everything they knew and placed them in a not-so-friendly classroom in Spain? The day we moved back? The moment she started high school? The moment she met this girl? The moment she stopped reading books in favor of Instagram? The day her period began?
This is my child:
This is my child:
This is my child.
And I want the world to know that I can grow zucchini. That I can have three beds overflowing with enough zucchini to feed the neighborhood. That it will fill every plate and erase the stress of holiday gift-giving, that it will easily blend in to any meal.
And that I can raise a child who isn’t lost, hurt by herself and others, threatened by the world in which we live.
That maybe I can’t. That maybe my garden and my parenting have failed me. That maybe I have failed her in a way I can never understand nor take back.
And that maybe, just maybe, the soil wasn’t right this year. The sun was too hot, the sky too dry. Maybe my daughter made the wrong friend. Maybe all of this is out of my control, and even though I only dug up one zucchini, and even though she’s lost, she’s not alone. She’s going to therapy and making progress. She’s smiling more. She’s setting boundaries with friends who she knows aren’t good for her. She’s saying no. She’s standing up. She’s not using the razor and instead finding her voice.
And maybe I fixed up her favorite meal tonight, chicken marsala, said zucchini still inside, and even though she had to work, I packed it up and put it in her black lunch bag with an apple and her favorite yogurt and a napkin and a fork and a spoon and no note.
Because she doesn’t need a note to know how much I love her. To know how much I feel her pain and want to take it from her. Every ounce. Every last seed.
And I want to plant it and start again. I want a new garden. A new tomorrow. Enough zucchinis for Kingsolver’s ‘Zucchini Larceny.’
Because we’ve been robbed. But we are not thieves. We are not victims.
We are gardeners. And someday soon, we will bloom again. And you won’t even be able to count how many loaves we will bake.