two lone trees, seed-grown
sprouted from the last wet spring
we might ever know
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.
like this worn-out dog
i have nearly given up…
yet, i’m a Taurus.
and so i garden
though it, too, is a failure
stolen by flowers
this year’s loss, in pics:
weeds and grass and tearing out
for one little heart
this “bike path” presents:
sea-level cycling; beach
(rode on Rhode Island)
there’s seafood here, too.
and family filled with smiles
and gardening goals
I couldn’t create the perfect day, but I found one today, as fresh as a fried perch straight from the lake. True, it started with my dog kissing my face at 5:20 in the morning, but I was already awake. We walked along the lakeshore trail, still moist from twenty-four hours of rain, as the sun made its way into the sky despite the looming clouds.
I fixed my tea and granola in this tiny cottage and put on my bike kit. Blue, blue, blue: helmet, jersey, bike—trying to fight those clouds. And though Google Maps has no idea what a hill looks like, promising me the ride would be “mostly flat”, I knew better. This is the same ride I did with my dad growing up, on my old BMX, my Huffy ten-speed, just nine or ten, and just like then, I pedaled my ass up and down the many hills on Lake to Lake Road.
Now, at forty-three, I can feel the weight of those hills. The weight of what is left behind at the lake or what waits before you when you make it home.
And I made it home. Though I have visited several times between moving to Denver at age eleven and today, this was the first time I came upon my tiny childhood town on a bicycle. On a bike, you can stop every ten feet. Every five feet. You can feel the mist in the air at the same moist moment that you feel the tears streaming down your face, so overwhelmed by how this little town is almost exactly, in every way shape and form, just as you remembered it. How you remembered walking up the hill to this elementary school built more than a hundred years ago. How your childhood was saving every last dime to buy a piece of 5-cent Bazooka gum or 10-cent fireball from this market. How the curve of the road meant the curve to Dewey Avenue, and this grandiose house built by the construction company two doors down that is Still. There.
How they painted it green now, how the tire swing is missing from the maple but the maple still stands, how the stone wall with the steps down to the street that froze over in the winter for a sledding hill will never be gone. How Flint Creek is as muddy as the day it was born, frozen in winter for ice skating, ripe with frogs and snakes in summer for endless wildlife fantasies.
And you could be here with me, reimagining those summer nights on the upstairs screened porch. Riding your bike up and down the hills, all the way to Canandaigua Lake. Living in a different time.
The perfect day doesn’t end at 9:00 a.m., when my teary-eyed, Amish-sighting bike ride concluded.
It continues with fresh biscuits and apple butter from yesterday’s farm stand. With my girls being agreeable with each other and today’s adventure: Sonnenberg (“sunny hill” in German) Gardens, another childhood favorite. With adventures through a Japanese, a pansy, a rock, an old-fashioned, a blue-and-green, garden.
Throw in a nineteenth-century mansion built by the founder of Citibank, and we have ourselves the perfect locale for beauty and peace, plants and prosperity.
On a road trip, they are together, not isolated in their rooms. They touch plants and share stories and talk, and it’s like they’re little even if we’re about to send one to college. And there is a magic in this walk that can’t be captured in a photo, in a blog post, but only in a grown-and-flown mama’s heart.
A magic that flowed through them as, surprise and joy to us all, we came upon a street fair in the center of Canandaigua. Mythili bought hand-made soap, Rio and Izzy found earrings, Bruce bought a new coffee mug, and I found the perfect wood-carved gift for Fabian. More than the gifts to local artists was the gift of a crowd. Post-COVID crowds, live music, the joy of being vaccinated and free from worry.
How hard it is to be an American, and how easy.
How simple, that within ten square miles, you can see scenes like this, tourist me, and scenes like this, Amish living their independent-yet-free lives.
And that is not the end of my perfect day. My perfect day is this lake where my mother, afraid of water because her parents never taught her how to swim, signed me up for swim lessons at age four. Not in a pool. Not in a rec center. In Canandaigua Lake, where today, the clouds broke free and listened to my blue-morning-beckoning, and brought you this lake, this view, this seventy-five-degree perfection of glacial meltdown between these perfect hills, my childhood hills.
That is my middle child, offering her perfect smile on this perfect day.
That is me, blue on blue on blue, offering my two fingers of peace from my Finger Lake, offering you this memory, this perfect day.
Take it. Tuck it away. Eat your Pontillo’s New York Pizza before it gets cold.
And travel the country, the world, while you still can, where you still can.
Find yourself your own perfect day.
words cannot describe
how much these hills feel like home
(what was once my home)
an empty highway,
a rural life, cloudy skies
and. oh yes. this lake.
you can’t picture it.
so let me draw you a map.
my Finger Lakes love.
yes, it’s just a store.
you can only imagine
what a store could be.
yet half my childhood is
upstate New York bred
can you taste the plums?
fresh from the roadside farm stand
just pop them in. wait.
you’ll be here with me.
choosing the best ears of corn.
loving, loving life.
a weak pea harvest
(summer slips through soft moments
between camping; school)
yet the girls giggled
as they shucked their peas from pods
(no longer my peas)
summer’s soft moments
so fleetingly green and fresh
each year grown harder
my yellow lupine
has burst into my garden
with soft-petaled joy
recent garden news:
our tenth homegrown salad meal,
lupines, lilies, love
perfect wings and hollow center
symbol of my life