Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Such simple goals for three weeks off, no travel, no Starbucks, no restaurants.
Staying home with four teenagers who want to do nothing other than mope and defy. “Why can’t we see our friends? Why can’t we get a Frappucino? Why can’t there be school? Why was my musical canceled? Why do I have to spend time with my family?”
And so the doors shut. The chores get left unattended. The no-phone-for-twenty-four-hours rule gets enforced for three out of four children, spiraling me further into the “I HATE you” zone.
Building the garden and cleaning up the yard, I tell myself.
It is a sunny day, as always, and I begin to rake out last year’s overtaking of sunflower plants, the dried grasses, the remnants of onions, to load them into the compost bin.
I rake the soil to see how soft it remains after seven months of resting under snowfall and sun, freezing temps, whispers of fog, violent gusts of wind. It is supple, loose enough to filter through the tongs of the metal rake, to easily sift through with seeds.
I listen to my audiobook as I rake, listen until it’s done. Each child comes to the door to see what I’m doing, but none of them will agree to help (gardening is not on their chore list).
I begin to lay out the soaker hose, a necessity in this dry state, and realize it’s broken in too many places to fully function.
And here is where coronavirus has followed me, on a day when I, too, decided to put down the phone, the endless scrolling, research, reading every article ever written about this disease, the daily cases, the daily death tolls, reading the ever-present news that details how our country is nowhere near able to handle this pandemic.
I cannot continue my garden, my laying out of black snake-like coils, without going to the store. How dare I go to the store for such a non-essential thing as a soaker hose, exposing myself and everyone there (because who knows which of us has it)?
But I have three weeks, at the very minimum, in this house, in this empty, bitter house, and if I don’t plant this spinach today, it will be too late.
And so I risk it. I pack dishwashing gloves and put them on in the parking lot. I am careful about what I touch. About staying six feet away from everyone. I overhear dark conversations. “Why are you here today?” “Well I sure as hell ain’t workin’. The government shut down everything, all the restaurants.” “Did you see my application?” “Yes, but we just can’t be hiring people right now. This coronavirus is taking everything down. Normally I’d be hiring ten people.” “Do you have any bleach?” “We haven’t had bleach for days.”
I take the gloves off before touching my car door and soak them in bleach when I get home. And I take my new hoses and configure them four times before they’re perfect, before I feel confident that they are coiled in a way to keep my garden going all summer.
I look at my two spinach and one radish seed packets. They are so light in my hands, so inadequate, and remorse floods my mouth like vomit. “Plant your spinach every ten days throughout early spring in order to have a continuous crop,” the packet instructions inform me.
Any other year, this wouldn’t matter. But now all the shelves of every frozen vegetable in every grocery store are completely empty, and I am. SCARED. Soon it will be fresh vegetables gone. Soon it will be milk. Soon it will be us.
And I only have two packets, and spinach can’t sustain us.
I decide to use just one, setting an alarm on my phone for ten days later so that at least we’ll have two weeks of “a continuous crop.”
Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Every year I do this, bit by bit, in between working and skiing, throughout the spring. Now I have three weeks, three glorious weeks, to distribute this massive undertaking each day. I even made a list this morning of which tasks to do each day: mowing the lawn, cutting back old plants, spreading mulch, trimming trees, picking up dog shit.
Now I have three weeks, three sleepless weeks, to discover what will prevent me from continuing. To argue with my teens and husband about stranger danger (friend danger just doesn’t sound as good). To sift through social media and see all the creative suggestions people have for what they can do with their kids, everything from learning about new topics through books and documentaries to vast art and Lego projects, and I can’t even build my garden, get through day three, without having a panic attack about visiting a store, without feeling like every moment of every day for however long this lasts, I will fail them.
My fifteen-year-old refused to play Monopoly last night, refuses to go to the dog park today. The dog park! The chillest, friendliest hike known to legs. “I don’t want to spend any time with any of you!”
“Even if it means losing your phone for another day?”
“I am NOT going. I don’t want to be near anyone.”
“Spend time enjoying your families,” my principal writes in an email. “Get to know each other on a deeper level.”
And I wanted this post to be about the beauty of my garden. About how it represents renewal, rebirth, about how, in six weeks, I’ll fill my bowl with spinach, and maybe this will all be over?
But it won’t be over because my husband had already been laid off before this even happened, and what now? What are we supposed to do now?
We are supposed to make a list of what yardwork we can accomplish while trapped at home.
To be proud that said-fifteen-year-old finally finished the leaf pile of this forsaken puzzle three months and three quarantined days after we started.
To snap pictures of this my-kids-are-all-teens-now-so-i’m-getting-a-puppy face as he happily bolts through the dog park.
To start again, to try again, tomorrow.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll build a garden. Maybe I’ll clean up the yard. Maybe I’ll get my kids to come out of their rooms.
And maybe I’ll get through another day.