Reminders from the Garden on Life & Motherhood

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My goal for last year was to become a better gardener.

We’ve always kept a garden of some sort. We have two plots — a tiny, postage stamp-sized bed in our backyard and a much larger bed on undeveloped family land seven miles out of town.

My involvement had been very basic: plant, water, weed, harvest. I never really cared to take a deeper dive into the intricacies of keeping a garden. But something shifted at the end of last year and I decided to finally go all in.

From the devouring of information in the dead of January and seed starting in March, to the spring planting rush and navigating the summer’s drought, to directing traffic for weeks on end as the produce started rolling in (eat this, dry that, can these, freeze those)…

I gave myself up to it.

Lessons Learned in the Garden

Through both failures and success, I learned a lot. Practical things, yes, and other poignant, necessary reminders. The practice in keeping my gardens has not only made me a better gardener literally, but a better gardener of my life and family (nature is smooth like that).

To give myself grace

I had a grand vision for the gardens I wanted to create. While I wasn’t naïve enough to think I would accomplish it to a T, I didn’t necessarily set the bar low. Additionally, I was trying to execute it with an infant and a four-year-old in tow.

Some days were great — the baby would sleep, my oldest would keep himself occupied. He’d ask great questions and I loved showing him the subtle interconnectedness of nature around us.

Other days were terribly frustrating — the heat would be relentless, the bugs would be bad, big brother was pestering little brother. I felt constantly interrupted and even the simplest tasks would take all day to complete.

Despite all the work I was pouring into it, the reality was simply not adding up to my vision. I wasn’t able to tick all the boxes I had created; I constantly felt like I was failing.

And yet, despite all the setbacks and interruptions, the garden still managed to flourish.

It had come into its own in a beautifully unique way. Finally stopping long enough to see this, a revitalizing sense of relief came over me — I was doing what I could and it was enough.

We were never meant to “do it all.”

In motherhood and running our home, I struggle with grace a lot. Before anyone else’s input, I expect a lot from myself. My to-do lists often get packed too heavy and I’m hard on myself when they aren’t completed.

The garden reminded me of my limits — as a mother, as a human — and taught me how to be comfortable within those limits. Limitations are not failures. They are gentle reminders,  encouraging us to be kind to ourselves, to allow ourselves the grace we need. To listen when we need rest, to know when to keep going, or to start again.

To ask for and accept help

I’m an independent learner, I wanted complete jurisdiction over the garden. From selecting and starting the seeds to mapping out the beds to deciding when to harvest, I didn’t want anyone else’s input.

I also didn’t feel like I could (or should) ask for anyone else’s help (an unfounded belief, I had family who were more than willing to lend a hand). This was my big project, and I wasn’t going to burden anyone else.

Well of course, it didn’t take long before I realized I was in over my head. Here and there I would request a small task from my husband. But my persistent stubbornness kept me working largely alone.

At first this didn’t bother me too much, I enjoy work, and I was able to do everything my own way. But gardens are a lot of work for one person.

At a point late in the season, I realized I was burning out. The joy was waning.

I needed help.

I struggle to ask for help as a parent and in life in general, for many of the same reasons: I don’t want to burden others. I don’t want to look or feel like I can’t handle something I asked for. I want to do things my way.

In motherhood, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we can handle this. That we don’t need to trouble others. That we can put on that happy face, even when we would trade a lot of gold for 30 minutes of quiet and a bubble bath, or a full night’s sleep, or just someone to listen. But as anyone who has accepted the help can attest, both our gardens and our lives thrive best when we allow others in.

Just like we were never meant to do it all, we were never meant to do things alone. Humans are social creatures — we thrive in being together, in working together.

To loosen the need for control

The garden reminds us that despite our best efforts, we cannot control everything. Weather, insects, disease, wild animals, in one fell swoop and in utter indifference, can undo everything.

On the one hand, this is a bit nerve-wracking and scary. On the other hand, this is freeing and humbling.

The world doesn’t spin because we say it does.

We can’t prevent all the bad. We can’t climate-control everything. Every action has a consequence, good or bad (often both). Life adjusts, it moves forward.

This isn’t to let us off the hook (if your plants don’t get water, they will die). But often our days are shaped more drastically by what we can’t control than by what we can.

In motherhood, in marriage, in the garden, in life — do the work and make a difference where you can, accept and seek peace in what you can’t.

To take time in nature alone

One Saturday, I made a plea to my husband for one morning all alone in the garden without the kids. With his support, I crept out at the crack of dawn to get started.

I set to work, relishing the opportunity to focus on the same task for longer than 10 minutes, and even saw a few tasks to completion. As I settled into a flow, I felt my body relaxing and my mind clearing. The tedious task of weeding somehow morphed into a meditation.

Recovered from my initial disturbance of entering the garden, Nature went about its morning. I heard pheasants crowing in the trees, the rattle of Sandhill cranes off in the distance, birds gossiping in the trees. Butterflies floated from wildflower to wildflower. The golden sun rose higher in the sky, changing the mood of the landscape as it went. The slight chill of the morning air gave way to warmth and then the heat of a peak summer day.

I drank it all in.

Outdoor time is a big part of our family — resting, playing, exploring. But it had been a long time since I had taken a quiet minute alone with nature.

I was craving this one-on-one time.

Our modern world seems to be spinning faster and faster away from nature. And despite our continual advancements in technology, it’s interesting that we retain a deep-seated need for connection to the natural world.

The garden served to constantly invite me back into that connection. When I heeded it — whether for a couple minutes or a couple hours — I was met with rejuvenation, grounding, fresh perspective, and hope.

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Caitlin Olson
Caitlin grew up in a large family just outside of Fargo. After moving around in her college and Army National Guard years, she settled in Barnesville with her husband, Dan, in 2015. They have two young sons, Oliver and Finn, and two dogs – a Beagle named Frankie and a crazy Lab mix rescue named Haddie. Caitlin was the owner of a small blog and Etsy shop for a couple of years and a licensed veterinary technician for nearly 10 years. She recently set aside all to focus on being a full-time stay-at-home mom. She is hoping to homeschool in the coming years. Caitlin loves the outdoors and is passionate about the benefits of connecting and reconnecting children and adults to nature in a technology-saturated world. Since their infancies, she and her husband have strived to include their boys in all their outdoor pursuits, cultivating a lot of good life lessons through the triumphs and failures this has allowed them. They particularly enjoy hiking/backpacking, tent camping, fishing, gardening, and exploring the nooks and crannies of Minnesota, along with unearthing the diversity in their own (itty bitty) backyard. Caitlin also enjoys reading, woodworking and crafting, learning “homestead-y” skills, birdwatching, traveling, and writing. She’s on a journey of learning to source more locally through makers, farms, and other businesses and loves exploring these resources in the area. Her (unofficial) love language is coffee.


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