Cultivating Your Garden: A Time to Plant, A Time to Reap; A Time to Speak, a Time to Keep Silent, and a Time to Let Go.

I have three plants in my office. I don’t know what kind they are. They have miraculously survived for a few years despite the fact that I water them only when I notice that they look dead. I like the idea of gardening: I’d be happy to dress up in overalls, those cute Birki garden clogs, and a big floppy hat (picture Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser in Steel Magnolias), but I lack the patience and maybe even hope required to tend flat brown earth day after day, swatting at bees, digging dirt out of my fingernails, waiting to see a bud. I’m happy to sit on the patio, sip iced tea, and admire the impressive efforts of my handsome yard man (to whom I happen to be married). 


I’m not a gardener, but I am a mother (and, as a former English teacher, I love a great metaphor). What is parenting if not gardening: we water, feed, pray for just enough sunshine and just enough rain, and then we just have to wait, hope, and watch to see what emerges. Of course, parenting doesn’t end at age 18; we continue to cultivate and tend to our garden of flowers as needed throughout their lives. But, unlike going to Lowe’s and picking out the little packets with pictures on the front of towering golden sunflowers or hardy green beans, we don’t get to choose what type of plant emerges from the soil despite our most devoted and disciplined efforts. In the Mystery Seed Packet of fate, DNA, and childrearing, we do not necessarily get what we are expecting. 


A few days ago I returned from a week of college visits with my oldest child. Although I have toured hundreds of colleges and guided even more students through this process, experiencing this rite of passage as a parent is completely different from providing advice as a counselor. I was prepared for the logistics: comfy shoes, sunscreen, layers for chilly mornings and sunny afternoons, even my Hufflepuff umbrella (for which I was sternly reprimanded). I was not prepared for the invigoration and exhaustion of keeping my thoughts to myself, listening as my son voiced his observations, and trying to picture my special precious baby among these throngs of average kids. (C’mon, we know that’s what all parents are thinking.)


Amid the imposing brick buildings, ubiquitous blue lights, and goofy intramural sports, a realization emerged: I am witnessing my son doing the crucial developmental work of discovering who he wants to be, what paths he wants to take, and what future he envisions for himself. At times, I thought: Who is this guy who wants to see a beautiful gym with late-night hours when his parents probably couldn’t have even located their college gyms? Who is this kid with an insatiable appetite for biscuits and fried chicken who was born in England and raised in Massachusetts? Who is this young man who wants to study finance, real estate, business when his parents just wanted to read poetry and write essays for four years? 


His visions are completely different from what ours were for ourselves and maybe even a little different from the future we might imagine for him, and even though the feeling is bewildering and disorienting for parents, it is okay because he is supposed to be making his own plans, not just following the path we pave for him. In fact, the more different my son’s plans are for himself than what I or my husband may picture for him, perhaps the more successfully he is individuating from us [insert sob] and building a confident foundation for his adult life. 


The time to plant and water has passed, and we are nearing the time to watch, wait, and eventually let go. The bud is sprouting from the ground, and I am starting to see its shape and color take form. And, the plant that is starting to grow is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. 

About The Author

Amy Christie, M.A.