Not to butter my own biscuit, but my plants are looking really good right now. We’ve lived in our Chicago third floor apartment for three summers. We have a south-facing front porch that used to get some relief from the sun by a big, beautiful tree that has since been ripped out ‘cause its roots were messing with the neighbor’s plumbing. We have a large rooftop deck, shared by the whole building. And we have a back porch that is fairly exposed to the elements of the windy city. With all this outdoor space, some fulfilling experiments with container gardening during the warm seasons have produced mixed results.
The first summer. Knowing we’d be away in Colorado for two weeks, and a kind friend would be watering our humble herbage, I didn’t attempt anything grand. My grandmother, a sturdy, successful Iowa gardener, gave us a strawberry plant. I had a big pot of tomatoes on the front porch along with some herbs, I think cilantro, oregano, and thyme. We used the herbs early in the season and ate a strawberry or two, but by late July when we returned, the unseasonably hot (even for July) days sucked the life out of all my outdoor plants.
Last summer, I went for it. Joel enlisted our friend to build me a planting table and a box for compost buckets for my birthday. I ordered a big box of red wigglers, chatted up our friend Hugh about vermicomposting (it had worked for him on his lush Iowa farm), and entreated Joel to drill holes in a couple five gallon Homer buckets. I planned to fertilize my veggies with the resulting casings. Oh, the veggies. I envisioned a grand garden. However. The green beans were too skinny, the peppers were puny and their flavor was too concentrated, and we got a few cherry tomatoes. Oh, and the worms died within the first week, baking on our oven of a back porch.
So this year, as I prepared to nurture a human, I nurtured my plants accordingly (some but not too much attention) and chose them more wisely. Tomatoes & jalapenos on the roof, banana peppers, mint, basil, a zz plant, and some full-sun flowers on the front porch, a pot of geraniums on the back porch, and a lot of succulents inside.
In praise of the excretions and waste products of the body!
The rhythm of the days is now milk, milk, milk; pee crap pee; milk, milk milk; pee crap barf. Feeding our son, especially now that it’s becoming less painful, is as much of an honor and a joy as I imagined it to be. I had only one labor dream toward the end of my pregnancy (the delivery room was, sadly, not a steamy roman bath), but several dreams about breastfeeding (though our baby did not end up being a kitten).
Sometimes we’re alone in the comfort of our home and the feeding is a serene, focused period of bonding. Sometimes, we’re surrounded by friends or family and the lovely, lively conversation doesn’t stop. Sometimes we’re half asleep and the approach is all business before Joel, wonder dad, swoops in to get the reward of a big burp before tackling a messy diaper. Always, I’m reminded of my ability, an unconscious, unpracticed talent, to produce milk, and it fills me with pride and appreciation for all mothers.
Always, Axel draws the happiest laughs out of me with his personalities at the breast: gentle politeness, barely opening his tiny mouth and closing his eyes as if patiently waiting; or, hungry zeal: big-mouthed and flailing as he grunts his way to the nipple.
When he’s hungry, I’ve got to answer his calls. Everything else on the list gets held for later or crossed off so I can help my boy get big and strong.
A preoccupation of mine during my time in therapy was the concept of judgement. I teetered on self-loathing when I found myself thinking critical thoughts of other people. I expected to train myself into neutrality. Am I, are humans, capable of being nonjudgmental?
Here’s sage Margaret Atwood on the matter, albeit in terms of writers and their characters:
Value judgments on the characters or the outcome need not be made by the writer, at least not in any overt fashion. It was Chekhov who said famously, and not quite truthfully, that he never judged his characters, and you will find many a critical review that tacitly endorses this sort of restraint. But the reader will judge the characters, because the reader will interpret. We all interpret, every day — we must interpret, not only language, but a whole environment in which this means that — “little green man” means cross the street, “little red man” means don’t — and if we didn’t interpret, we’d be dead. Language is not morally neutral because the human brain is not neutral in its desires. Neither is the dog brain. Neither is the bird brain: crows hate owls. We like some things and dislike others, we approve of some things and disapprove of others. Such is the nature of being an organism.
I’ve come to believe that acceptance of the things of which we disapprove is the key. If I’m “writing about the characters” in my life (mentally) then the language with which I “describe” them can be neutralized, although the scale of my initial, personal, perhaps deeper “description” may teeter, unbalanced, in a certain direction.
“‘I’m verbally incontinent — anything just pours out of me,’ she said. ‘My father’s that way. He doesn’t worry about it. My mother does. I got both. I say just the worst things the English language is capable of, and then later on I lie awake at night thinking, Oh, Tricia, you’ve done it again.’”
“‘I blush if I see people kissing in a movie,’ she said. ‘There are certain cusses I can’t say. It’s a private joke: I’m a puritan. I was a child bride. There’s this prim, prudish part of me, and in order to get past that, I just have to push all the way.’”
Somewhere Out There: Joel’s lake Wisconsin bonfire at Dekorrah/my Mississippi bonfire at Dickeyville