“Do cucumbers grow on a vine?” This question came at me while I was still in a dream. I was dreaming about spending the afternoon on an idyllic Valentine’s date as the perfect mother holding the hands of my two perfect children. Cucumbers were far enough outside the scope of perfect motherhood that the question jerked me awake. My six-year-old boy’s face was lit up by the golden light of early morning shining through the curtains he had recently opened.
I squinted at him as he repeated his question. His hands had been rummaging through the little shelf in the corner of my room where I keep old seeds from our vegetable gardens. This question was immediately followed by several more as more seeds were brought out of the dark to meet the morning light. Clearly, he was fascinated.
Rubbing my eyes, I thought about the beautiful morning that was unfolding outside. It was perfect for that Valentine’s Day date I had planned. We would head downtown, where we would find a chocolatier and the children would sit like a little lady and a little gentleman. The kids could then take a stroll along the lovely old brick-lined streets with me. It would be an idyllic afternoon enjoying our loving relationships because whether the love is romantic or maternal, Valentine’s Day is about love.
But was that actually what the kids wanted to do, or was it what I wanted to do? I looked back at my boy rolling a tiny carrot seed between two fingers. He had been wanting to tinker around in our garden for more than one season, but something always came up to prevent us from getting around to it.
The Best Dates Are Messy
Love, it seems, is often best expressed not by spending money on those heart-shaped boxes of candy, but by spending something just as valuable—our time. And so I put those silly ideas of the idyllic mother-child date to bed as I tucked the comforter beneath my pillow. Gardening was the new task of the day.
It began with a dump truck about a foot long zooming up to me and crashing uncomfortably into my bare ankles. It became a hit and run when it then zoomed on beyond me and entered the gate of the garden, my boy in charge of the steering. The garden would have been better described as “the jungle.” Nature has this thing about unused space. It is totally obsessive about filling it and filling it thoroughly. I stopped at the threshold of our fenced patch while feeling intimidated, but the weeds that could nearly reach the boy’s shoulders did not intimidate him in the least.
“Can I help?” My toddler came hurrying into the weeds wearing an Elsa dress and glittery pink ballerina shoes. I decided it was appropriate, given that the garden was now our idyllic Valentine’s date.
The first thing the boy did was to pull a very large weed and then toss it to the side, raining sand in every direction. Valentine’s confetti, I told myself reassuringly. Crouched down on all fours, I came face-to-leaf with my old nemesis: dollar weed. The tot picked some of those little fairy umbrella leaves and twirled them in her hands, unaware that they were only charming on the surface. What lies beneath is a network of twisted, spiteful, arrogant, and almost impossible to eradicate root systems. Dollar weed laughs in the face of organic gardeners.
I ignored that laughter while pulling one white root out, and shoving it in the boy’s dump truck. He accepted it like a professional workman. One down, five hundred to go.
Idyllic, Loving, Dirty Togetherness
And so we worked together, dirt flying. My knees and back were sore, sand was sticking to us from head to toe, and our fingernails were going to be stained grey for the foreseeable future, but the job was done. We sat a moment outside the newly exposed soil that seemed to be waiting expectantly for seeds to be dropped into it. The sun was warm on our dirty skin. We were all experiencing that wonderful fatigue that comes from fresh air and a job well done.
With cute chubby cheeks smeared by dirt and a dump truck in need of a good hosing down, we just sat together. It was idyllic, loving, dirty togetherness.
And so it seems that love really doesn’t come from a chocolatier, and the perfect date is not a picture-perfect moment. All that Valentine’s love stuff…it’s in dirt. Once that idyllic date was done, I washed all that love off me. We will remember it just fine when the seeds sprout in our Valentine’s garden.