Lessons From Plants And Children

As my regular readers are aware, I am usually wearing my kiddo on my back when I’m gardening or building stuff.  This is not because I’m angling for an attachment-parenting mother of the year award or because I can’t be parted from my little boy for even a minute. No, it is because my almost-seven-month-old son is under the impression that I am his human mattress.

Don’t let the eye-rubbing fool you, mom. There is no way I’m taking a nap.

My little guy is mellow and easy going but he just does not sleep well. The average number of sleep hours for a kid his age his 14. On the bad days I suspect he sleeps a little more than half that. He is a light sleeper, and if he falls asleep while nursing or being held and then is put down in his crib or jostled he usually wakes up relatively content but with no intention of falling back asleep, like his whole nap schedule has been re-booted by 45 seconds of shut-eye. The great consequence of this is that I haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a stretch in almost seven months.

We are working on this; I am aware that this is a key age to instill good sleep habits and I swear we’re trying. We’ve tried the No Cry Sleep Solution. We’ve tried the Sorry Kid You’re Going To Have To Cry Sleep Solution and yesterday we tried Mom Walks Around The House Uncontrollably Crying Because the Kid Won’t Let Her Sleep Solution.

I don’t recommend that last one. But if you do try it, video record yourself because I’ll bet 15 years hence a film of you holding your infant and sobbing, “Please, please just go to sleep. Please go to sleep. For the love of God, kid, please just sleep,” while your baby bounces and blows raspberries in your arms (totally happy unless you dare to set him down) will seem quite funny and charming.

It didn’t seem funny at the time, though. It felt like I had a massive garden spring-planting to-do list as long as my arm and my darling child, one of the loves of my life, was maliciously thwarting every attempt I made at productivity. It felt like he was almost deliberately adjusting his clinginess to be at its height just when I really needed an hour of two-handed productivity to get shit done.

Which brings me to my point: pretending to be in control when you just aren’t.

I spend a lot of time figuring out how to spend my time in the garden. I make lists and spreadsheets to help me calculate how to optimize my growing space and growing season. I do all this to give the shiny reassuring facade of control to the process of growing a garden. But I am not really in control. Seeds have varying degrees of vigor when I scatter them across the soil; the sun shines or it doesn’t; soil temperatures rise quickly or barely at all; the soil is loose or it is clay; the insect populations rise and fall; natural and artificial irrigation over or under waters.

Garden writers before me have described these natural variables as pitfalls or traps to avoid. They have described the weapons to help you win the garden battle: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, hot caps, poly tunnels, cold-frames, beneficial insects, organic and inorganic mulches and more.

The hand of the gardener is but one variable among many that will determine your success in the garden.  Everything else, tossed together and shaken hard, is randomness.

You cannot control randomness just as you cannot control whether an infant will sleep. Perhaps you can stack the odds in your favor: establish a good bedtime routine or sow your crops at the right time of year. But once you have done your part, you have only to respond to what is presented to you.

When your infant cries you can respond by picking him up or waiting to see if he will self-soothe. You can “rescue” your plants with organic or non-organic insecticides or you can leave well enough alone and see what happens. But in doing or not doing these things, you are not controlling the situation, you are responding to it.

Gardening and mothering has taught me that the more attuned we are to what we are growing – plants or children – the better we can respond to their needs. Sometimes they need our help. Sometimes they need us to not help.

For many years I treated my garden as a glorified produce stand. I expected that I could decide what I’d like to eat, go out to the garden, pick it and eat it. I expected to be in control of that choice. It was only when I realized that I needed to pick the vegetables on their schedule, not mine, that I started hauling in bumper harvests. The green beans do not care that you picked them yesterday and would prefer to have another vegetable with dinner. If they are ready to be picked (and they are always ready to be picked) you must respond to their needs by picking them. They will not wait for your convenience.

If your child is ready to talk to you about that thing that’s been really bothering her, you must be there when she needs you. Her desire to confide will not wait for your convenience.

I have learned in my garden that when I submit to the needs of that which I tend, and when I stop working so hard to control every variable, I am rewarded with bounty.

Now I just need someone to tell my son to reward me with sleep.

What has your garden taught you?


  1. says


    Oh.. been there and know what you are going through. That also would be why I keep discovering seed stashes.. all from the 1997-2002 time frame.

    Like the recent stash discovered in a salad spinner which was still in it's box. (Seems I got it in 1998 according to the packets.)

    Your family is adorable. You still get kudos for being able to get anything done.. like complete sentences and not finding your trowel in the dishwasher. :)

  2. says

    Very thoughtful post! In my life, the garden has taught me that not everything is instant. Things have to be nurtured and take time to grown and mature. That lesson's often lost on people who grow up with technology that makes life so much easier.

    I love just going on on my (little) urban balcony and being connected back to nature. Getting my hands dirty, and smelling the soil connects to a part of me that so many people don't have the chance to tap into in urban settings.

  3. Sharon Miro says

    Oh, so true that children like gardens are so, so WILLFUL…and it's not our will that gets the upper hand.

    I always used the 3 day rule when desiring a change in human behavior-gardens can be shorter or longer! Pick a path. If that path is say, put the boy in a bouncy chair and take him to the garden & sing while you work so he knows you are there, then it will take maximum of three days for him to understand that you have not abandoned him, but have given him a whole new view on what's happening in the world.
    At 11 months, I had to give my bedroom back to me & my husband, and make my daughter stay in her own room at night. 3 days. I am not saying it's fun, but …
    Gardens: well I moved into my house in 1994 and decided I would try all the things that I always wanted to in a garden–some worked and some so did NOT work. Can I just say that planting mint in an uncontained space is inviting the minty terrorists to come and squat, and that garlic chives propagate faster than any other species on earth, and in the tiniest cracks…Beans work one year and not the next and on and on and on…
    Gardens like children are demanding on their schedule, not yours as you say, but they are also alike in the fact that they are resilient, and patient and as long as they know we love them unconditionally, they wil forgive our temporary rants or uncorntiollable urges to use the hedge clipper on the rosemary.

  4. says

    My youngest son – now 8 – never slept for more than 4 hours until he was 3½ years old. And mostly, he slept 3 to 4 hours during the night but he was awake all day with a few 40 minute naps when I or someone else would hold him for that long… Being a perfectionnist and – sometimes – somewhat of an overachiever, during that period, I lost control… All the crafts I had been doing and the cooking and baking and the gardening I enjoyed became luxuries. I did not have time to make homemade presents for everyone I knew anymore… and it seems I lost control over my birth control too, because, when he was around 13 months old, I became pregnant with our fourth child. My youngest daughter was born when he was 21 months old. I felt like I would never sow or sew again. Then, we moved to our little farmette 5 years ago. The house isn't always tidy. The laudry piles are sometimes bigger than the 115 pounds Golden X Pyrennees we adopted. The garden sometimes supplies as much weeds for the compost as it does vegetables for us. The strawberries that need picking sometimes wilt on the plant before I can get to them. And we sometimes have grocery store frozen pizza instead of a home cooked meal… The funny thing is that it does not drive me crazy anymore. I will always strive towards perfection – that is the way I am – but I have learned that it's not the end of the world if everything is not the way I want it to be…

  5. says

    Fennel and chamomile in his bottle before he goes to bed. Seriously. It worked for my son when nothing else did. The fennel calms his tummy, and the chamomile relaxes him. My grandmother, the consummate herbalist, taught me this trick.

  6. says

    My daughter didn't sleep more than a few hours for 10 YEARS because of her food allergies and need for bodywork. (Not that we deprived her intentionally, but I just didn't know.) I totally know that desperate feeling. I'd start with a good chiro who has experience working with little ones, and see if that helps. All the best! I hope you find something that works for you.

  7. says

    I feel your pain. My son was a crappy sleeper and
    I tried it all. I lived in that sleep deprived state. My garden also did not do so well last year due to lack of sun. Some things you can't control unfortunately.

  8. says

    So you are saying, "Go with the flow"?!?! ;)

    Great post! It's so true, and in my stressed out first-baby anxiety I had to put a little note on our daughters door, "Don't rush in" to remind myself to give her time to see if she would resettle. I was so eager to 'control' the cat napping & the poor sleeping, I was making it worse and myself more stressed out in the process. I took a chill pill (actual medication was required!) and gained a better perspective. (Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, isn't it! Cry as much as you like and can, it's a good way to release some of the tension.)

    I am right there with you on the gardening part of it too… this year in between my urban-homesteading-wannabe-burnt-out-dramas I am just throwing some things as I can for our Autumn/ Winter plantings, nothing as per my plans and 'schedule' or my mapping! If it gets in and germinates and grows I will be happy!

  9. says

    Oh, I think you'll find a lot of sympathy in this! My son (2.5) is a horrible sleeper and for the first three months I could not put him down. I was losing it. And he's an early riser, like 4:30 for the first two years. He just started waking at 5:15 and I'm thrilled! It's so. brutal. And everyone has a method, and you know what? Every kid is different and some kids just don't sleep. Even if they're sweet little mellow guys. Well, this was your point right? When I moved into my 3 acres five years ago, I thought: I'm going to whip this place right into shape! Well, what the eff did I know? Now I look at it and think: in twenty years, I may be closer to what I have in mind.

  10. says

    Thank you all for your kind responses. We got a bit more sleep last night so today wasn't quite the torture session of yesterday. My mom wrote me an email to tell me that apparently I didn't sleep either. ::sigh:: Children teach us patience and sympathy for our own parents too I guess.

  11. says

    I remember those days…vaguely. See, I lived in a sleep-deprived haze, and none of the memories really took. Take lots of pictures if you want to remember what was going on! ;-)

    My kidlet didn't sleep more than 2 or 3 hours at a shot for the first two years. She slept like 18 hours a day, but the hours were divided evenly throughout the day and night. She also drank a bottle at night until she was about 18 months old, which drove my mother in law insane. I tried a couple of suggestions (fennel, feeding her cereal in her bottle) and pretty much just ended up going with what she needed developmentally. I never let her cry it out, but she very rarely fussed so it was mostly irrelevant.

    She's going to be six next week. They do outgrow it. :) She's still not a great sleeper, but then neither am I, so I can only blame my own genetics. Hang in there! Embrace the haze, and learn to love strong tea!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>