Investing your time and energy in your children day after day is worth the reward that comes later. Children are like gardens...you harvest what you feed, water, and weed. Every harvest is closely related to the work that goes into the early season. No matter if the crops are tomatoes...or children.
My husband has a deep love of gardening. He comes from a long line of people who made their living from the land, and and he can not resist the urge to sink a shovel into the ground, plant seeds and nurture them. This is one of the truest acts of faith I know. Gardeners work, pray, and believe.
Rick has a particular passion for growing tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. Many varieties and many, many plants. This means, of course, many tomatoes. Each year we give them away, preserve them, make juice, sauce, etc and still end up feeding a huge squirrel population with the the leftovers. Through the years I have learned a lot about growing tomatoes.
The biggest surprise I had about growing tomatoes is how many months of the year are involved in the process. Rick begins in January by planting the seeds and keeping them warm and watered. He is actively engaged with raising tomatoes until the final depleted vines are pulled up in late October. Ten months of each and every year. It is a long season.
Growing tomatoes can be compared to raising children. It takes a long time. Children are a long term active duty project. They start small and helpless. Like the seeds they can only go where someone takes them. They can not control the environment in which they are sown. They don't know if there is better soil or more warmth or more consistent sunlight. They wait and take what they are given. Babies only learn what they consistently experience. They have no awareness of quality when it comes to their environment.
As his tomato seeds begin to sprout and green shoots are seen above the soil, Rick is diligent to turn the trays of seedlings a few times a day so that the sun strikes them evenly. He waters them just enough. Not too much, not too little. If he has to be away overnight during this delicate stage, he calls home to check on the tiny plants. I am not kidding.
This is another point at which tomatoes and children are similar. When they are small and vulnerable we must make sure that their basic needs are met consistently; with diligence and care. They are helpless and rely on us totally. It is a time of their lives that requires concentration and hands on involvement from us every hour of each day.
As the tomato plants grow larger, they spend some time each day outside the protective bubble of our warm, daylight basement. This strengthens them and helps them become accustomed to the world. Rick carries the trays outdoors in the morning and into the cold sunlight of early spring. Later in the day he goes back out and brings them inside for the night because they can not withstand the frost. If it rains too hard, they stay inside all day.
Just as your children may begin to spend time away from you while they are very young so that they can experience a taste of independence, the very young tomatoes are strengthened by this time outdoors. Your children still depend on you to be their source of safety and security. They still receive their identity from you. Bring them back into their secure space as soon as you can, and make sure they know that you miss them when you are away. This helps them learn that even though you may have to leave, you will always come back.
It is a big day when Rick puts each tomato plant into its very own pot. This typically happens in early May. At this point the plants move out of the basement and into a small greenhouse behind the garden shed. They remind me of middle school children. Still needing a great deal of care and supervision, but are very near the garden where they will reach maturity.
The greenhouse is not entirely safe. There are squirrels that will eat the top half of the tender plant and the plant is then dead. It will not grow anymore. If the greenhouse top is left open over night they might get too cold and die. If they don't get water every day they will die. They look like full grown tomato plants but they are still fragile and need care.
This is exactly the situation that middle and high school children are in. They look more grown. They can do a lot of things. They want to be grown. But they are not. They need care, supervision, advice, boundaries, firm structure and strong leadership from you. Pay attention during these vulnerable years. You are not finished yet.
The plants, like our children, are soon transplanted out into the world and their roots grow deep. They do not need as much care or support from us because they send down roots that get water and nutrition from their environment. But support is still required. Just as we put stakes near our tomato plants to steady them, you need to continue to offer encouragement and nurture to your freshly launched children. Listen to them. Hear them.
Harvest time arrives with an abundant crop! The fruit they bear is amazing to behold! So many bright and delicious offerings from the plants that were cared for through the dark cold winter and the chilly spring mornings! The fruit of these plants are so much more than we can use ourselves and so the community around us is blessed as well. Your children will amaze you with their ability to flourish after a lifetime of nurture and love.
What began as perhaps one hundred seeds has now become well over ten thousand seeds. The potential is staggering. So many seeds land on the garden floor that every year we have tomato plants that grow up from the seeds accidentally sown by the plants that were carefully nurtured. Your children will produce fruit that you never imagined they would.
Take this comparison to heart. Children are like tomatoes.
While the days of raising children can be tedious and demanding the harvest you will reap at the end of the season is rich beyond your wildest imagination. Keep caring, keep nurturing. You will be so glad you did. Happy Harvest!