Opinion: Letting the garden teach me about my disabled child
"People with disabilities are the unexpected made flesh. The challenges of living in a world not built for us are occasions for resourcefulness and adaptability, especially for those of us who start out disabled early in life. We are innovators, early adopters, expert users and technology hackers as we respond to the adversity that the built and natural environments present us." — Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
Early on, I would try to start seeds and, eventually, they died.
I would put them in neat little rows, give them fertilizer and water them. I would do everything by the book, everything I am supposed to do. But for some reason, I was rarely successful. My corn never grew past my knee, my basil yellowed and wilted, my lettuce seedlings rotted.
My son, on the other hand….
Jasper — not his real name — finds old seed packets and sprinkles them in patches, not rows. He doesn't pay attention to the weather. He forgets to water for weeks. He puts tomato cages around peas and leaves tomatoes to sprawl out. He grabs a bulb of garlic from the kitchen and shoves it in the ground.
He makes up his own rules, he doesn't do what he's supposed to do.
And for some reason, his garden grows.
Jasper's garden is beautiful and lush and thriving. There is a corn stalk growing strong and tall out of the strawberries. There is so much parsley, we have to cut it back to make sure the peas — which, like tomato, cages much better than the stakes that I would have tried to train them up — have enough sunlight. The spinach, calendula and cherry tomatoes are doing great, even though we didn't plant any this year. Last year's ignored plants went to seed and just did what plants have done since plants began.
They had no reason not to in our garden.
For some reason, I often think about disability in the vegetable garden. Humans often have incredibly detailed judgements of the physical differences of other humans. We can even judge animals with physical differences. But there can be quite a lot of variation in individual plants before we start making judgments about them. Who cares if it's missing a leaf or two? Who cares if one is shorter than the other? Who cares if it takes a fraction longer to grow?
Along the West Coast, where I live, many trees stretch eastward, away from the ocean, looking as though they were bent by the wind. These trees would grow fairly symmetrically anywhere else, but the harsh ocean wind kills the new buds that try to grow on the windward side. No one calls the result crippled. Or defective. Or disabled.
We call it beautiful. We put it on postcards.
Those trees remind me of the miracle of life. How even in the harshest circumstances, even when irreparably damaged by the world, even when planted where nothing should be able to grow, life not only survives but thrives.
My children survived and thrived under extremely harsh circumstances. And where others might see brokenness and judge them less-than or "other," I see beauty and strength and resilience.
Reporter's note: I wrote this a year ago and Jasper's garden is still going strong. It survived June's unprecedented heat wave — the third natural disaster we've had this pandemic year. But, even in these harsh conditions, we've learned to focus on growth to survive and thrive.
Shasta Kearns Moore lives in a Portland suburb and publishes medicalmotherhood.com, a weekly e-newsletter for people raising disabled children.
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