Planting patience

Planting patience

Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay from 2012, Amelia Rhodes plants seeds with her son and considers what will take root. 

My husband, children, and I hover over fresh-turned earth, teeming with untapped potential. Carefully, one miniscule seed at a time, we plant our garden. Slowly. Deliberately. Together. We labor over dark dirt that will eventually feed us with life-giving, energy-supplying food.

My five-year-old son is attentive. He eagerly waits for me to shake shriveled pea seeds into the cup of his waiting hand. Tenderly, he places one small seed at a time down the row. For a few, long, focused minutes he seems so unlike the boy who moments ago was teasing the cat with its tail and expertly aiming objects at his sister’s backside. For a moment, he is riveted with the task in his hands. He is a worker, a caretaker.

He works until the job is complete, then returns to a game of circus tricks on the swing set. And I wonder. I wonder if more than just pea seeds were planted that day. I wonder if a seed of joy is planted that comes from carefully working for something that has no instant gratification, no immediate reward.

A week later, he and I return to our humble patch of dirt. I carry a bag of seed potatoes in one hand and my hoe in the other. He bounces along next to me. He’s chattering away about mushed potatoes.

“Can we have them without peels, Mama?” he asks.

“Are those your favorite?” I answer him with another question.

“Yeah! With butter!”

We dig holes four to six inches deep and he tosses in seed potatoes, planting the hope of one day eating “mushed potatoes, without peels and with butter.”

In his mind, he wasn’t planting seeds. He was planting dinner. The end goal was always in mind.

And I wonder, in our supermarket society, will he have the stamina to wait? Can he endure the weeks of dark, damp, lifeless dirt, the months of slow growth and the seemingly endless hope of a future harvest?

To plant is to wait. To wonder. To patiently care for fragile plants. It’s often tiresome and tedious. It’s counter to most experiences in our modern society.

How might this exercise of planting and nurturing a slow-growing garden contribute to the development of his character in a society grown on a system of fast food, no-need-to-wait, I-can-have-it-all beliefs? How are we teaching our children the discipline of waiting patiently, working persistently and continuing to cultivate good things even when there’s no sign of growth or reward? How will they know that some of the best things in life are worth waiting and working for? How are we helping them realize the value of not giving into what’s here and easily available now, but to sit by the garden of their lives and actively wait, nurturing their character and personalities until one day, the opportunity they have been waiting for arrives, making them realize the pre-packaged, over-marketed convenience of here-and-now is so stale, unsatisfying, and tasteless?

My son carefully piles mounds of dirt on top of his future mushed potatoes. He steps back and searches my face for approval.

“Great job, buddy.”

He smiles and stands a little straighter. I turn on the water and soak the mounds of dirt until water pools in the indents left in the dirt by his shoes. We step back. And the waiting begins.

Maybe the fruits of this garden will last longer than its physical provisions for our bodies. Maybe the seeds will sink deep into his character. I’ll patiently water and wait.