by Kate Tvelia Athearn
Fiona Lee MacLean
Something about a busy Vineyard summer, driving my teenage sons to work and camp (and the boat and the beach and fishing and fishing and more fishing), makes this farmer long for the good old days, when these strapping young men were soft cheeked babies, following my husband and me around the farm all day. When we spent our days teaching them the difference between a weed and a tomato seedling, a ladybug and a Japanese beetle. My husband delighted the kids with tall tales of sneaky weeds, weeds that could magically take on the look of whatever plant was growing nearby in order to disguise themselves and avoid capture, and grow ten times faster than the plants that were intentionally planted. They hung on every word.
And our garden was virtually weed-free.
As those boys grew longer and leaner, they grew busier, and so did my husband and I—driving them to band practice, cheering for various sports teams, and learning the warning signs of social media addiction. With all of the demands on our time, the garden got a little smaller and a lot weedier over the years.
We don’t tolerate the obvious weeds, the ones that are right in our faces, choking out our beloved green beans. But we gradually learned that we could allow some of them, especially near the edges of the beds, with no lasting impact to the vegetables and even a few advantages. They are lush and green and produce beautiful delicate flowers, just like the vegetables we plant. They make shade for the farm dogs, and attract a variety of pollinators long before the squash blossoms open. Some are even edible, but we never learned much about identifying them.
Currently, our teenage sons are growing just as quickly as the uninvited garden guests, and compete just as voraciously for nutrition. They now possess countless qualities that we didn’t intentionally nurture, like excessive eye-rolling and sleeping past noon. Like most kids their age, they are headstrong and stubborn and generally self absorbed. But learning to coexist with the weeds has helped me to accept unwanted traits in the boys as well.
Those long lanky limbs can now easily haul grain bags and wield power tools. That determination to prove their parents wrong has led to some amazing advancements in farm chore efficiency. They use their tenacity to free stuck golf carts from the muddy creek bed, and their newfound bravado gives them the courage to break up rooster fights and dispatch vicious predators. Even their ever-increasing absence has its upside: we appreciate them so much more when they are with us. Shared meals are quality time, not just something to rush through after an endless day of togetherness. There are jokes that are actually funny, and stories about epic lacrosse goals and monster striped bass that got away, charged political discussions and thoughtful philosophical debates. Sure, their speech is peppered with foul language and cockiness, but parenting teenagers, like gardening, is all about perspective. We can drive ourselves crazy, concentrating on all the things that are going “wrong”. Or we can choose to let go of some of our persistent need to control, and embrace the beauty of imperfection.
On the rare occasion that the four of us are all home for dinner, late afternoon invariably finds us all down in the garden: picking cucumbers for a salad, hunting for hornworms on the tomato plants, or fixing the clogged sprinkler heads. In the glow of family harmony and fading sunlight, it’s clear to us that the garden is happy, too. We don’t spend enough time with her, but she doesn’t hold a grudge. She offers us nutritious food, her soil warms our bare toes, and it is clear she loves us, weeds and all.