Introduction to Toddlers Blooming in the Garden

She sits on my lap, lining up sage leaves. Her little hand lifts the aromatic, fuzzy leaves from their water bath and lays them on the perforated tray that I will slide into the dehydrator. It is a bright September day on the back deck where we work together, steadily filling the trays with the taste of autumn stews. I scratch a sage leaf and smell it and she smells it too. I slowly place the leaves in tight rows, occasionally adjusting a leaf so it does not overlap. She imitates my actions carefully, re-positioning leaves that clump up.
I don’t tell her what to do and she doesn’t ask. My hands give all the instruction she needs, a lesson in preserving food, in creating order, in cooperative work, in texture, scent, color, in the variability of the same form, big leaves and smaller leaves, all wooly, pale blue-green sage. I am happily surprised that with no verbal encouragement, she consistently makes neat rows with no overlaps even though she is not quite two years old.
This is the end of a summer when we have often spent time together in the garden. I came to these sessions with a list of tasks that I might do, but with no goals other than to share one of my favorite places with a toddler. It would be a bonus if I pulled a few weeds, thinned some carrots or harvested lettuce.
Today, so much adult work cannot be comprehended by children. But growing, storing and preparing food draw forth a child’s participation and understanding. Children who witness or take part in working with plants and animals enter into the essence of adult experience. In those moments of partnership, when they stand alongside us, or sit on our laps or ride on our backs, they develop the security that comes with glimpsing their productive future in the comfort of present connection. And, as we work together with our children, we adults can inch toward faith in the continuity of our most vital work.
Growing and harvesting food while caring for a baby or a toddler may be the original and most important form of multitasking. Somewhere in your ancestral history a parent moved along a row of plants with a baby on her back and a basket slung over her arm. Our very existence is rooted in this pair, in centuries of parents and their children working together in gardens, in fields, forests, barns, blueberry barrens, rice paddies. When I think about this age-old image, the adult and the child, together growing food, I feel connected to and grateful for the multi-tasking farmers and gardeners, parents and children, past and present who have made my life possible. However, I feel fortunate to be in an age when I am not living in anxiety about getting a big harvest in before the frost. We have been blessed with time for noticing our children’s entry into the natural world and their satisfaction in their first attempts at real work.

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