what we can control

2002. I stood waiting in line at a bagel shop in Rhode Island. My kids were about 3 and 5 years old. The person who was preparing food behind the counter kept touching her nose, scrunching her hair and rubbing her eyes. She was not wearing gloves. Freaked out about germs, I couldn’t bring myself to place an order. I told the girls we’d get bagels at the grocery store and make them at home. They happily skipped to the car and climbed into their backseat booster seats. At a red light, I looked in my rearview mirror at my darlings and saw that they were both licking the bottoms of their shoes!!

So much for control.

I think we’re all looking for ways to control what we can during the pandemic. Yes, wear a mask, social distance…..but there’s so much that’s out of our control, that we’re powerless over. I can make rules for my household, but we each have different levels of what we’re comfortable with. Do you really need to go to the store? I ask my husband.

One thing I can control during this time is my response to my reliance on, and my participation in, a consumer culture. I’ve been observing myself and my habits and it’s prompted me to implement some changes. I want to have agency over my food choices and move toward self-sufficiency. Becoming less of a consumer and more adaptive to my landscape is helping me to cope during this time.

Gardening is new for me. It’s hard. After creating extensive design plans with my colored pencils, I found out that I’m pretty bad at following seed instructions. (I’m also a terrible baker because I can’t follow a recipe.) I’m impatient and undisciplined in my approach. I want to throw all the seeds on top of the grass. It’s not that I’m lazy. But my mind wanders. I get tired and bored. I like to read books about gardening and make permaculture diagrams and discuss the theories behind creating an edible landscape, but I’m frustrated by having to be so methodical and careful in my actions.

I make dumb mistakes. I see my unfocused mind. It says six feet apart, not six inches, my husband says patiently and I have to dig up all the cantaloupe seeds I just planted. My husband is good at gardening. (A good cook and baker too!) He is measured in his approach. He can create so much beauty with his diligence.

So, a partnership deepens: I try really hard to follow the directions on the seed packets and he tries really hard to follow my rules about limiting his trips to the store. We can control how we respond and alter our actions accordingly. We are each of us working hard for the sake of resiliency, health and, ultimately, love.

I can’t control much. Anything can happen. All I can do is measure my anxiety, surrender to this day with these seeds and this pod and connect with my darlings here and far away. I can be accountable for my role in a public health crisis and minimize my need for outside goods. I’m working hard at it, despite my limitations.

(I drew this design. Then we built the beds together with hammers and nails. Then we put cardboard down to kill the grass. Then my husband filled the truck several times with compost and mulch. Then we filled the beds with compost and the areas in between with bark mulch. Wood and mulch came from neighbor. )

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