Green thumbs and babies

I had just returned home from the hospital with my freshly minted baby bundled up, and friends and family were dropping in to visit, make sundry announcements as to who the baby looked like and share stories about painful third degree tears and 36 hour labours. Which, by the way, aren’t everyone’s idea of a teatime gupshup. But if you have to share your labour story, please wait till AFTER your friend has had the baby. Not before.

A neighbour, on her way in, commented “If the nurses in the ward had seen the state of your bonsai, they wouldn’t have sent that baby home with you.”

I didn’t need to look at my bonsai jade to know what she was talking about. The soil was  about as nurturing as Attila the Hun. The leaves were non-existent, and the plant looked like it would make an excellent prop on the sets of Mordor.

“My philosophy is benign neglect.” I responded airily. “As in parenting, so in gardening.”

But deep down inside, the comment struck a chord. And every time I bought a new plant I thought: “I’ll show you. This one will survive. This one will prove that I am a good care giver.”

So when we moved to Bangalore in April, I felt sure that the city’s wonderful weather and terraced apartments meant that my black thumb days were over. Plus: Teachable moment alert! After all, Pinterest and every lifestyle & parenting blog worth its salt kept telling me that I should be gardening with my kids: it encouraged sensitivity, respect for the earth and was cheaper than a new Lego Chima set.

So we started with great gusto. Grow bags. Coco peat. Composting bins. Seeds. Germinating trays. If you look at my FaceBook feed from a few months ago, you’ll see it’s filled with pictures of hands artfully sprinkled with dirt, adorable saplings and rosy cheeked kids.

However, what my FaceBook feed didn’t show was the dark side of gardening. The maggots, the mealy bugs, the fungal infections. And the death, oh my god the death. It’s one thing to surreptitiously dispose of one dead money plant when your kids are in school and replace it with a new identical one. But it’s another thing entirely to get rid of an entire crop of dead brinjal plants and hope that your kids won’t notice.

The teachable moments have been many: We learned that naming pet maggots is pointless because they all look the same and die. My son taught me not to whine during an hour long repotting session, because ‘farmers tend to entire fields with no shade or water Amma.’ And we learned that things die. (I’ve rechristened our back balcony The Plant Cemetery.)

Annoying parenting blogs and columns like this one will tell you that you should garden with your kids to show them how food grows. I think you should garden as a family to remind them what will happen if Amma forgets to put dinner on the table. We are human after all.


This first appeared in The Mothership, my weekly parenting column for The New Indian Express, City Express, Chennai Edition. You can read it here.


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