An Heirloom Garden
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 10, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The ultrasound technician asked us if we were ready to hear what we'd be having and we nodded to her silently. I remember thinking that people would ask about this moment, that I would probably write about this moment someday (and here I am!), and that I'd need to react in a sensitive, perfectly mature manner so that when I retold the story people would smile and think that I am such a nice young man. "You are having a girl" she told us.
Excuse me? Why hadn't I even thought that there was a chance that it would be a girl? Why hadn't we even talked about a girl's name yet? Quick, what does a sensitive, perfectly mature person say in this situation? While I groped unsuccessfully for the right words, I could practically hear an umpire yell out "strike three!" It felt like winning the lottery and immediately bemoaning the taxes you'll have to pay on it. You can't complain and expect to receive any sympathy from anyone, but if you're honest, and I'm trying to be, you still feel like nothing ever works out like it should.
My daughter is now 14 months old and she has a name. A name I'm perfectly pleased with (Bailey). I wanted a boy to share my love of baseball with and even though I didn't get that boy, I haven't let my daughter's gender keep me from bombarding her with Red Sox T-shirts, stuffed baseball bats, and DVDs that teach kids to count by talking about balls, strikes and outs. But all the things I thought I loved and thought I wanted to share with my child are different now. I don't want her to play baseball or even softball if she doesn't want to. I don't imagine she'll have a whole lot of interest in my baseball card collection either.
Over the last couple weeks the weather has been nice enough for us to explore the backyard together. Bailey has been walking for months now, but she's far from springing up stairs or dodging lumbering German Shepherds. So when I took her out in the backyard with me to capitalize on the nice weather it was a new step, literally. She took those first new steps away from the familiar carpeting of the living room and onto the stone of the back patio with extra care. When she came to the edge of the patio, where the grass rises up nearly halfway to her knees, she stopped and looked up at me. She did not want to go forward.
A couple days later we tried again. This time I walked out in the grass to check the seeds in the birdfeeder and to see if the peach tree leaves had started to curl yet. While my back was turned for a moment, Bailey decided that she was ready to take the plunge. I turned around just in time to see her smiling when the grass folded beneath the slight weight of her foot. Another step forward and both feet were lost in green grass. One more step towards me and she learns that walking in the grass isn't like walking everywhere else and she tumbled forward softly. From there she reverted to crawling towards me. "What is this?" I asked. "You don't crawl anymore!" I knelt down and stood her up, held her steady for a moment until she regained her equilibrium. She was thrilled. And I was thrilled.
We've been exploring the backyard every day since. She's learned that tulip blooms are fragile. She now knows that basil leaves smell like food. As a result, I've learned it's probably not a good idea to put plants beneath her nose until she knows exactly what should and should not go in her mouth. We've both learned that once perfectly-placed river rocks can be picked up and moved around haphazardly without ruining anything. And already, Bailey's mother, my dear wife, has learned that there's no point in worrying about dirty fingernails and that the future of hoped-for mother/daughter manicures might be in serious jeopardy.
We all went for a walk around the neighborhood the other night. By the time we got home it was nearly bedtime for Bailey. But we hadn't had a chance to explore the backyard yet that day so I pleaded with my wife for just a few minutes of "garden time" and Bailey chimed in with her support by pointing out the window and saying "go, go" a lot.
Out in the garden, she showed me that she is already an old pro at trampling through the grass until she rediscovers the rock pathway which she travels with extra confidence. She followed me and seemed to marvel at the spring growth just like I do. She wants to touch the creamy white calla lily blooms and pull on their slick, leathery leaves just like I do. She seems to enjoy just standing there in the wispy presence of lace-leafed Japanese maples. As I do.
When our few minutes had passed I bent to pick her up and take her in. She cried out and reached for the closest pot and held onto the edges with all her little might. And I couldn't blame her; it felt way too early to go inside on such a wonderful night.
I know it's too soon to read much into this new-found love of being outside that we share. It could be that she'll decide that she'd rather try life with pretty fingernails than with rose thorn slivers in her hands. Maybe she'll grow up and the wonder of grass, the spell of a red and white tulip bloom, and the captivating smell of garden herbs will all fade away into something like an un-cherished memory. But I will cling to this memory the same way she clung to that pot. (It's too soon to let go!) I had hoped that the grass we both thrilled at would be the manicured outfield of a baseball diamond. But I well up with pride and hopeful anticipation anyway when I picture us on a quiet summer afternoon when I get to look down at her while she tamps the dirt around some flower she has fallen in love with and I will ruffle her hair and say "that's my little digger!"
And the next time I have the opportunity to talk about that day in the ultrasound room I'll be able to add a postscript to the story:
P.S. Nothing ever works out quite the way you hoped it would. But sometimes, like this time, it works out better than you ever dreamed it could.
Discussion about this article: