To Each His Own (Tomato)

“What’s the point? By tomorrow they’ll be back,” says my eleven-year-old after weeding a row of tomatoes, in our garden.

“Yeah but in the early weeks we have to show them who’s boss. The weeds get less ambitious as the summer goes on.”

I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what I tell myself, and now, my son. It keeps me going. It is slightly illogical, after all, to toil over an amateur patch of dirt hoping tomatoes and squash and peppers will spring forth.
He’s been out here, with me, from the very first year. Listening to my stories about gardening when I was his age, digging the holes, harvesting the fruits of our labor.

Last year, he asked me point blank. “Mom, are you sure this is worth it?”

Every year I vow that I’m going to add it all up: the hours, the supplies, the water...and see in quantitative terms, if it’s “worth it.” But I never do. Because, well, who has the time when there is so much weeding to be done. And, if I did I’d most certainly come to the conclusion that it’s more economical to just march myself to the grocery store. 

But...

Can you put a price on a homegrown tomato? Or, a sunshine yellow squash? Or, a piece of pumpkin art from your very own patch? Don’t think so.

I garden because I want to. It’s that simple. Call it a post-forty right of passage. Suddenly the fact that nothing is guaranteed, including time, becomes crystal clear. And choices on what to do with free-time do too.

I would never choose to camp my way across the country. But each year millions of people do just that. To each his own. 

Finding “what we want to do” with the time we are given, is no easy task. But most of us, if forced to rate our daily to-do list in the same manner in which our eyes are examined at our yearly check up, “number one or number two?” would know in an instant, what tugs at us. 

And then the work begins. 

Degrees are earned, books are written, gardens are grown, one course, word, and plant at a time. It’s a buggy, weedy mess, pursuing what pulls. But it sure is worth it, most of the time.

It’s a life lesson I’d love my offspring to learn sooner than later. 

Currently their life’s landscape is largely defined for them. They don’t get to choose whether they do math or read each day or learn a foreign language. But someday, they’ll decide if any or all of those things, matter, to them. 

Already my youngest son chooses to play any sport that involves a ball, spends countless hours learning jump rope tricks, and is teaching himself the ukulele. 

My oldest, the (hopefully) aspiring gardener beside me would rather perform for hundreds of people, ride his bike by the hour, and watch re-runs of Murder She Wrote.

“One more row?” I plead. 

“We better get some good tomatoes this year,” he says.

He already knows. There’s no guarantee that the tomatoes will ripen. And even if they do, they could have the dreaded blight like two years ago. But odds are at least one or two plants will ripen on cue, sprouting the unforgettable taste of summer. 

And I know. With each weed conquered, he’s one step closer. To a garden of his own. 

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