I hate to sound like a slogan on a T-shirt found in a Cracker Barrel gift shop, but raising a child is a lot like nurturing a garden.
First, you start with a little seedling. While it may look just like a little tiny version of its grown-up counterpart, it's much more tender and needy. The gardener tries to place the seedling in the best place where it will flourish. Parents try to choose the best school, the best coaches, the best opportunities in which their children will flourish. The needs for both plants and children are similar.
The difference between a plant and a person, of course, is that the plant doesn't need its mama like the baby does. Granted, the gardener waters, fertilizes, prunes and harvests from the plant to make it stronger and more fruitful. But the plant will make it on its own, if necessary. The baby? Not a chance.
Feeding. What would that baby do if mama wasn't there to feed it with those little tiny spoons and all of those jars of mushed-up, bland food? I knew a boy who found a jar of peanut butter and smeared it on himself, the walls, the floor, everywhere. Not much nourishment, and quite a mess was the result.
Watering. That's another issue. Most children I've known avoid bathwater more than a gardener avoids poison ivy. I knew a little boy who wore the same clothes at church camp for an entire week. Whew, did that kid stink.
Pruning. In parenting, it's the parameters parents put on their children - keeping the kids in line like gardeners keep the branches growing straight and strong. You prune out the bad stuff, making room for the good. I knew a young boy who was grounded for weeks for striking matches in dry woods one summer. The lessons learned - responsibility, consequences, safety - lasted a lifetime.
Harvesting. That's the fun part; gardeners get juicy apples, rosy tomatoes, beautifully scented flowers. Or, if it's a parent and a child, the bounty is the joy in watching the successes wrought from years of practice, study or hard work. I know a high-school boy who became a basketball and soccer team captain and who's earned great grades, enough to win an academic scholarship.
Feeding, watering, pruning, harvesting. The gardener and the parent work to cultivate something beautiful, something fruitful, something that makes their part of the world a bit nicer. And, although the parent and the gardener work hard to get everything right, there's one part of the process that neither has control over: the environment in which they grow. So both parents and gardeners must say many prayers that the environment is healthy and nurturing.
That little boy who smeared peanut butter, who was voted "most stinky" at camp, who got grounded, and who's had a successful high school career is graduating from high school this week. And he was my little seedling 18 years ago. We've fed, watered, pruned, and now we're reaping the benefits of our "tending" by watching our boy mature into a beautiful young man.
Good luck, John. I love you.
Sara Busse is a Charleston resident and master gardener. She may be contacted at sjbu...@gmail.com.