After many summers of failing miserably at tending to vegetable plants, I have resigned myself to the realization that I am not a great gardener.
Do you hear me, husband? I stink at gardening. I am not even a little bit good at it. I’m just really terrible.
I am not sure where I got the idea that I should tend a garden. The Jersey girl in me loves a good farm. I have vivid memories of my dad stopping for corn and tomatoes at a farm stand near our home in Marlton. My parents have been schlepping me to Conte’s Farm in Medford to pick blueberries and eat cider donuts since I was little. So, I wanted my girls to have the same love of farms and fruits and veggies as I do.
Before our preschooler could walk, we brought her out to a farm to pick strawberries and blueberries. I put her on a tractor to pick apples. When she was finally mobile and we became a family of four, it was rinse repeat. I’ve taken the girls to local farms a half-dozen times this summer alone. The other day, our preschooler asked to go and pick blackberries–not sure how she knew it was the season but she’s already picked every other berry so she’s getting curious about what’s next.
I have tried reading about gardening and failed grandly at cultivating anything. A few years back I built a raised bed with my dad’s help and but struggled to get anything to grow. In my gardening fantasies (yes, I have those sometimes), I farm a huge plot with so many vegetables that we’re giving things away. And I cook and can the best of the summer bounty.
It sounds pretty romantic but in reality, I’m a klutz in the garden. My husband takes great pleasure in my failed gardening efforts. He knows how much I love vegetables, farms, and growing things. But I forget to water on hot days, I picked the worst spot for the raised bed, and the squirrels enjoy more of spoils that I ever have. But I stick at it. I am so terribly mediocre at gardening, and mediocre may be putting it kindly. As I watered the fig tree this afternoon, leaves wilted in the heat, I wondered if it would ever bear fruit. I know nothing about fig season as the tree was a gift from a friend. He pruned the tree earlier this summer and told me to keep it hydrated. I’ve tried that but it’s still a total fail.
If my day job was this hard, I would have quit by now.
Oh wait….my day job IS hard, just in a different way.
I’m not saying that being a professor is the same as being a farmer. There is far more sitting involved in what I do (much to my chagrin). But, I do plenty of proverbial gardening in the office. I’ve analyzed data and had null findings. I’ve worked a paper over multiple times, sent it out for peer review and received a rejection. And I’ve experimented with seemingly great ideas in the classroom and met blank, bored student faces.
In a job that’s nearly entirely self-directed, it’s a challenge to stay upbeat, and I often wonder what keeps any of us engaged in work that could be considered a struggle.
For me, I stay engaged to see those light bulb moment with my students or the email I get semester later from someone who still remembers my class. It’s the pride I get from landing that publication (one so far but it’s better than none). And it’s the satisfaction I feel from seeing people read Rogue Cheerios. Without these moments, the frustrating bits of the job would be all consuming.
When things aren’t working out, it’s important to take a step back, seek out support, and ask for help. I do those things with my work sometimes. I never look for help with the garden, though. So maybe I should take a cue from my actual job and maybe I’ll get a little bit better at my non-day-job.