The day after Mother’s Day, I decide to putz around in the garden. It’s been a long, cold spring; everything is emerging later than usual. My patience has worn thin, but not with the garden. With people.
This particular Monday is the warmest day of the year so far. A little humid. My ear is plugged thanks to spring allergies. I stopped taking medication for them after the dog died. It’s been more than 20 years since I met a spring without something to stop snot from clogging my head. We’ll see how this goes, but so far it’s not too bad.
There are gigantic dandelions already taking up space in parts of the garden. I decide to remove them since there are some other things blooming now. If there was nothing else, I would leave them for bee food. The ones I remove are snuggled up against emergent daylilies, nettles, Irish moss. The ones in the lawn can stay there. Neither my partner Mick nor I care about having a lawn. That’s probably why little sweat bees have taken up residence out front, their bee nursery evident for the fourth year in a row. We’ve placed a plant stake right by it so we don’t mow over the bee nest. They amuse me so much with their little green faces and the way one bee hangs out just inside a doorway to the nest when one of us walks by.
When I’ve removed enough dandelions and the errant daisies that popped up in the moss garden, I stretch my back, grateful for the respite the garden has given year after year after year. It is my haven, my safe space, the room where I think.
The week before Mother’s Day felt truly awful with the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe V. Wade. Mick and I had a few discussions about what it really means to have a high court with such unwillingness to interpret law for a twenty-first century population. I vented in a draft essay that I thought I might publish here, but which I then left sitting on my laptop. Venting is what most of the people I know have already been doing. Venting again here won’t help.
I did buy myself a Mother’s Day present: a pin from Dissent Pins that says, “Another grandma for abortion rights.” Half of their proceeds goes to women’s reproductive health care organizations. At least that’s one small thing I can do right now.
I’m worried about my daughter, my granddaughters. I’m worried about the repercussions that will reverberate in other legal matters, other protections and rights that we all thought were settled as we mistakenly assumed we did not still live in the Dark Ages.
My youngest granddaughter Maeve is just about seven months old. She is fascinated with her own hands, holding them in front of her eyes while she sips from her bottle, turning them as if wondering who they belong to. She grabs for everything while we hold her in our arms: glasses, earrings, necklaces, Mick’s beard, my lip. We’ve been teaching her what flowers are. Now that’s another thing she reaches for.
Maeve hangs out at our house a couple of days a week while her parents work. The other weekdays, she stays with her other set of grandparents. All four of us are clear that by providing daycare, we are not just helping with expenses – we are keeping Maeve as safe as we can while the ongoing pandemic shifts and twists all our lives. My son and his wife are both teachers; we won’t do regular daycare over the summer. We’ll pick it up again in the fall and do it for another school year. Then we’ll see how the world looks.
Maeve and her big sister Camille were choices, welcomed into our family fold. They are lucky to have all their grandparents alive, nearby and willing to offer care; my son and his wife know this is not the situation for most people. I’ve thought about how families manage to afford daycare at all, at the same time that I’ve wondered how people who work in daycare settings can afford to pay their own rent. Our daughter Abby worked at a local Kinder Care for a year and the pay for caring for small human beings, being responsible for their safety, wasn’t nearly commensurate with the responsibility.
I think about Maeve’s and Camille’s futures and wonder if any sense of progressive governance will be in place. And I think about getting them passports as one option for their immediate futures. My wish for my granddaughters is that they have access to other cultures, other ideas, other paths toward happy lives. They need to know their options.
It is a grandparent’s privilege and, perhaps, obligation to offer whatever they can to make the world an equitable and reasonable place for future generations. The closer we come to our own ends, the more obvious it is that trying to amass a fortune or keep everything as it was when we were younger because it worked for us (did it? did it really?) is a silly and useless way to inhabit the world.
Some days, meditation followed by a morning walk is the only thing that gets any lingering anger, fear, and anxiety out of my bones. The older I get, the more I clench my jaw and fists over what our American patriarchy has done to women, children, or anyone without privilege. I watch my adult children struggle to find jobs that pay enough to live on, secure housing, afford health care. I watch the juxtaposition of the desire for a child up against the reality of systems that don’t accommodate families, that don’t give a rat’s ass about parental leave or work-life balance. I shake my head at the women who buy into the system, who don’t stand up for other women, who would refuse the rest of us our choices around how and when to have a child knowing that there’s no mandated support system once a woman decides to carry a baby to term. Knowing that there are plenty of situations in which access to birth control and abortion make the difference between surviving and not in this country.
That there is such a divide between those who understand and oppose the implications of legislating a woman’s body and those who prefer to be Taliban-esque toward women because of some religious belief that should not influence secular law is one of the great failures of the American system. Better nationwide education with hefty curriculum on critical thinking and human rights might help.
But I am not holding my breath.
While I pulled dandelions, I thought of my mother for the umpteenth time in the past few weeks. She’s been on my mind a lot. When I was a kid in the 1970s, while Roe V. Wade was decided, Mom was very clear that abortion was a sin. Our Catholic family was not allowed to support such an idea and a law that legalized it was a terrible thing in her eyes. I believed that for a while.
And then I grew up. I had my own children. I understood the toll parenthood takes on people even as it brings incredible joy. Motherhood is not something to go into lightly, but sometimes it appears on the horizon when we least expect it, even if we’ve tried hard not to get pregnant. And it’s nobody’s business whether we carry a child to term but our own.
My mother would not approve of my current philosophy. That makes me sad, but it will not make me change my mind. I know she was not a woman who was capable of breaking free of the thinking that the Catholic Church insisted upon. She was not able to see religion from a distance, as something one chooses for their private path forward.
I remember how she thought my going to college would ruin my adherence to my religious upbringing. She’d be quite surprised, I think, to know that it wasn’t just college and the critical thinking skills I acquired. It was becoming a mother and watching my kids suffer that really did it. It was the lack of people in power applying all those lessons I learned in catechism about helping the poor, the needy, the bullied, the lonely, and others. It was living life as a woman.
My gardening journal goes back to the year 2000. I began it before my mom died. This was a startling realization as I began writing the section for this year, 2022. My need to document the evolution of our garden is about a lot of things: my growth as a gardener and a steward of this little bit of earth upon which Mick and I live, climate change as it happens right in front of us, changing ideas about what is an acceptable practice for a yard that offers a haven for living things.
It is the haven for living things that I keep coming back to as I think about our country and our courts, about how we care for each other and how we harm each other, and what we depend on laws to do: keep us safe, keep us alive. But there is no consistent haven. There is only each one of us and what we carry, what we plant. There is this world that changes and will continue to change. We must adapt our habits to meet those changes, to mitigate repercussions from the harm we’ve already done, and let go of old systems that no longer serve us. Rigid adherence to old ideas only makes us brittle.
Eventually we break. Our rigid world crumbles with us.