Lynn Easton

Early On: Waiting for tomatoes and kids to bloom

I finally planted my tomatoes last weekend. I waited for just the right air and ground temperature to create the best chance for roots to take hold and blooms to thrive, just like the books and blogs tell me I should do.

Every year, I laugh a little inside because I know it doesn’t much matter what I do with these plants, as they will be affected by so much more than my questionable green thumb: heatwaves, rainstorms, rodents, bees, bugs, you name it. All I can do is plant them.

And every year, I remember the brilliant idea one of my daughter’s Kindergarten teachers invoked when she met with preschoolers each May or June to give them a glimpse of the ‘Big School.’ where they’d be going the following autumn.

After an afternoon tour of their new classroom, she’d offer each child a gift – their own tomato plant. She told them they needed to water it, nurture it and love it over the summer. When the tomatoes started to form and turn red, it would almost be time for them to start Kindergarten.

I think of that teacher every summer – and I curse her.

No, not really, I adored the idea but neither my daughter nor I were very good gardeners that summer and were far too busy having fun to water or watch the plant much at all. It died.

Yup, at the time I was incredibly torn about my daughter heading off to Kindergarten. She thrived outdoors and I was anxious about the idea of sending her into the confines of a stuffy, crowded space each day.

I had just one job to do that summer to help make the transition easier on each of us and I failed. I killed the tomato. What was I going to do to my child if I can’t keep a plant alive?

I cheated and bought a new cherry tomato plant towards the end of the season. Right on time, it’s dozens of green fruits were ready to burst into the reds of Autumn. Apparently, my daughter was ready too. She all but burst out of the car every morning and pretty much every day of school after that.

A couple of years later, we tried the tomato plant trick with her sister but the idea never took root. I confess right here that her sister never did go to Kindergarten. Instead, she slid slowly into fulltime schooling cautiously, opening up to the system like a slow growing vine.

I’ve learned a thing or two about gardening and kids since then. It hasn’t made me a better gardener or a better parent, but it has kept me a little saner. I know now, that no two plants – or kids – are the same. We can’t predict what direction they may grow in or how they may bloom.

I’ve also learned that it’s just fine to ask for help from friends with green thumbs and parenting expertise. If the idea of sending your little one to Kindergarten is daunting, you’ve got plenty of people happy to make it easier for you.

For those who have a few more years to wait, there are places like Fraser Valley Regional Library’s story times and School District No. 42’s ever-popular Strong Start programs in various Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows schools. Or check the Family Education Centre and Support Centre School’s Cool program that begins in late May. District 42 also hosts Ready Set Learn events in early spring but you can also download your own Ready, Set, Learn parent primer to read over the summer while you watch your kids and your plants grow.

Still, there’s something to be said for planting a seed or two yourself. It doesn’t take much, maybe hanging out and reading with your kids, playing with them, or even just encouraging them to play with other children.

I guess it’s kind of like that Kindergarten teacher taught me through my summer of gardening failure and deceit. If we plant them, water them, feed them, love them and encourage them to grow – they will find their own way to the sun.

Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood Development Committee.

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