By Jamie Etheridge
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking my kids to the Secret Garden Project in Salmiya. Organized by the same folks that created the pop up farmer’s market, Shakshooka, the garden is a community project that invites anyone who would like to take part to help grow the garden. Since we live in an apartment, like so many families in Kuwait, my children do not have access to a garden or regular opportunities to dig in the dirt, play on the grass or otherwise engage with nature. So when I found out about the garden, I was ecstatic that they would have a chance to do all those things.
I never considered my own role in this whole ‘gardening’ adventure. The truth is, I’m more than a bit of a homebody and I seldom spend time playing in the dirt. At home, our amazing housekeeper and nanny takes care of the plants and even grew tomatoes on our balcony last year. I’m more studious. I like to spend my time reading books, writing or crocheting afghans and tote bags. So on the first Saturday that we went to the garden, I brought along my camera and a few bottles of water with the idea that I would give the girls free rein to help in the garden and I would take some nice photos and sit back and watch.
And that’s what I did. At least for the first 15 or 20 minutes. I roamed around the garden and like any proud mama would, snapped pictures of my girls hauling dirt and watering the plants and helping out. It made me so proud to see my daughters working in the garden and I was happy to sit and watch them, until my three year old came over and asked: “Mama, what are you doing? Come play with me.”
That’s when it hit me: I’m such a hypocrite!
I talk such a great line about community projects and spending time outdoors and teaching my children to be active and lead a healthy lifestyle. And yet here I was sitting in the shade and taking photos. As a mom, I realized I had totally just failed rule number one of parenting: model the behavior you want your children to learn. By sitting on my butt, I was sending my children mixed messages. Do what I say and not what I do.
So I grabbed a bucket and trowel and helped fill a planter with sand and soil and lightener. Once it was prepped, we chose seeds and planted, and then helped the girls to water the garden. By the time I left I was sweaty, red-faced and in much need of a shower.
But I felt amazing. I felt like I had learned an incredibly valuable lesson about how to be a mom. (Six years into motherhood, I’m still learning how to be a parent and many days are a lesson in what I’ve done wrong and how to get it right next time!)
Maybe my girls didn’t even notice that at first I wasn’t working. Maybe they were so excited and so busy being engaged themselves that it never crossed their minds to wonder why I was sitting instead of planting and painting. But I’m glad I did get up and get involved. I’m glad I worked.
I know in Kuwait we tend to let the help do much of the hard labor. We stand on the sidelines while the nannies change our children’s diapers or feed our toddlers their dinner. We make phone calls and social visits while our maids cook dinner and wash clothes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having help and I am personally grateful for all the help I can get. But our children learn by watching us. If we don’t cook meals, how can we teach them this very important life skill? If we don’t read, how will they ever learn to love books?
It’s easy to let life get in the way, to worry what others will think when they see you sweating and hauling dirt like a madwoman. But when your kids are heading off to college, you won’t remember what others thought. Instead you will be hoping and praying that your children are self-sufficient, resourceful, capable, curious and most of all, prepared to take care of themselves and live a responsible life.
Whether they become those things or not is a direct result of how we parent and what we show them about what is important and valuable in this world.