Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Master Gardener

I went to help my friend, Kim, weed her garden on Monday. (I know, I know-that's just the kind of devoted friend I am.)

Because Kim will read this, I have to add that I owe her, because I am still reaping the benefits of her green thumb from last year's harvest: delicious pickles of all kinds, pickled beans, applesauce, jam, etc. So, we worked together, pulling weeds for about an hour and a half. It was hard but satisfying work. Here's what we started with tomato-wise...and here's what we ended up with.As I gardened with Kim, it was easy to see why we have become friends. You see, we both have an interest in helping kids grow, as well. Kim [and John] are foster parents. It's a noble endeavor in-and-of-itself, but Kim is an extra-special foster parent, because she takes in the kids that no one else wants to take; those with severe emotional/behavioral disabilities, who are not likely to return home and don’t have many family resources.

As I pulled weeds, I couldn't help but think about how Kim also pulls the metaphorical “weeds” that threaten to choke off the growth of the healthy young men she is trying to “grow.” First, though, she tills the soil and shops for seeds carefully and with a lot of thought. She then tills the soil to prepare the seed beds. With care, she plants and waters them, watching closely for progress. Her plants, to me, represent her boys; when Kim signs up one of her boys for an after-school sport, encourages their involvement in school activities, rather than sitting at home, or forbids them to hang out with certain kids, she is pulling "weeds" that threaten to choke off the growth of her boys.

Today, one of the boys reported that he had accidentally pulled out a plant, instead of a weed. Kim calmly instructed him to "put it back in," which he did. She and I noticed it an hour later, toppled over and looking pathetic. Kim righted the plant, scooping up some extra dirt to support it with hardly a thought. Like that plant that had been uprooted, Kim's boys have been removed from homes that were not rich in nutrients, and they are not likely to return to them. See, Kim knows that a little care can go a long way with her plants and that, like her foster boys, a plant that gets a little TLC can grow strong.

When another of Kim’s teenage charges claimed that he "couldn't" get the tomato frames apart, Kim calmly asked him to try again; “Think of it like a puzzle, and work on it some more, please," and he did (and got them apart.) She doesn't give up on these kids. In fact, one of the boys was a "case" no one had a lot of hope for. Kim "saw something" in that young “sprout” and strongly advocated for his enrollment in public school, even though many had extreme reservations. We finally took him, and because of Kim's persistence, combined with her exceptional level of communication and support, he flourished and is currently living in his longest fostercare placement ever. (This is also the case for another of Kim's and John's boys.)

Kim's and John’s whole family tends the garden and reaps the benefits. The kids all help (some more than others), each eagerly awaiting the harvest. When I was there, one of them (from my class last year, the tough-guy who wrote this) exclaimed that he could not wait until the tomato plants were full of their red fruit. Each of Kim's plants, both literal and figurative, holds the promise of fruit. Just as the weeds we pulled today will help the plants grow stronger, so will removing negative influences from lives of her boys; poor friend choices, too much idle time, etc. are the weeds that can choke a growing young man. Structure, praise and encouragement are the fertilizers that boost the growth of Kim's and John's boys.

As summer wraps up, Kim will finish her harvest of tomatoes, peppers, corn, and potatoes. At the same time, she will entrust her kids to teachers, who will hopefully tend to them with the same care that Kim and John gave them all summer long, providing nurturing sunlight, water, and nutrients.

And if, for some reason, weeds sprout up while they are at school, I'm sure Kim will know what to do with them.

P.S. Notice the crooked row? I said she could grow stuff--I never said she was perfect. Besides, the crooked row suits her personality, heehee.

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