It was 7 AM when I stumbled over to my window, pulled the cotton rope that hangs on my blinds, and peeked into my yard. It was 7:05 when I realized, after staring longingly at it, it had become my child. With my children gone for five days, I became the mother of a Brooklyn slab of cement instead.
I’ve had many backyards and gardens of my own, so this isn’t totally unfamiliar. I spent my childhood years watching what magic would unfold at grandmother’s hands on her own Brooklyn firescape. I don’t think I have her ease and sensibility with flowers, though. She could tell you which ones could live in a window box with which, and the meaning behind each flower. But here is how we are alike (something that was also passed down from my own mother): I love the labor in it. The poking, tossing, watering, and, yes, peeking over it in the wee hours of the morning. It’s not exactly like parenting my children, but in a way it is.
I grew up into parenting. Before I was a mother, I never considered myself a kid person, and I mostly still reserve my desires for my curly-headed own. I have fun with them, but overall, I thrive most in the way that parenting requires you to be on your toes all the time. Not just in the passive lessons, but lessons that have to exist no matter if protests erupt on your corner, or the world in which you know it, blows up.
But yard work and its intensity is seasonal–usually.
Entering into spring on lockdown, I wasn’t sure I’d get to it this year. As I read the other day, “I was too worried about NOT getting sick” to worry about much else. And that worry for myself ballooned into a massive and warranted worry that I might mistakenly kill someone else. “The virus was everywhere.” I didn’t even trust myself with flowers or the man I’d buy them from. My caution made me dizzy with delusion, so I spent too much money for the flowers on my stoop. But for my backyard too? That would require more flowers. More interactions. More nerves. More for less: hopefully, fewer quickly wilting bodies in hospital beds, and fewer intrusive dreams about all the souls floating across the tops of buildings (a sorrow that only a New Yorker who stuck through it knows).
In April, I began to see our furniture as tiny tetris pieces, shifting left to right, right to left, twisting to fit. That corner and then this one. Rooms we would live in, work in, depending on the hour. These were investments I was unwilling to categorize the yard under.
It was the care in his visit that pushed me, really. He hung the lights and swept the leaves. He grilled the veggies and suggested where to place everything. After he left, I dug the soil, I pulled the weeds, I rolled the planters, I hosed down the cement. I dug into the soil with my bare hands so I could feel it between my fingers and under my nails. I laid the hydrangeas in large terracotta beds. I cut back those overgrown rose bushes with outdated shears that I still need to replace. When the kids arrive later today, I hope they play in the new sand I sprinkled in their box and find joy in the flowers on their beach bench.
I will watch over this Brooklyn cement slab, like I watch over my children. Like I watch over my neighbors. Like I watch over the people I pass on the streets, wearing my mask to keep them safe. Let’s all watch over each other, like I watch over my garden–peeking, tossing, and watering—and who knows what we’ll see grow.