My First Plant (or How Everything Comes Back Over to Social Work)

My first plant was a lima bean planted in a paper cup in third grade.  I don’t remember the specifics of the assignment except that I was a disorganized eight-year-old in a disorganized family.  I forgot to tell my mom that I needed to soak the bean before planting it, but it didn’t much matter because my bean went into the dark closet, where I learned seeds were loathe to grow anyway.  So the plants on the sunny sill popped up, first peeking little green arches and then heart leaves.  The seeds in the closet stayed tucked beneath the dirt and dark.

In retrospect, while I see that there is value to control groups and third grade scientific inquiry, I feel defensive of my spacey and disorganized eight year-old self and her failure of a seedling. I sort of wish the teacher had taken on the burden of the control group, so that little girl (and her control cohort!) could have had that experience of her very own wonder and hope.

How could this be anything but a parable about privilege and risk and resilience?  I can’t help but draw the parallel between this little elementary experiment and the reality of institutional discrimination and disparity.  Some seeds are planted in good soil, get enough water, and sit on a sunny sill.  Some go into the closet–maybe soaked a bit the night before, maybe brought out for half the daylight.  The objective of the lesson was, of course, to point out that plants need a combination of circumstances to thrive.

That little girl was not herself a bean in the dark.  She was a bean in the partial shade, and sometimes the ground was a little too cool. But the soil was fertile and a slice of sun hit her just right, and she happened to be a particularly sprouty type, it turned out.

It’s interesting to do social work, with its strengths-based ethos, in the school setting.  I grew enough into the teacher role that I absorbed the language of “at risk,” but it wasn’t until my MSW program that I was able to fully contextualize that label.  A kid isn’t “at risk” because of her personality or bad parents or low ambitions or propensity to misbehavior but because of systemic realities that can amount to being sown in rocky soil or being put inside a closet with no light.  What schools often seem to miss out on is the other side of risk, which is resilience.  And when we label “at risk” kids without also digging around for the ways that they are sprouty and programmed to thrive, when we don’t assess for and emphasize and GROW those things, we often undermine the ability of children to soak up what is fertile or find their patch of sun.

This year, I am tending my first real class of seedlings.  When I chose the cucumber sprout who would continue on into the next round, I laid the rejected snipped stem aside, sadly, to a spot in the basin that had collected a little water.  A few days later, I noticed that she was reaching up toward the light and had rooted in the margins.  I couldn’t help myself–I planted her and put her in the window.

I’m participating in the Grow Write Guild with Gayla Trail and friends.  The subject at hand is “my first plant.

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Taking my time–easier said than done!

Ah. Remember that taking my time intention? Yeah, about that. It feels like I own almost none of my own time. Lately, I’ve been living in this electric fog of anxiety and overwhelm. I abandoned my daily mandala meditation. I wake up in the middle of the night with low-grade  anxiety or sweaty moments of panic.  I swear that I am a little cognitively impaired for it all (I’m not even being flippant). I teach coping skills to teenagers but am not all that sure that I am even using them (that is hyperbole, probably. I think?).  I’m just trying not to fall off the edge of everything.

Automatic thought roll call: I can’t do this? (Here!) I should be doing more? (Yo, teach!) This is too much? (Hey!)  I am going to fail? (Present and accounted for!) It’s tough because the minimal requirements of finishing my degree are real and substantial. But there’s a lot of core-belief and low self-esteem action at work there, and when I’m not in full-blown emotion mind (can you tell that I think a lot about cognitive & dialectical behavior therapy?) I’m really trying to figure out how to give myself a break.

green thingsIt hasn’t been a total wash. Over the weekend, I connected with a couple of friends to share seeds and grilled cheese sandwiches with. It was good for the soul to take my time for that. It reminded me that I really miss my community and that, in spite of my introversion, I really love to gather a community.  I love to be together and do stuff. And on top of it all, it was this wonderful chance to attend to and share my garden dreams. With a huge pile of work to do, the two hours had seemed almost impossible to take–but I’m glad I did. I am exhausted, but it was a boost of delightful anticipation and a nice distraction from the grind that demands so much of my focus.

And the seeds I planted are coming up.  Ah, hope.  I look at them every day. It does help.