My Son Jack

Super athlete? No, super gardener!

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY LINDA COOK

My son Jack is the tallest kid in his class—by quite a bit. He has an arm on him a few coaches say they’ve never seen.

I first realized his strength when he was two. We were in a crowded grocery store the day before Thanksgiving. He was throwing a tantrum because I was making him sit in the cart, lest he run all over and knock down the displays of cranberry sauce and stuffing.

He wasn’t happy with me, and he let me know it. I was a sweaty mess, struggling for what seemed like ten minutes to get him buckled in. We certainly caused a scene.

Instead of spending time at a ballfield, he wants to go to a greenhouse and choose seedlings.

Once I had him securely in the front of the cart, he took a can of green beans and threw it down the entire length of Aisle Two. It was, by far, the most embarrassing parenting moment of my life. To my surprise, though, no one gave me a dirty look or told me I needed to control my child. Instead, they marched over to me and said they’d never seen such arm strength on a toddler and that I should get him enrolled in as many sports as possible.

I tried, for years. But Jack never had any interest in sports. He loves science, nature, and the outdoors. In the spring and summer while all of his friends are playing baseball, tennis, and soccer, he’s watering and weeding his vegetable garden. He is watching very carefully to make sure everything has enough room. He is diligently making sure that all the vines stay on their stakes.

A few weeks before Memorial Day, he makes a list of all the fruits and vegetables he wants to plant. Then, instead of buying the latest sneakers, he buys packets of seeds and sorts them by category. Instead of spending time at a ballfield, he wants to go to a greenhouse and choose seedlings to take home. He holds them on his lap in the car.

He sets the plants he buys outside for a few hours each day to “harden them off”—something that is essential up here in Maine. When the time is right, he carefully plants them in the two raised beds his father made for him.
He tends to that garden every single day. He is so organized about his planning that there is almost always something ready to harvest. First come radishes, then lettuce, spring greens, and peas. Now he is monitoring the progress of his cabbage and noticing the flowers starting on his watermelon and pumpkins.

I’ve tried my hand at vegetable gardening at least a dozen times. After the newness wears off and the weeds start to take over, I lose interest.

But not Jack. He’s out there on hot summer afternoons. He weeds in the rain, and waits until evening to water so sun-heated droplets won’t scorch any leaves.

He may not use his strength for sports, but that doesn’t mean it’s wasted. He never complains if certain plants don’t grow. He understands this is just the way of it. You win some, you lose some, and he chooses to work hard, anyway.

And if that’s not strength, I don’t know what is.


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