Summer vacation started off with both a bang and a whimper. Actually, not so much a whimper as lots of weeping.
Last Tuesday was the last day of the school year for both my husband, the teacher, and my son, Alex, the first grader. Very exciting.
After school, our kids went across the street to play with our neighbor's/friends' son. Bill and I sat in the living room (when it hadn't yet been filled with furniture and stuff) and just hung out and talked, enjoying the relative peace and quiet. The next day would be the big Move Everything From the Second Floor day, to be followed by the whole Sanding and Polyurethaning event, so I think we were just taking this last moment to rest on comfortable chairs with our feet up before the final upheaval began.
Anyway, Bill asked if anyone had fed the lizard and I remembered that I'd asked Alex to, but then he had to go to the bathroom and he forgot, I guess, and so did I. So that would be a no.
By this point, the kids had moved from the back yard across the street to our back yard, so Bill called to Alex from a window and reminded him to get a worm or two for the lizard.
We went back to discussing the game plan for the next several days.
A few minutes later Alex came in, hand behind his back, and said glumly, "Well, no worms. The only thing we could find was this."
And out came the hand, and in it, a very young carrot he'd pulled from the garden.
I cringe, even writing about it now.
Bill told Alex that the carrot wasn't ready to be pulled, and he (Alex) needed to stop showing off in front of his friend.
You know how kids are. They behave differently with their friends around. They cross lines they know they shouldn't. They stop thinking. They walk on the wild side. They pull an underage carrot from the garden.
Bill told Alex in no uncertain terms that he'd better not do that again, and to toss the carrot onto the compost heap because it was no good to eat yet and it couldn't be replanted.
Don't mess with the garden, kids.
So we sent Alex back out to find a worm. We have PLENTY of worms out there, in gardens, in the compost bins. They practically hang from the trees. There was no reason a worm couldn't be found.
A bit later I looked out the window to check on the kids, and I noticed it looked like it was starting to rain. (We've had mostly rain here for oh, most of June, so of COURSE it was starting to rain. Again.) I went out the back door just to confirm it and yes, rain was, indeed, falling.
I called to the kids and said they needed to play inside, and as they arrived at the back steps, something made me look down.
And there, on the driveway, right next to the back steps, were two carrot stalks. No carrots. Just the long, green, distinctive stalks.
I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I picked them up and looked at the three little faces.
"Who did this?" I asked calmly.
Our neighbors' son said he didn't eat any of the carrots. Both boys pointed at Julia, who just stood there, her face a mask.
I flew across the yard to the corner square in our 15' x 3' raised bed. Where the carrots had been planted this year.
And I gasped as I beheld the horror. The carnage. The ugly slaughter of innocent baby carrots.
There were stalks and stalks with little remaining bits of carrot and some entire tiny carrotlings with their little ferny stalks…all of them scattered on the brick walk that surrounds the garden. There were one or two carrots still remaining, and there was a deep hole in the dirt. Oh, this was not good.
(This photo was taken several days after the carrot slaughter. After the casualties had been cleaned up and the ground evened out a bit. But you get the idea. There USED to be a lot of carrots in there.)
The three kids were still standing in the driveway, just watching. I forced my voice to sound nice as I suggested to our neighbors' son that it was time for him to go home, and to look both ways as he crossed the street.
And when I summoned my own two children, my voice was sort of strangled and choked as I planned my speech and tried to banish thoughts of Bill's reaction when he found out. At the moment, he was inside, on the phone, ordering Chinese food for dinner from the really good place up the street.
I don't even remember what I said.
Something about DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK YOUR FATHER PUTS INTO THESE GARDENS? SO WE CAN GROW FOOD? THESE CARROTS AREN'T READY TO BE EATEN! WHY DID YOU DO THIS? DO YOU KNOW HOW UPSET DADDY IS GOING TO BE WHEN HE–
And then there he was, coming into the yard, still unaware of the carrot massacre, but very aware that SOMETHING was very wrong.
"WHAT HAPPENED?" he bellowed.
When he saw what they'd done, he ordered Alex and Julia into the house and up to their beds. I hollered after them to go into OUR bedroom, so they wouldn't step on the area of the floor where the patch job was. They were in enough trouble without stepping on a fresh coat of polyurethane. Julia hadn't committed her sin yet – that would happen the following day. Yeah, it was a good week.
Anyway, to say Bill was angry is to say Everest is a speed bump.
He gathered up the carrot casualties and slammed them on one of the compost piles, swearing and raging all the while.
And the thing is, this story and the Julia-stepping-on-polyurethane-after-she'd-been-told-not-to-go-upstairs episode are SO rare in our house. I'm the one more likely to yell about something. Bill doesn't yell much. So when he does, you'd better dive under the house.
Anyway, into the house he went, and up the stairs. And he gave the kids an earful about his hard work and time spent in the garden, and so on. I went around shutting windows and doors, just so we wouldn't draw a crowd.
He. Was. Angry.
After he was done, he came stomping through the house and went outside to relive the horror and slam some things around out there. I stayed out of his way.
I tiptoed to the foot of the stairs after a little while and I heard two things:
1) Alex sobbing.
2) Julia chattering away and giggling.
And this is the way it's going to be, I think. These are their personalitites, in a nutshell.
Alex takes things to heart. Raised voices are crushing to him, and it takes him a long time to get past it. He will remember this.
Julia…well, she's five, and Alex is seven, so there could be some sort of "the conscience isn't fully developed or even in existence at age five" thing in a child-rearing manual, which might account for her lack of tears. Or maybe she figured Alex was carrying around enough guilt for the both of them. Or she didn't care. Who knows.
But when I went upstairs to check on them, Alex was curled up on the edge of the bed and Julia was basically trying to get him to play with her and annoying him in the process. She wanted to know if they could get off the bed yet. She was clearly unfazed.
And I would bet my pink KitchenAid food processor that she did the majority of the carrot pulling and carrot eating.
Bill came in just about then and flew upstairs for a reprisal of his earlier lecture/tirade, just to make sure Julia, in particular, was getting the point.
Soon after that, he drove off to pick up the food, I set the table, and when he came back, the children were summoned to dinner.
Julia came down the stairs, chattering happily about the food and basically sucking up to Daddy in her very obvious way.
Alex puddled his way into the room and insisted on pulling his chair right next to mine at the table. He wasn't done crying yet.
And all the while Julia kept up a jolly little monologue of "Oh, thank you Daddy for getting this food! I love Chinese food! This all looks so yummy! I'd LOVE some soup!" and on and on and on.
It was nauseating. I am ashamed to admit it, but I glared at her a few times.
Alex stopped crying but didn't want to eat.
Eventually, though, he had a nibble of something and a nibble of something else, and realized that even though the world was about to end, his stomach was growling and the food was good, so he might as well eat.
And the rest of the night was relatively quiet. The kids went to bed early, and we moved on.
But it was not over.
It's one thing to tell your kids "this is a lot of work." It's much more effective to let them discover that for themselves.
And so, over the weekend, the children were introduced to a little thing Bill liked to call Hard Labor.
On Saturday they spent an hour in the 80+ degree heat weeding one of the gardens in the front yard. It would have been longer, but they had their final T-ball game of the season to go to, and we had to stop.
Julia kept saying she was thirsty. Bill said too bad, this is what Hard Labor feels like. You keep working EVEN WHEN you're thirsty.
(No, we didn't deprive them of hydration. Julia just kept asking every thirty seconds in a rather transparent attempt to take a break from the un-fun task at hand.)
So that was Saturday's taste of Hard Labor.
On Sunday we had no obligations, so while I made cheese and jam and bread indoors, Bill and the kids worked in the gardens outdoors.
The first thing they did was harvest the garlic. Julia and Alex took turns.
I set them on a tray on some newspapers to dry for a few days, and Bill and the kids planted new things where the garlic had been. We've now got dill seedlings there, along with bok choy seeds, scallions, lettuce, and…
After that they also helped plant flowers in the window boxes and in the shade gardens, and eventually, after about 4 hours of work (with water breaks, don't worry), they were done.
They worked hard, and I think they have a better understanding of and appreciation for how much effort goes into a square foot of carrots.
Now, there's a funny side note to all of this.
The morning of that same Tuesday when the whole Carrot Saga began, Bill was getting in his truck to go to work, and I was getting in my car to move it out of the driveway so he could leave. He stopped just before climbing in and yelled back to me "There are carrots growing in the lawn!"
I took a look after he'd left and sure enough, little baby carrot leaves were scattered through the grass, right at the edge of the driveway. Weird.
We've had things grow in odd places. We have tomatoes and cilantro that reseed themselves every year and we never know where we're going to find them. This year we've got a pumpkin plant that showed up along the front walk, amid the hostas and irises and tulips, and there are two other squash-family plants and some tomatoes that have shown up where the woodpile was on the other side of our garage. The side where we don't have a garden.
So baby carrots near the driveway? Sure, whatever.
We later found out that Alex's teacher had given all the kids carrot seeds some time ago and without telling anyone, Alex sprinkled them in the grass there.
Kind of perfect, isn't it? So in addition to planting new carrots, Bill and the kids also carefully dug up some of these tiny carrots and transplanted them to the scene of the crime.
And you know, I think they'll be pretty safe there.