Friday, April 25, 2008

Plant Yourself Where You'll Bloom

Today is a much brighter day, and perfect for tackling some gardening chores. You will note that I said in my bio that I enjoyed the fruits of my garden, but I'm afraid I don't really enjoy the process of getting there. I'm good enough about buying the plants, not so much about getting them in the ground. And weeding...let's don't go there! There's always a lot to do in the Spring, and again at the end of Summer, but in between, it's mostly pure pleasure.

I've learned a lot from my gardening efforts, mostly that it's very difficult to force something to grow unless you accomodate its needs. Oh, sometimes something will surprise you and hang in there, maybe fairly successfully. To really thrive as a gardener, though, you have to pay attention to the way your plants came into the world, make sure you respect their needs, and notice when it's time for doing something different.

My biggest gardening epiphany came when we lived in Collierville. At our old house in town, we had mostly shade, and as long as I picked shade loving plants that liked acid soil, my yard generally did pretty well. Moving into a newly constructed house presented challenges, both in terms of energy and money. We couldn't really afford to pay someone to come in and give us an instant landscape, so I bought what I liked and put it in the ground. One area was particularly troublesome. Things that I had had success with in the past simply would not grow in that bed. My Torenia and Astilbe fried in the heat or rotted from too much water. Then one day I was dealing with some weeds in the limestone gravel in the driveway and noticed shoots of Torenia coming up. I moved them to the bed, but they quickly died off. They kept coming back in the drive though, and I eventually just learned to enjoy them there among the rocks and poor alkaline soil that they appeared to love.

I soon realized that I wasn't thriving in Collierville either. We lived there over seven years and I never made a friend. I'm sure this was partly a function of living on acreage that provided a buffer between neighbors, but it was so strange to me. We tried a church out there. We didn't really have any attachment to it, so began coming back to town for church, not very regularly, mostly when Walker was serving as an acolyte. I went back to graduate school, and made a lot of fun friends there, but it took a lot of commitment for anyone to visit us, a forty minute drive from all the things we knew and loved. My own children didn't just drop in, they had to plan ahead. I found myself handing my grandson off in the parking lot of Toys R Us halfway between on nights we were babysitting.

The two Walkers were happy in Collierville, though. Walker III was going to a large high school, making a few friends, and riding his bike to the store. He even had a girlfriend, Brandy, an adorable classmate with Down Syndrome. Big Walker was running his bird dogs in the field behind our house, and was only a short drive from places where he loved to hunt.

Finally, I realized that something was going to have to change. I simply couldn't bloom where I was planted, I had to plant myself where I would bloom. My guys transplanted well. We found a lot that accomodated the dog kennels and a small garden for our tomatoes and butter peas, and Big Walker eventually bought some hunting land. It's not as convenient as Collierville was for his interests, but he seems to manage. Walker III readily adjusted to the move. We sometimes met Brandy and her parents for a movie or Walker took her to an alumni dance at Madonna Learning Center. They even had one "real" date where they ate in a restaurant without parents. Eventually Brandy moved away and Walker got a job. He has never since had a real girlfriend, but announced recently that he is married to his job--a quote from a movie, I think.

Life is easier here in the city, and we are probably all more productive now that we don't waste so much time and fuel going back and forth. I have found real satisfaction in practicing my profession first at a local hospital close to our new home, later at our church.

My two older girls also had a "transplant" experience when they were in fifth and ninth grades. They had attended a very good school, but one that didn't offer many opportunities in the areas where they excelled. They vocalized their complaints and expressed their desire for a change, unlike Walker who generally seem to adjust to wherever he is placed, and rarely voices dissatisfaction. Although now that I think about it, he did express a desire to change jobs several years ago. Turns out he had had an unpleasant experience with his boss--who eventually got fired and Walker was happy again. Maybe his lack of complaining now is just because he's generally satisfied.

We sent Walker to a vocational training center about two hours from Memphis right after he graduated from high school. Since we had chosen to exercise our right to a free, public education for him until age twenty one, and I was busy with school, this seemed to be an appropriate next move--like going to college. He came home most weekends on the Trailways bus from Nashville. He had a calling card, but he didn't call often, and when we called him, he gave us very little information about his happiness. Eventually, his advisor called a meeting and we all decided that Walker wasn't benefitting from the program, which was actually not designed to accomodate those with the degree of cognitive deficit that most individuals with Down Syndrome, including Walker, exhibit. I was probably the one most distraught over this decision, but it turned out to be the right one.

I'm glad Walker experienced "going away" to school, because he really learned some really useful things there, even if he never became the fastest sorter of various sized nuts and bolts. He learned to more or less manage his money, to plan ahead and sign up if he wanted to go to Walmart, and to do his laundry himself. (The laundry thing was a hard lesson, because he didn't want to spend his money on feeding the machines, so he just quit changing clothes for a while. Molly discovered this on a visit and pointed it out to me and the staff.)

Soon, Walker began his current job in a local grocery store. He happily bags groceries, greeting friends and counting his tips when he gets in the car after work. He looks forward to his paydays, spending his money on DVDs and Polaroid film. He stays trim and fit by working hard. He is definitely thriving.

Deciding to make a change is hard. Yanking a living plant out of the ground and moving it sometimes seem heartless and doesn't always guarantee that it will get better. You might end up losing it anyway. But I think that's preferable to allowing it to languish unhappily taking up space where a more appropriate plant would thrive.

I hope that Walker will learn to tell us when he's ready for a new situation. I hope that I will always be open to new ideas, and be aware of the need for change in order to grow--for myself as well as my son.

Blessings, Janie

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