Gardening with kids: Disappointment

Disappointment

He stated his problem pretty plainly on the walk home. The “super moon” had not been as “super” as he had expected. A group of neighbors had gathered to watch the moon rise at the dam of our neighborhood lake. It was stunning, rising over the mountains to the east and illuminating a veil of clouds in a golden halo. However, he thought that it was going to be really, really, big. Like, super-big. And the weeks of counting down days on our kitchen calendar to the super-moon, he felt, had been wasted.

Among the most visceral of feelings, disappointment pinches the gut with particular abandon. For a consistent and enthusiastic optimist, disappointment can be a frequent experience. The process of guiding your child through the feeling of being let down is tricky. Helping the kids ease the sting of disappointment is problematic for me, because I’m not that good at it myself. In my years though, I’ve noticed that the garden helps.  

The garden teaches you to manage expectations through frequent little failures. For example: Our potatoes last summer were thwarted by the flea beetle. We selected several unique varieties of seed potato from our favorite local garden shop. A few weeks after planting, the potato plants were vigorously growing and we made mental lists of who we would share the bumper harvest with. Almost overnight, a little shiny black beetle invaded the plants, chewed holes in all the leaves, and the entire crop was lost.

The optimists and those with their hearts on their sleeves know well the ache of disappointment whether it is a slow burn, decades in the making, or one of the many little daily let-downs. My girls expected that the first test-carrot of spring would be a monster. No thicker than their thumbs, dealing with the lackluster size of that first carrot was a minor lesson that will hopefully build their resilience for a major broken heart someday.

The garden also provides pleasant surprises. An afternoon rainstorm in summer, the sun blasts back out, and WOW those zucchini grew an inch! Perhaps the balance of success and failure and the pleasure of the entire process make the garden an ideal location to practice getting better at disappointment.

On our walk back home in the dark from the dam, I felt his frustration but gave him my take on the experience. The moon had been pretty darn big on the horizon though, and did you see the beautiful golden swirls of light in the clouds? While not totally sold on my optimists' spin, my little star-gazer felt better about the super-moon by the time we were home in the garden. When they were all tucked in and off to dream, I noticed on the kitchen calendar that he had written in a meteor shower in January. I’m hoping for a sky full of zingers, but we’ll take what comes.