At dusk, I creep out onto the thick Bermuda grass with bare feet, making sure to watch for fire ant piles.
I open the tall garden gate that needs to be tightened, peek at the diminutive lemon bush to see how the lone lemon is doing and drag the long hose down the hill to the new raised garden beds that smell like cedar wood.
With all the magic and wonder that the world can hold, the seeds we planted have sprouted (first-time enthusiasm) — and every night, I go to nurture them with a little water and some conversation. Here you go little watermelons, I coax. A drink for you, my pumpkins. I didn’t forget about you little Black Eyed Peas.
I do the watering, of course, the planting and the watching — and eventually the harvesting — but the real caretaker is Mother Earth herself. And I have been surprised by how thoughtfully we had to help her prepare for her little seedlings. After all, if she doesn’t have her proper nutrients, her balance, her sunlight, her hydration, her proper conditions — well, all is a big flop.
But maybe I’m not really all that surprised at all.
Four years ago, I sat in a seminar for work at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I was lucky enough to be invited to go as a young writer for the ad agency I worked for at the time, but I sat amongst mostly high-tier executives in a college classroom getting lectured by a well-respected Harvard professor. She had a lot of interesting things to say about all sorts of intriguing topics – but one phrase in particular stuck in my head:
Feed and water.
Feed and water, she said, was the most important thing an executive could do for his or herself. Because — like the raised cedar bed holding watermelon seeds — you can only give what you have. And if you’re not healthy, nobody else will be either.
I think this stuck with me, mostly, because when she said this I wasn’t thinking about my role at work; rather, my one at home.
Feed and water.
Mothers, glorious mothers, we give all of ourselves. Every last drop of energy and love and thought and time goes to feed and water and care for the ones we love (and oh, it truly is a privilege!) but also, we can only give what we have. I have never felt guilty for making my most basic needs a priority: healthy food, enough sleep, a little quiet time, some exercise, a little time with my husband, nourishing friendships. It doesn’t take a lot — but just enough to keep me well-nourished. And it is so essential for the life of the ecosystem.
This past Sunday, the kids woke up before us and all piled on top of me in bed — every single one of them. “Why are they all on top of me?” I joked, looking at my husband with a full half-bed to himself.
“You are the mama,” he said smiling, “the life source!” And in so many ways, it’s true. It starts from the moment of conception when the mother is literally the life source — and perhaps never truly ends.
So when I’m tempted to ignore some of those basic needs to do something else “productive,” I remind myself that taking care of myself is truly an essential part of taking care of them.
“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Artwork by Phoebe Wahl