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I Am the Proud Parent of a Failing Tomato Plant

Her "Millions" cherry tomato plant is 999 tomatoes short of the name; her "Early Girl" is very late. But Ann Brown loves all her plants unconditionally.

I was just outside giving a pep talk to my tomatoes.

I am not a natural pep talk kinda person; I am more of a everything’s gonna be horrible so let’s plan for disaster  kinda person. When my son prepared to take the Bar Exam, I reminded him over and over again that if you fail the test the first time, there’s always a second time. And a third time. And each time we fail, we learn something. I made sure that my son knew there’d be no pressure from me to pass the Bar.

You are the worst at giving pep talks, my son told me.

I’m a parenting consultant and instructor. So, you know, I know my shit when it comes to talking to my kids. My son, after enduring my super helpful reminders—“it’s okay to fail”—for weeks, finally said to me, “You are the worst at giving pep talks, do you know that? Do people pay you for this kind of advice?”

This gave me pause.

I mean, I thought I was taking all the pressure off of him by preparing him to fail the test. I mean, that’s how I lurch and recoil through my life—I assume failure. It works like a dream. I am never caught off guard by bad news. I expect bad news every minute. It’s my superpower.

But, evidently, my son would have appreciated a little—what’s it called?—positivity. A little bit of that, “you’ve GOT this!” kind of encouragement that Olympic athletes tell each other even when there’s pretty much no chance in Hell they’ve got that.

Read More: Back From the Almost Dead: Rebirth Among the Azaleas

Managing Expectations

I think that my tomatoes, however, do appreciate an absence of expectation of good outcomes. I understand them. We have a lot in common. We thrive in sunshine, we know the importance of regular hydration, we look good in red. As nightshades, they are defined by encyclopedia.com as: fleshy, unusually hairy and may have a strong odor. I could also be described in those words, truth be told.

I think that my tomatoes appreciate an absence of expectation of good outcomes.

We had an abysmal spring here in Oregon. It rained almost every day. And by “spring” I mean until July 27. The only break from the unrelenting rain was when we had two epic heat dome situations with temperatures in the 100’s. My garden had a very traumatic childhood. It did not get what it needed; in therapy, my garden might learn it has failure to thrive. Not the fault of my plants. Not my fault, either. I would say it was nobody’s fault but we both know that Republican climate change deniers are to blame. Just to be clear.

Anyway, starting in June, when the rest of the country posted FB photos of garden veggie abundance and new ideas for the plethora of home-grown miracles, my plants struggled to produce even a few leaves.

Remember when your kids were little and every milestone was anticipated and worried about and boasted about and even though you knew that kids get where they need to get on their own timelines, you still did a lot of behind-the-scenes coaching to get your two year old to use the potty or brush their teeth or, say,  recite “Annabel Lee” in front of the grandparents? Remember those days?

The Non-Honor Roll

Well, vegetable gardens are the new children of the post-menopausal crowd. And I have to face the fact that my veggies aren’t getting into any TAG or AP classes.  One of my beloved tomato plants, with the unfortunate tomato name of “Stupice,” is the slowest plant in the class. Only two tomatoes on the vine so far, and that appears to be the end of the crop. Talk about a name that just asked for ridicule, or portended its destiny. It would be wonderful and ironic if Stupice were a brilliant and prolific producer of perfect tomatoes and all the mean girl tomatoes would change their mean girl ways and be all, “Your name should be Smartice” and invite Stupice to play in all their reindeer games. Although “Smartice” does sound a little like “Smartass” and that could be its own problem.

I also remind my tomatoes that the choice to reproduce is totally theirs.

My “Early Girl” plant has, at the time of this writing, no tomatoes. She is either going to be Late Girl, or just, Girl. I hope this is a lesson for all of you human parents —do not give your kids names that are gonna bite them in the ass one day. Poor Early Girl. I bet she’s gonna have some big issues to work out in therapy because of that name. I hope her tomato parents have saved up because health insurance doesn’t always cover psychotherapy. If you can afford health care at all. Which is not your fault. You know whose fault it is. Entitled, heartless, Republican money-grubbing legislators. Just to be clear.

And let’s not even discuss my “Millions” cherry tomato plant that is about nine hundred thousand ninety-nine tomatoes short of her name. That plant is gonna totally grow up to be a stripper and make some very bad choices to get back at her parents for that name.

So I tell my tomatoes, “It’s fine if you don’t produce any fruit this summer. Your worth is not equal to what you produce. You are enough just the way you are.” I also remind them that the choice to reproduce is totally theirs. Because, you know, Republicans. Just to be clear.

Freeing Myself

And, in liberating my tomatoes from the pressure to be great, I have also let go of expectations for myself.

I love all my tomatoes—spindly stalks, empty vines, double chins, withering flowers and all.

I’m not going to go back to school for a master’s degree, after decades of telling myself I will. Now that I have the time and the money, I just don’t want to do it anymore. And I’m probably not going to stop throwing the vegetable peels into the sink before I put it in the compost bucket even though it would make much more sense to just throw it directly into the bucket. I’m gonna do it the wrong way. Because I just wanna do it that way. Oh, and I’m sure as fuck not going to love the way I look in photos these days. There is no lighting to hide the liver spots and the deep creases, and my chin and my runner-up chin, and my neck. Oh God, my neck.

But I’m okay with that. It is what it is when it comes to aging and gardens.

And, honestly,  how many tomatoes can I eat in one summer? The handful I get from my ragtag little garden is sufficient. Eating too many nightshades causes my psoriasis to flare up, anyway.

So I water my little tomato plants, I protect them from the critters, and I “ooh” and “ahh” over the measly few tomatoes that have chosen to  grow. I love them— spindly stalks, empty vines, double chins, withering flowers and all.  I get where they’re coming from. We’re all exhausted. We all need some unconditional love. It’s been a motherfucker couple of years.

And we all know who’s to blame for that. Just to be clear.

Read More: I’ve Burned Out on Exercise and You Know What? That’s OK

By Ann Brown


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