I have a black thumb.
I remember ripe tomatoes, okra, and bitter melon taking over our backyard garden patch every summer. My Abbu would plant each seed with the kind of love a first-born child knows too well. He prayed over every seed, weeded without delay, and watched out for any intruders trying to weasel their way in. What started out as a hobby became a full-time job. I would see him setting up elaborate traps and coming home with child-safety gates to prevent the notorious deer from devouring his precious vegetation. Turns out child-safety gates are just as effective for tiny humans as they are for baby deer. He knew his plants and their temperaments better than I knew any phase of photosynthesis despite studying it for years. The best part was seeing his exuberance as he harvested two of the largest squash he found hiding behind deep bushes and bringing them to our local masjid for families to take home. Gardening was a joy to watch from afar, but I was never one to enjoy getting my hands in the dirt. Making mud pies was not a part of my childhood memory box as I was mostly raised in apartments with balconies, which my mother reserved for storing refrigerator essentials in the winter. I recall spending most of my downtime organizing stationery, writing in my closet, and trying to grow up as fast as possible.
I was sitting in my backyard overhearing my daughter playing in her mud kitchen last week when I asked her to bring me the green weeding tool my husband ordered from Amazon. I made it a personal goal to fill in my natural learning gaps through my daughter by repurposing an old IKEA table as her mud kitchen. She makes all sorts of pies and cupcakes and stews and perfumes with her friends and it brings me so much joy to see her doing what I missed out on. I took the weeder from her and stabbed the ground, lifting each weed until I heard the roots crack upwards, leaving me with unexpected satisfaction. I went on to weed out dozen and then a dozen more. “This feels good,” I thought to myself. Sure, I may not be able to sustain a tomato plant without frequent reminders about its finicky needs for regular water and sunlight. I may not even be able to keep a store-bought orchid alive for more than a week, but I can weed, and weed, and weed without complaint.
I’ve wondered for part of this year if I lean more towards pessimism. I know logically it’s better to always see the glass as half full but I somehow manage to notice areas for improvement as a first response, fuelled by my daydreams for how “things could be so much better”. I further developed this kind of thinking pattern as a social worker when I would hear story after story (at times more than 10 a day) about my clients’ deepest darkest struggles and traumatic life events. I looked for glimmers of hope in their storyline while honouring their very real and heavy hardships – the hardships they wished they could remove from their roots before they became overgrown weeds. Five years out from my work in the field and I too have weeds growing within my life, that in hindsight, I wish I tended to much sooner.
These two pots are my own glimmers of hope. I made the intention to take care of these babies and started out by picking up pots that spoke to me at the only dollar store open for business in my city. I got my hands in the dirt, made my du’as upon them as I would see my Abbu do, and let them soak in the sun. I am hoping writing about them will serve as a reminder to care for them again tomorrow and again the next day.