The Kiddie Garden

The Kiddie Garden

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

The Kiddie Garden

It was a major event, moving into our first house, a cracker-box rambler in the suburbs south of Minneapolis. What an adventure to look out our very own living room window at our very own driveway, our very own front yard with lush green grass—a heady experience for a young married couple expecting their first child. What a change from the apartment living we were used to.

The back yard had not yet been sodded, but I assumed the builder would be coming soon to finish the landscaping. Wrong. So excited about moving into my new house, I neglected to read the fine print where the builder contracted to sod only the front, leaving the back yard full of weeds and clumps of dirt.

In late October, we moved in, one month before our first son made his appearance during a Thanksgiving Day snowstorm. The backyard dirt disappeared under a foot of snow, and the frozen chunks looked like puffy marshmallows in a fairytale landscape.

When spring came, the snow melted, and little by little, as the budget permitted, we bought rolls of sod and covered the back yard area that had become a mud hole when it rained and a dust bowl when it didn’t. The money ran out before the yard did, and we never did finish the last ten foot strip running across the back of the lot.

No matter. It would be a perfect place for my very own garden, a place to get on my knees and commune with God while I planted stunning arrays of beautiful flowers—a far cry from the pathetic little pansy plots in our apartment window box.

Alas, being a city kid with a mother whose garden belonged to her alone, I knew nothing about growing flowers like those pictured in seed catalogs. I couldn’t even tell the flowers from the weeds. Finally, I decided if it looked healthy, prosperous and happy to be there, it must be a weed.

In time, having a back yard full of weeds and just a few struggling petunias seemed not so important as enthusiasm slipped away and one son was joined by another. Two little boys, growing too fast out of babyhood into toddler-hood, then into noisy, tumbleweed boyhood.

My garden turned into a playground—for all the kids in the neighborhood; Timmy from up the street, Eddie and Debbie from across the back yard, Mark, Carol and Gary from the house on the corner, plus others who just wandered in. We dubbed it the “Kiddie Garden,” the only place, it seemed, where kids could dig holes, build play houses and make noise—a place to fool around, get dirty and just be kids.

When I looked out the kitchen window at my “garden” I never did see the panorama of flowers I envisioned when we first moved in. I saw instead, perpetual motion from dirt streaked faces peering out over the tops of T Shirts, pre-school engineers building roads and bridges for their toy trucks. I saw mounded dirt pile forts, and pint-sized warriors waging noisy battles back and forth, trying to capture enemy flags, (sticks in the ground with rags tied at the top.) There were only two rules in the kiddie garden— all holes had to be filled back up by the end of the day, and no fighting. Anyone who couldn’t get along had to go home.

In the winter, the “garden” was flooded and those same warriors and hole diggers in pillow-puff snowsuits, tried out their single-runner skates in the safety of the small ice patch before they attempted to handle the crowded public rinks.

In time, we outgrew the small house on Oakland Avenue and life moved on. The neighborhood kids grew up and became adults, making their own way in the world with their own kids. Today, I see yesterday’s children scurrying non-stop to keep up with the programs designed to give them “quality time” with their children, and I often wonder if they look back on the days we laughingly said we were growing the best crops in the neighborhood—sticky faces, dirty knees and laughing kids—all playing and thriving in the place we called the “Kiddie Garden.”

Jacklyn Lee Lindstrom

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