explorations of mindful fatherhood

Weeding Out


2011-08-21-13.38.03I love weeding.  And yet I’ve met many people who despise it.  In fact, I meet very few people who weed their lawns or gardens by hand, presumably because they have gardeners or a fondness for Round-Up.  I found myself doing a lot of weeding and other yard work this past weekend.

But I discovered I was weeding a lot more than just the flowerbeds.

Personally, I’ve had a terrible couple of weeks.  There has been an ever-widening gap between me and my own parents, and a recent communication from my father drove one more nail into that coffin. It’s one of those things that I’m either not ready or not willing to blog about at this point.  Maybe because I don’t have the strength, or maybe because it feels too vulnerable.  Suffice it say that these events left me feeling completely untethered.  I wasn’t sure what grounded me anymore, and felt as though I was wasting my time in a multitude of endeavors.

One such endeavor was blogging.  This is the first post I’ve written in over a week, which is unlike me, as I’ve typically posted twice a week for the past half a year.  But this past week, I couldn’t find it in me to do it.  Blogging had become one of those things that I did for me; one of those things that I felt could be an expression of my struggles.  However, feeling as though I’d been kicked down by your own flesh-and-blood, I questioned whether I was worth anything; whether my blogging even mattered.  There was a lot of thinking and self-doubt and questioning.  Lots going on in my head: thinking, thinking, thinking.

I had to clear things out.  I had to get out and weed the garden.

I’ve been dying to get outside for quite a while, but these damn snow/sleet/rain storms in the Northeast have become increasingly maddening. Finally some halfway decent weather this past weekend gave me that rare opportunity to get outside.   At first it wasn’t weeding.  It was just yard work, hauling big-ass rocks from a pit in my backyard to the front of the house to line my driveway.  It became a sequence of throwing 20 pound rocks out of hole, running them up a steep incline in a backpack, and then putting them on a sled (I’m currently wheelbarrow-less) and sliding them over the lawn to their final destination.  Just throwing, hauling and dumping.  Throwing, hauling and dumping.  I did that for hours and hours.  I attempted reigning my son into it too, saying that I needed his “artistic eye” to line up the rocks just right.  He got very distracted and disappeared in spite of my flattery.  Even at 6-years-old, I got the “nice try old man” look as he walked to the backyard to play with sticks.

So I continued, as content as could be with my rocks.  Then Sunday came and I woke up much earlier than anyone else in the family. That’s the time of day when I’d usually write.  But I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to look at the computer.  I suited up and went out to the front yard for about two and a half hours.  I wanted to be outside in the bitter 30-something degree March cold, digging in the dirt.

Weeding is just about the most meditative action I can think of.  I get down on my knees, look for weeds, then twist, pull, toss.  Over and over again.  Twist, pull, toss.  Engaged in that action, I find that I don’t or can’t think of anything else.  I’ve even TRIED thinking about things as I weed, but I just can’t do it.  My mind always goes back to the weeding.  After all, that’s the heart of meditation, noticing a thought, releasing it, and returning to what’s right in front of you.  I weed time and again, and always feel calm and complete during my weeding practice.

I’m sure that I’m also attracted to the metaphor of weeding.  Post winter my lawn looks like a wreck.  Decorative grasses have shed their husks, which drift across the semi-green grass.  Weeds and grass intrude on the mulch.  Fallen sticks from hurricane winds and blizzard snow are cast like war zone obstacles on my grass.  Entangled masses of dead perennials choke the flowerbeds.  Spring weeding is a chance to get rid of it all.  It’s a chance to slog through all the death and decay and make room for new life awaiting in the fertile soil. There’s nothing quite like clearing dead leaves with your hands to uncover a crocus popping through the soil.  Or standing up from hours of crawling around on your hands and knees to admire order emerging from the chaos (or at least the illusion of order).

I finished this weekend with a little more clarity.  Of course, there is a time for thinking.  There are many issues that I need to make sense of, feelings that I need to work out.  But in the flurry of thoughts and feelings around issues with my own parents, I lost sight of some of the important things in my life, and lost hope that these things were worth anything at all.  This past weekend was one of those times when thinking wasn’t going to do me any good.  I just had to weed, weed, weed, uncovering some of the new growth under the decay.

Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

42 thoughts on “Weeding Out

  1. Spring has not yet arrived here yet, but I look so forward to being outdoors. I find most aspects of gardening, including weeding to be meditative – from being simply present to doing physical labor to feeling an alignment with nature. You’ve used it as a great metaphor here – we have so many things to lose ourselves in these days that losing sight of the most important aspects of our lives is very easy to do. As someone with family of origin issues, I can relate – sometimes we need to ‘ground’ (gardening is also rife with puns) ourselves in our current lives to be reminded of who we really are, not who someone makes us feel we are. Very thoughtful post and one that will hit home for a lot of people.

  2. You should read the poem by philip larkin whose first line sums up your past week fairly well, It goes, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”. I think you’d enjoy it, especially in your present mood.

    • Hi 1tric, I looked up the poem and it was great. Since I already have kids, I’ll see what I can do to prevent my miseries from deepening like a coastal shelf.

  3. I feel for you. We’ve been dealing with an alcoholic mother-in-law for over a week now. It’s never good when your family becomes such a source of anguish.

    Don’t let dad or anyone else dissuade you from something that you are obviously very good at and something that has become such an outlet for yourself. I’m sure it’s hard to hear those things from your own father, but being a father yourself and a husband, you’re old enough now to tell dad where he can stick it.

    All the best, and carry on.

    • Hi J…thanks so much for the words of encouragement. They mean a lot. I’m visiting the Midwest in a month (terrible timing), but maybe I can tell him where to stick it then.

  4. My yard is looking pretty unkempt right now as well. My wife succumbed to the door-to-door landscaping crews and paid to have it aerated and thatched. Unfortunately, none of the neighbors followed suit and now we have the worst lawn in the neighborhood. I can see their critical eyes assessing it from across the street. But I made sure they saw me fertilize and put down seed. Bastards. The guy across the street is a fireman. He’s home practically all the time, and his lawn looks like a putting green. He installed underground sprinklers when he moved in. It snowed last week and I politely asked his kids to get off my lawn. (I even smiled)! He and several others saw me and called them home. My own kids reported they were mocking me afterwards. Maybe I should have left the yard covered with moss. It’s green, after all.

    • You could put 18 holes down on the lawns of my neighbors, while mine is the lawn with divots and crab grass and mulch spilling over into the neighbor’s flowerbeds. I know how you feel about the critical eyes!

  5. Spring and all the new beginnings it represents, weeding, tossing out what is complicating your garden, it’s all so beautifully apt. Weeding to me is like Tai Chi. Inward escapism.
    I enjoyed your post very much. 🙂

  6. Great post. Gardening is so therapeutic. I grew up with the presence of gardens from vegetable patches to garden beds. Here is the inscription on a plaque I bought to gift my grandparents: “we come from the earth, we return to the earth and in between we garden.” Sometimes there is a season for heavy weeding. Hope you can pull out all the yuck.

  7. “Twist, pull, toss.” Sounds like a darn good plan, whether for yard weeds or head weeds.

  8. we are who we are… I struggled with a crappy relationship with my dad, who…… fact #3 – I dream of retiring and being able to do anything I want. That was my dad’s dream when he retired at 65 and moved home from France. Once he retired, he stopped living, if you know what I mean. He died in 2009, but I think he stopped living at 65. I look at folks who are in their seventies and eighties who are still ‘alive.’ I’d like to travel and explore, maybe even write a book or two……. we can’t live for our parents nor can our parents live for us. Some of the advice we give our kids falls on deaf ears just as their advice later in life is unheard. I have 15 year old and a 10 year old and my mom still is alive. I get advice and criticism from both sides. Try not to let your dad determine your course. Take care and as always your post resonates. Keep making your days count, one weed at a time.

    • Thanks Clay. My dad’s still working, but already seems to be dead in many ways. Four grandkids and doesn’t spend time with any of them unless he has too. It’s hard forging our own paths when our fathers can be such poor examples at times. Thanks, as always, for the comments.

      • My dad showed a ‘spark’ when my son was born and it lasted for about a year. We came for a visit after he retired and it was a disaster. I should have taken the high road – there is less traffic – but didn’t. Looking back I should have swallowed my pride. I regret it now and wish I could go back, but I can’t.

  9. CJ, I really enjoy your posts! Don’t stop blogging! Your posts come from a real place and that is what sets them apart. The human journey is a roller-coaster of highs and lows which all seem so personal but are really experiences shared by many other people in the world. While your personal stories are mainly cathartic for you, they also comfort and validate others with similar experiences. I am probably not your typical subscriber (a married (for 37 years) mom of four children) but I “hear” your mindfulness and it encourages me.

    • Thanks Teresa. I really appreciate the encouragement. I quickly discovered how cathartic writing about my personal stories could be, but am only recently realizing that they also validate others. Thanks for the feedback!

  10. You words they intrigue me. Trying to uncovered meaning when I can and trying not to uncover meaning when there isn’t a need. I love reading your inner works. Good lord I hope my blog post intrigue others as yours intrigue me.
    Thank You,
    Painted Diva

  11. You are so worth reading and insanely relatable, so… Don’t stop blogging.
    This post made me think of the lyrics to Peter Gabriel’s Digging in the Dirt. Sometimes we just need to dig in to ease our thoughts.

  12. Smart little guy. I wouldn’t want to help do any yard work either if I were a kid. I find that I think way too much in general. And when it comes to writing, that works against me. I find that I write better (personally) when I’m not thinking so much. And when I do spark up with new topics/ideas, they are at the most inconvenient times, ie; at work. Of course, I forget about them later on. I’ve been lacking motivation and inspiration lately to write. I feel if/when I do, it’s somewhat forced.

    • Hi Crispy. I agree that writing comes with it’s ups and downs, and for quite a while there things were feeling forced in some of my writing endeavors. It’s hard to push through when you feel like you’re faking it until you make it.

  13. What a wonderful post. I agree that gardening is meditative and accomplishment can be seen immediately. It took depression and a truly gifted therapist to sift through my mother issues, which I never even knew I had…maybe you need to blog it out in a draft to help clear the head weeds?? You might be surprised how easily it comes once you start. Awesome post, loving your work.

    • Thanks for all the encouragement Kim. Yes, it’s hard deciding what goes to the therapist’s couch and what goes on the blog. Perhaps sometime I can expand upon some of my issues in some posts. Really appreciate your connection to the writing.

  14. Ah….Zen and the art of garden maintenance. There is something about gardening that is just so grounding and this post captures that brilliantly. I also can’t wait for the weather to improve so I can get outside and plunge my hands into the soil and reconnect with my ancestors and their ancestors and that great lineage of humanity that has been in harmony with the soil for millennia. There is always something in the garden for every mood – sowing for nurture, digging for vitality and weeding for meditation on change. As you grasp the stem and pull hard there is no better sound and sensation than the whole thing coming up in one, roots and all; and there cant be many better catharsis (nor metaphor) for dealing with emotional turmoil than that. Congratulations on an excellent post.

    • Hey TSF. What a great description and metaphor. I truly love that feeling when the whole weed comes up out of the ground. On the flip side, there’s that shock and dread when the thing snaps mid-root, and you have go poking and prodding for that lost bit of weed, knowing that if you don’t, you’ll see its damned leaves emerge in a few weeks. Same is true of parent issues. You can snap them off half-way, but when not fully dealt with, their leaves emerge in insidious ways! Thanks for the comments.

  15. What they all said ^^^
    We have a saying here in Australia: “She’ll be right mate”, which genuinely means ‘I hear ya; you’re doing the best you can; we all have shit to deal with from somewhere/someone, and the best you can do is try to actively make choices to model positively for your young fella; and keep pulling out the weeds (and the great metaphors) because everything is going to turn out well in the end, including your great blog.’

    It’s nice to have a rest from blogging sometimes- I just did exactly the same thing for a month- and now I hope it’s nice for you to be back, and to feel the welcome of all these virtual cries: ‘Glad you’ve returned, we’ve missed you!’ 🙂

    • Hey ggPuppetLady, So true! It’s amazing reading the overwhelmingly positive feedback from folks on these comments. It’s really validating, and had helped center my writing once more. Thanks so much for the comments.

  16. I had 10 unread posts, saw yours and flicked to it straight away – keep blogging. I always have itchy feet for gardening, this post almost has me tending my roses by torchlight. Definitely meditative, provides clarity but mostly provides a sense of achievement once complete. It’s like saying ‘take that, world!’.

    • How flattering, Teacher2mum! Yes, it’s Thursday night and can’t wait for Saturday to roll around. I’ll be out there bright and early with dirt under my nails.

  17. You weeded the garden JUST in time for another snow storm tonight *sigh* Cleaning (scrubbing) the fridge is my equivalent to your weeding. An activity you can completely consume yourself in, let off steam.

    If blogging is your outlet, perhaps writing about it will help you sift through your emotions about your father. You never have to publish what you have written, but just getting it out there, off your chest may make you feel better. Just a thought

  18. HI MLL, so true about posts that don’t get published. There’s something about logging on and working on a post that keeps my thoughts clear and concise. I think removing the anxiety about needing to post might help open up some channels and get the words out. Yes, I hope it’s not to bad tonight, but it’ll be clear this weekend for hunting eggs.

  19. My husbands dad was so manipulative he ruined him… To the point we are no longer a family. He became a major alcoholic and drug addict. Now his dad died last summer…
    We don’t know how he feels about all of that.
    But I have learned to be a better mom because of the good training and examples of mine… Also seek g how NOT to be with in laws. Remember we can pick our friends but we can’t pick our families. We can make the choice to copy parents or not… But be open to forgive. Holding on to grudges only becomes poison to you like a silent killer and the others are unaware of it.
    It sounds like you had a good talk to yourself and it helped. It’s good you shared.
    Hey! I thought you liked shoveling your own snow? We still have so much on the ground here… Midwest (upper).
    You are taking a healthy look at life and a healthy outlet! I miss my yard!

  20. I find weeding therapeutic as well, but I suck at it. I always become impatient and pull too quickly right when it’s at the end of the root. Your metaphor about weeding is very fitting to me–I pull out the majority of the weed, but there is always a little bit left that I’ll have to pull again down the road–sort of like the way I deal with my stressors–I may remove them, but the same ones will grow back and need to be plucked again. Not sure what your stress is with your family, but my writing definitely alienated me from some family members. I think of writing like any other art form–some need to paint, perform music, sculpt…we need to write. Perhaps you should write about it for yourself and file it away. Revisit it down the road–like those damn roots I was talking about.

    Keep writing and keep weeding.

  21. I enjoyed your article. I can understand finding solace in physical work. When my dad died I worked as a volunteer for a week since my vacation was the following week. I like the way you write. I got to your site from Hey joe online. I hope you keep writing, but if you don’t I will assume your yard will have very few weeds.

  22. Hey there I quoted your blog today -I wrote about blogging driven by stats or writing.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Carly, I am incredibly honored by the quote! What an incredible post. I’ve become quite a fan of your site. Please keep up the good work, and thanks for the flattery! CJ

  23. Pingback: Blogging award time! | The_Secret_Father

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