I didn't realize how much of a city kid I'd raised until we visited friends in suburban Maryland and found my son standing ankle-deep in dewy grass with a look of sheer horror on his face. He pointed to the tiny green blades stuck between his toes and let out an unpleasant mew.
"It's grass," I said. "Just grass."
Of course, my son can't be expected to know the feel of wet grass on bare feet. Our Redondo Beach apartment has no outdoor space save for a concrete square at the foot of our stairs, and even his school has fake turf in place of the real stuff. He gets to run around in fresh grass at the park but never shoeless. I've seen too many broken bottles and rusted-out cans in the weeds to let that happen.
So I was surprised when my son one day asked to plant some seeds he'd found at the park. "You mean, like in dirt?" I said, displaying my own aversion to nature.
I hadn't taken the kid for the farming type, but I knew I had to go with it. Gardens are hailed as a way to encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity among children, and many school districts - Redondo Beach included - maintain expansive garden programs. Even my son's preschool has a garden in which the toddlers wander around eating snap peas right off the vines.
"Let's plant a garden," I said to my son, undeterred by our lack of outdoor space or agricultural knowledge.
So together we set off for Home Depot on one of the coldest days of winter.
The poor kid shivered as we walked up and down the aisles of the outdoor nursery section searching for vegetable seeds and plastic pots, all of which should have been my son's first clue that Mom had no idea what she was doing. Starting a vegetable garden in 30-degree weather is not advisable.
My son picked out the seeds so we ended up with tomatoes, lima beans and pumpkins, an eclectic mix that didn't stand a chance in the tiny planter that - even as small as it was - still made for a tight fit on our porch.
At this point, I should have come clean with my kid about my last gardening experience - a compact herb garden with fully grown basil, rosemary and dill plants.
Snails chewed holes through the basil and the dill turned yellow within days. Dejected, I stopped watering them until they died an undignified death on our porch. But with my kid's excitement on the line, I vowed to avoid past mistakes.
Back at home, my son delighted in pouring soil into the container, inserting the seeds and patting our garden into place, a rare excuse to get dirty. We placed the container on our porch and my son crouched above it, waiting for the seeds to sprout.
"It takes time for plants to grow," I reminded him, at which point he completely lost interest in the garden and sought out the instant gratification of his train set.
Still, we watered the little plastic bin every day and made sure the dirt had plenty of light, and each morning as we passed the container, my son checked on his seeds. I had very little hope for our garden given my past failures and our frigid weather, but one day, to my amazement, we peered into the dirt and found a green leaf poking through the surface.
Against all odds, our garden was blooming.
Weeks later, more leaves have unfurled from the soil. We don't know exactly what's growing since I forgot to label the plants, but the garden looks promising. And even if we don't harvest pumpkins and tomatoes by summer's end, we've grown wiser just from trying.
Renee Moilanen is a freelance writer based in Redondo Beach.