We had an interesting evening in the garden tonight.
My up-side-down tomatoes are struggling, due to neglect on my part. I didn’t put enough soil in the buckets and I haven’t fertilized them since July. So the vines are rather spindly and sad looking. Nevertheless, they are putting on strong fruit and have provided some yummy salads.
My husband’s competing right-side-up tomatoes have vines that are much sturdier and more prolific, but are producing less fruit. He planted too many plants too close together, so that whole section of the garden is a wild, crazy jungle that we can barely walk through.
Then, behind all that are the squash plants. Or so we thought. Because we got a late start with our garden this year, instead of planting from seeds we bought our squash plants in peat-pots. We put in two yellow crook neck and two zucchini. One of the zucchinis did give us some (although admittedly most of them grew too big and tough before we found them and got them picked...see earlier reference to impassible jungle.) The OTHER zucchini has been weird right from the start. All the squash kept growing ROUND rather than long. They just didn’t look right. We laughingly called them our "mutant zucchini". We tried picking them when they were little but they didn’t taste right and the texture was all wrong.
Finally it dawned on us what was wrong. Now that the plant is more mature we finally figured it out. This is NOT a zucchini plant at all. The darned thing is a pumpkin. Apparently it got mislabeled at the nursery.
So we have these ugly duckling pumpkins that are quite lovely when we look at them as PUMPKINS and allow them to mature all the way. But when we pick them too early and try to fry with the other squash they make terrible zucchini.
This served as a good reminder to me that when I feel inadequate or out of place the problem may not be with me or my efforts, but rather with the frame of reference I’m trying to measure up to.
In many ways my life, my values, my history, my goals and desires do not fit conventional expectations. If I look to the world to tell me what makes a “good” mother or wife or Christian or neighbor or friend, in many respects I will fall short. But that may be because I’m a pumpkin in a zucchini patch. I may be trying (at times) to live up to the wrong expectations.
While I like to keep things tidy I am far from a perfect housekeeper. (My grandmother who ironed everything including pajamas and sheets would be horrified to know I don't iron anything at all except for clothing worn for special occasions like hot dates and job interviews.) I'm perfectly comfortable hanging out in places and with people that are absolutely contradictory to some of my core beliefs. How much of myself I am willing to share and how much privacy I expect may not match what others consider appropriate. (I'm WAY private in some settings which makes some people think of me as aloof and then I give too much information or ask too probing of questions in other settings which tends to make me seem intrusive or strange.)
I'm too "straight" for the party crowd, too liberal for many Christians I know, too God-based for the hedonists, too intellectual for some, to metaphysical for others. Because I had children very young, I was changing diapers while my pals went to proms and I became a grandmother at a time in my life when many of my peers still had young kids or teen agers at home. Throughout my life it has seemed that no matter what group I was interacting with, there was some aspect of me that I had to keep under wraps in order to fit in.
Somewhere around my mid-forties I just quit caring whether I fit or not and started expressing myself more authentically - albeit with tact - but still more genuinely from the heart rather than designed to conform to surrounding expectations. Some people appreciate that candor. Some do not.
Working in the garden tonight reminded me that perhaps I may be a great pumpkin, even though I’m a lousy zucchini. By considering my own unique nature and developing THAT to the best that I can, rather than trying to fit into some cookie-cutter mold of what someone else thinks I should be, then perhaps I can celebrate what I have to offer instead of bemoaning my shortcomings.
I don't think I'm all that unique in this.
I read in a magazine article recently that on average children laugh 400 times a day while adults laugh only 15 times a day.
For many grown-ups I know, the laugh quotient is much lower.
I think shutting off parts of ourselves that society finds unacceptable, learning to be "mature" or "responsible" or "appropriate" is far too often a death sentence to spontaneous laughter.
I want to laugh. I want to live passionately. I want to ponder and dance and create.
So if I don't match up to somebody else's expectations, so be it. "Fitting in" is highly over-rated in my book.
It's only natural to crave some sort of social affirmation. But I can't do that at the expense of being authentic to my own soul.
It would be foolhardy to say "society be damned" and go about doing what I want, when I want with no thought whatsoever to how my behavior impacts those around me. I need to use judgment and sensitivity. There are times and places where following certain codes of propriety just plain makes sense. But I will not allow myself to become so corseted by social codes that I lose myself.
The trick is discovering the balance - knowing when to follow rules, to be polite, to accept a prescribed role and when to allow my genuine free spirit full freedom.
I will try to remember that every time I eat a zucchini - or see a pumpkin.