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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

How does your garden grow?

Having "discovered" Ute Frith this week,  I am immersed in gardens and autism, nature and nurture and misplaced guilt.

This is Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the U.S. and the social networks have been rumbling with articles and statements.

There was the brilliant article in ABC but The Fairy Blogmother was not quite as euphoric as I was about it.  It shows how much parent advocacy has moved on when L is able to challenge NEDA on core principles and receive backing from one of the greatest patient advocates in the U.S.  The iceberg of "parent blaming" is melting, so very slowly, but melting all the same.

So where is the gardening coming in?

The illness is biological, but the triggers are social: trauma, divorce, even a throw-away comment like, "Aren't you a chubby little girl," said Grefe. "You are born with the gun, but life is the trigger -- and there are a lot of them."

"But, but, but," I hear parents protesting all over the world.  "I have two children, or twins, or triplets and I have tried to treat each the same and and and one is fine and the other has an eating disorder.  How do you explain that?"

Here's how I see it.  Maybe, one of my children is a rose.  That means she thrives in our temperate climate, she grows strong and vigorous in our clay soil, she likes the rain and the warm, but not scorching sun, she appreciates the compost we dig around her roots and a top dressing of pig muck is an aid to strengthen her stems, send her roots down deeper and produce top quality blooms, despite the smell.

Maybe, just maybe, my other child is a cactus.  One of those extraordinarily beautiful ones that flower every now and then.  Maybe she doesn't thrive in our temperate climate, hates the rain, never gets hot enough, yearns for sand and can only thrive on a sunny window sill, with special soil and little water.

Whatever I do and however hard I try and however many books I read and advice I Google, she is vulnerable to cold and draughts and overwatering.  However much I talk to the cactus and genuinely care for it, it is just NOT suited to our particular life garden.

I will not let the cactus die.  I will build a greenhouse and have a special heating system put in and install SAD lights and do everything within my power to see she grows and thrives and flowers.

I will nurture her.

For too long, according to Frith, the nurture part of parenting has taken centre stage.  We have been bullied and browbeaten, as parents, into taking the blame if our child does not thrive.  Nature has been ignored and we are condemned daily for leaving the door open so our cacti are in a draught.

What I cannot change is the fact that she is a Cactus.  She is more vulnerable than her Rose sister.  It is not her fault or her choice.  It is not my fault either.   

We all have to learn to adapt.  We have to remember to pay the heating bill and repot the cactus.  The cactus has to learn that the odd draught won't kill her but may be very uncomfortable for a while.  

We can grow cacti here, in special conditions.  They are not as easy to grow as roses but they can thrive.  What Cacti don't need to be told is that this is somehow their fault.  Nor do we parents need to be admonished for having a cactus, instead of a rose.


  1. Beautiful - should be posted in Hall of Fame section for all to reflect upon.

  2. Apt, especially, as our climate here is in that wretched wet windy time between hard winter and the coming spring. Keep the gardening analogies going!