Am I doing this right?

Pruning rosebushes seems easy, in theory.  You find an outward facing bud and cut just above it.  You make sure the cuts angle slightly downward.    You remove the old dead canes and any that cross others.

Over the weekend, I finally tackled the four rosebushes in the front yard.  Gloves on, shears in hand, huge gardening compost bin at the ready, I mentally reviewed all the rules above and got ready to prune.

And, just like I do every year, I found myself confronted with no small amount of self-doubt.    Because there is theory, and then there is reality.  And the reality is that sometimes you just can’t find an outward-facing bud.  Sometimes, you aren’t sure which canes are really dead.  Sometimes, the branch is so close to the house that you can’t get the right angle and you just have to cross your fingers and snip anyway.  Every year, I am faced with all these situations and I just have to muddle through as best I can.

This year, it hit me that the act of pruning is uncannily close to the act of parenting (except for the sharp implements, of course).  I started pruning nine years ago, when we moved into this house, and up to that point I’d had zero prior experience with rosebushes.   Parenting wasn’t so different.  As the youngest child in my family, I had spent precious little time around babies, and knew next to nothing about the care and feeding of infants.   In both cases, I’ve learned as I’ve gone along.  In both cases, I’ve had more experienced partners to advise  me (namely, my mom).   And in both cases, I often feel as though I’m flying blind, faced with situations that look nothing like the diagrams or directions in the books.   There is the cane with no branches or visible buds; what do you do with that?  There is the toddler who won’t respond to rewards, reason, or timeouts; what do you do with him?

Like all parents, I want to raise my kids right.  I want to help them become compassionate, honest, responsible, curious, intelligent, spiritual, happy human beings.  (As the mother of boys, I also want them to grow up to treat women right.)   In my more vulnerable moments, I feel as though I’m messing up, making mistakes that will stunt their growth.   There are  parenting guidelines and philosophies in my mind, but there are many times when applying them is far less neat and easy than I would have expected.  Those are the tough moments.  They are the moments when all I can do is take a deep breath, trust my gut, and make what seems like the best decision given the circumstances at hand.

And is it enough?  I certainly hope so.

It’ll be a while before my boys are finished growing and blooming.  They are very young shoots, these little guys, so it’s hard to imagine a time where I can sit back, look at them, and think, “Hey, I guess did a good job.”   I hope that moment does come someday.

Until it does, though, I will trust my gut and look to my roses.  Every winter I wonder whether I’m pruning them right, second-guessing myself at every snip.  And every spring they explode into gorgeous bloom, exuberant and fragrant and beautifully forgiving of my mistakes.   Every spring they astonish me with their color and splendor, as if to show me that maybe, just maybe,  I’m doing a better job than I think I am.

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