This entry is another study in parenting occupations, and in studying how children help to make meaning for their parents and in turn for themselves. So this is for Caleigh.
To say that I wanted to tame the yard wouldn't be entirely accurate. That would place the yard in a subservient position to myself, and that isn't really how I felt about it. Rather, I wanted the children to be able to live in it and to play in it, and in its state at the time it just wasn't a habitat that was conducive to children's play and development.
One of the immediate problems was that in the back yard the ground that was ten feet closest to the sliding glass doors wasn't graded properly, so water would tend to puddle against the house. The previous owner was dog-sitting a large golden retriever that got left outside a lot - so that caused the space in front of the sliding glass doors to be a giant mudpit of dog prints. No grass grew there. I tried growing some grass when we moved in but as it was an area of high traffic it just didn't seem to work. I tried to re-grade some of the slope but I didn't have the machinery or enough soil to accomplish the task. It was a circular problem: if the area could grow grass then it would drain better and the grading problem would not be so severe and I could grow grass - but it could not grow grass. Most importantly, the kids couldn't play in that muddy mess.
I am a simple person and I like to approach problems with simple solutions. I had no grass, and the soil nutrients and drainage wouldn't support grass, so I needed to do something that would fundamentally alter the growing conditions. I decided to feed my lawn. The lawn never called out to be fed, and in fact I was always a little frightened by the original Little Shop of Horrors movie but I kept the Seymour-references in mind as I fed my lawn and was always happy because I thought its diet would remain relatively simple.
The solution of feeding the lawn spoke to my sense of order because in turn it solved other problems. Now that we had a septic tank we could not have a garbage disposal and that meant that we couldn't blend table scraps down the drain. That meant I had to throw out lettuce, or onion peel, or carrot and potato skins or other vegetable matter into the garbage. It made no sense for me to throw vegetable matter into a plastic garbage bag where it wouldn't naturally decompose, so instead I liked the idea of feeding the leftover vegetables to the patch that couldn't grow grass. This was an excellent solution because I am fundamentally opposed to feeding chemicals or unnatural products into my living space. For over a year I took all that vegetable matter and dumped it into the dirt - with a lot of complaining from my family who was not on board with the plan. My wife was certain that it would attract animals, but I also knew that dumping the onions and mixing in a little hot pepper would repel skunks - and so that solved yet another problem that we were having. I was so pleased with this plan because it addressed so many problems: not growing grass, not being able to have a garbage disposal, finding a way to avoid use of chemicals or fertilizers, and not wanting skunks around the house.
Within two years grass (and clover and other native weeds) filled in the whole area. The root systems bulked up the soil and we didn't have drainage problems any longer. I still fed the grass with onion peel and other cut up vegetable waste because it just seemed like the right thing to do. I think that my golden retriever might have eaten some of it though. I'm not sure.
The grass was green, the lawn was dry, and the children could play - and for many years I thought that was the end of the story.
The unexpected conclusion is that many years later my daughter Caleigh played the lead role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors when she was a high school senior. At the end of the play she sang her solo and got consumed by the plant and my smiles and happiness were mixed in at the multiple layers of meaning that were all realized in her lifetime around that song. Now that it's all over I wanted to give her this full story so that now she understands what went into her being able to really live and play somewhere that's green.