How was I supposed to know you don’t prune an azalea in March? It’s not like it comes with instructions. I did the best I could. I’m only human. I nurtured it when it was small, fed it, watered it, took care of it year after year. There comes a time when a bush has to start taking responsibility for its own growth.
It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t snipped off all of its buds. I didn’t mean to. It was more of a slow evolution. I was cutting all of the branches back to the nearest bud, as I was once instructed to do, but after that initial trimming, it seemed like I had pruned too delicately, as I’m wont to do, so I began to cut deeper and deeper into the bush, hoping to coax all of the energy to the surface so that it would have large, luscious magenta blooms. One needs conviction and a stomach for cruelty to effectively prune a tree because it requires you to forgo the joy you have now for the promise of something better later. Vowing to be strong, I hacked it. When I stepped back to see what I’d done, the bush was half its original size.
Pleased with my handiwork – and my conviction — I took Eddie for a walk to the post office. On my way home, I happened upon Charlotte, one of our town’s most talented gardeners (her garden his larger than her house), and she told me that thanks to my untimely hacking, my azalea was not likely to bloom at all this year. Without buds, there was nothing to bloom, she said. You’re supposed to prune an azalea after it flowers, not before, usually about halfway through the summer.
“And a hydrangea? When does one prune that?” I asked reluctantly, knowing the damage was already done.
“Oh, you can do that in the winter, after the flowers have died. You just rub them between your fingers and pull them off,” Charlotte said, rubbing her fingers together like a child might do with a firefly.
“Okay. I did that,” I said, relieved. Going for extra credit, I said, “I cleaned it up a bit, too. I cut off all the wood twigs that didn’t have any green buds on them. You know. The dead ones.”
“Nooo. Why’d you do that? A lot of those might have gotten buds that just haven’t sprouted yet,” she said. “It’s only March. That would be like keeping the baby clothes Eddie has now and throwing out all his toddler clothes, because you don’t think he’ll grow anymore.”
As I turned to wheel Eddie home, she said, “There’s always next year!”
When I woke up this morning, Eddie was in a particularly fussy mood, whining incessantly. He followed me around the kitchen wanting to be picked up as I tried to make his breakfast, a habit of his that always puts me in a quandary because I know he’ll stop whining if I pick him up, but if I pick him up, I can’t make his food, which is really the better long-term solution. Sometimes you have to forgo the joy you could have now for the prospect of something better later. I let Eddie whine while I prepared his meal.
I put his leftover mushroom and cheese omelet in the oven to warm up, and I sliced a banana. I placed him in his high-chair and by the time I was done buckling him in, putting on his bib, sliding the tray piece onto his chair and filling his sippie cup with water, his eggs were ready. I gave him his plate, and for the duration of his meal, he was quiet. But as soon as he finished, he started to whine again. As I stood at the sink washing dishes, saying under my breath, “For the love of god, will you just shut up,” I heard a crash behind me. He had tossed his plate onto the floor, along with the metal bottom of my wok that had been sitting on the counter next to his high chair.
“Eddie!” I yelled. “Just stop!”
He looked at me, and his face got red, and his mouth made that upside-down fruit slice shaped pout, and he started to cry. Frustrated and feeling at the end of my tether – at just 9.30 a.m. – I began to cry, too. I usually comfort him when I see him cry, but this time I didn’t feel like it. This time, I was upset, too, because I felt like I couldn’t win. His whining had gotten to me, and it made me lash out, and once I did that, I felt bad, and I resented that I had no way out. I have to put up with the whining, and then I have to feel bad about reacting to it. I sat on the floor at the base of his high-chair and picked up bits of omelet and mushrooms, and I whimpered. After about a minute, I stood up expecting to see him red-faced and pouting, but he looked at me and gave me a big smile. I laughed. Apparently, one can snap and err, but children, like azaleas, recover nicely if you give them a little time.