Toddlers hand holding a strawberry with parents hand around it

COVID-19, how gardening has helped my family survive social isolation in a unit with a toddler

Everyone must stay home”, Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister announces in his now daily press release. Tony and I sit in silence, blinking and just waiting. Journalists throw questions at the seasoned PM and he responds with a veil of political candour cloaking the most shocking global crisis of most of our lives. Our 18 month old toddler plays on the floor with his black and yellow diggers, moving piles of kinetic sand around a deep container.

I want to cry but I don’t. I want to ask, “but when will this end”, But I don’t. I want to go for a long boozy dinner with Tony and some friends and say, “Wow! That was a really intense movie. I’m glad it’s over…” But, most shocking, I can’t… because the horror is real. My baby boy looks at me and says “mummy, dig, digger”, and I smile with the reassurance that I don’t feel.

Bubbles
We have spent many a day blowing bubbles on our balcony and watching them drift away

How do you facilitate resilience and growth for a toddler when social isolating in a unit?

Each and every day of my baby boys life he has felt the breeze blow against his face, watched the leaves fluttering on the trees and experienced the various fragrances met by going outside to explore. Thankfully we we’re able to go for a daily walk but that was the only adventure out of our unit that our son experienced.

Before COVID-19, we felt we were in an ideal situation. We live in a new apartment, situated 6 minutes by bus from a major train station and very close to a large shopping complex. Our apartment has a nice communal garden and we seemed like the only ones to really spend time in it. We have horses nearby and major bush land and we are only 20 minutes from the ocean.

We didn’t want to live in a house yet because, with starting a family, we felt it would be so much maintenance…

COVID-19 is bringing so much horror, pain and suffering to so many. I do not write this seeking sympathy but to show others how we are coping and in the hope that other people may find comfort from our approach.

I felt a lot of fear in the beginning of lock-down and wondered how I would cope with such intense isolation. Let alone, how I would support my toddler to continue to grow and thrive.

Toddler tantrums are real and intense displays of emotion

I started working from home when we went into lockdown and my toddler was mostly here too. My boy was not in day care because he had become so sick as a one year old going into the day care environment. We were lucky because between my son’s aunts, grandmas, Tony and I, we were able to look after our boy while I worked.

While I tried to work from home, my son would realise I was barricaded in his bedroom and would often come barging in or cry at the door. It was heart wrenching to know he had nowhere else to go, despite our families best efforts, and yet he was truly distressed by being so close to his mum and yet so far. Prior to lockdown he had a routine where he would see other children six days per week. Our son would ask to go to the park and we would say, “we can’t do that today, sweetie”, or to the library, and eventually he even asked to go to the shops. To everything the response was the same, “not today, there is a nasty virus”.

Relief came through our food garden on our 3×4 metre balcony…

As the sun rose each and every day, it was like it pulled us and our baby boy out onto our balcony. Tony and I learned gardening and growing our own food crops from our grandparents from a very young age. We have always had a garden but it was just a part of our home. What COVID-19 did was boost the central importance of gardening to be front and foremost in our home. Through gardening, our toddler found fun, learning and adventure, and we found daily mindful escape, all from our balcony.

Through hours and days spent inside, looking at the same, unmoving walls, the central change seemed to be a layer of dust and cat fur ever descending. Waiting in lockdown in our apartment felt like we were experiencing tremors from an earthquakes epicentre. Ours walls seemed to be a constant reminder that the world was in crisis. Our garden on the other hand offered creativity, learning, mindfulness and resourcefulness.

Our balcony food garden is a daily source of magic

As though it has its own life blood, our balcony garden changes with every day. There is a continual sense of journey among those plants as they flourish and bloom. Each day there are amazing transformations and surprises and tending the soil and feeling the cool gritty earth in my hands has grounded me on lonely days where I deeply longed for connection from within lockdown.

Harvesting, cooking and eating balcony grown food brings a level of indescribable love and connection between our home and our family. As though we are one with our garden, it nourishes our wellbeing, physically and psychologically.

Balcony gardening nurtured our toddlers wellbeing and growth

Our boy was 16 months old when COVID-19 reached our shores. He was just starting to really connect with the world around him. Our son was realising his own personhood, that he was an individual, separate from me and he was learning to speak. Our boy has an inquisitive mind and constraining him to a unit was very hard. However, we gave our son his own garden bed. He planted a range of seeds and we taught him how to water. The wonder in his eyes as he watched them germinate and reach up through the soil to make their own beautiful and strong leaves was magical.

Our son rejoices in spending time outside. He loves the fresh air, the feel of the soil and the excitement of growing his own plants. The wonder of watching a seedling differentiate into different vegetables is a great miracle of life for both us and our boy. Then to harvest and eat the vegetables gives our toddler a sense of pride as he helped to grow the food on our table.

Toddler gardening

Balcony gardening has decreased our need to go to the supermarket

Beyond the benefits to our well-being from gardening, we also saw a very practical advantage to balcony food gardening. Every time we went to the balcony to harvest food, we were decreasing the time spent in a supermarket and potential risk of catching COVID-19.

We feel a greater connection to the food we grow and have lovingly tended it and watched it day in day out evolve. Gardening is a mindfulness activity. It has profound positive benefits for mental health. Gardening has benefited myself and my family immeasurably through coping with being confined to our unit.

Garden harvest toddler
Our toddler was happy to try all of this home-grown salad. After all, he helped to grow it!

Where to in 2021?

I do not mean to write this like we are past lock-down. As I write this, our family, ten minutes from here, have been placed in lockdown again and there are cases of COVID-19 popping up through Sydney, as there are throughout the world. I hope that this post may inspire others who are living in an apartment and coping with social isolation to begin gardening and find comfort, peace and solace like found through gardening.

Through our gardens there is escape, mystery, abundance, health, wellbeing and magic. May 2021 bring some peaceful resolution for all.

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