I literally spent my entire childhood living by the mantra “If it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it.” I know now that these words aren’t true and, to be honest, it probably took me far too long to figure that out. But overall I regret nothing (except for that time I permanently disfigured my sister, but life goes on).
One of the most significant moments where this mantra came into play was when my Dad awarded me a small patch of the backyard to plant my very own garden. This was going to be a project for the two of us, a cool Daddy and Daughter thing that we could look back on for years to come.
I was elated. I loved spending time with my Dad and the idea of having my own garden made me feel more sophisticated (not an emotion that many 7 year olds pursue, but I have never been “typical”).
The day after finding out about my new garden my Dad went to work like any normal day. It was summer and Julia and I were both looking for something to entertain us. I told her about my new garden patch, bragging in the obnoxious way siblings do. Julia wasn’t too impressed by the garden idea, though she did perk up when I told her the spot had already been chosen.
I took her outside to my spot, a small patch of dirt about 2 feet by 2 feet, ready to be nurtured.
“Gardens are lame” my 9 year old sister told me, hands on her hips with the gleam still in her eye, assessing the area.
“Oh.” I’m not going to lie I was a little crushed at her matter of fact statement. All dreams of sophistication went down the drain. Everyone knows you can’t be sophisticated and lame.
“But we could dig a pool!” Julia, the Porter Family Water Baby was thrilled at the prospect. Our very own pool! And though I waffled at first, wondering what Dad would think when I told him that our Daddy-Daughter gardening time was going to be cast aside so Julia and I could swim in the back yard, it only took 11 words to convince me we were making the right choice: If it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it.
With our mantra in mind we set about digging, using both Dad’s real wooden shovels and our plastic beach ones. It took nearly the entire day but it was fun work and we didn’t mind. We didn’t give much thought to where we were piling the extra dirt; though Dad’s other plants probably didn’t appreciate the extra soil being dumped on them. And we definitely didn’t worry about the fact that we were digging up a lot more than my allotted gardening space (if it’s already done you can’t get in trouble for it).
By late afternoon the hole was dug and Julia and I excitedly started to fill it with water only to be confused and disappointed; no matter how much water we poured in, the hose on full blast, the water kept disappearing. This was something the ‘Magic School Bus’ hadn’t covered yet (we didn’t realize the water was being soaked up into the ground).
Muddied and discouraged, we took turns standing (it was too small to properly move about) in the hole in the quickly disappearing dirty water, trying to salvage our morning joy.
And that was when my Dad came home.
I’m not sure what prompted him to go into the backyard so quickly when he arrived home, whether it was that sixth sense parents possess or if he just wanted to say hello to his plants, but whatever the reason it quickly became clear that our mantra was shit.
The damage was already done, but we were definitely in trouble for it.
Dad turned the hose on us to get the worst of the mud off, silently fuming as Julia and I waited in the fear of kids who knows they’ve done something terrible. We started trying to explain what we were doing, both believing that if he could only see the dream we’d been working towards he’d not only be less mad, but he’d also explain to us how to stop the water from draining into the ground. We stopped almost as soon as we started, both tripping into our own silence. Dad was clearly not in the mood for explanations.
He marched us inside all the way to the bathroom and that was where he let us have it. Dad was never one to yell, but the anger in his voice was worth more than any shouting would have been. His garden was so incredibly important to him, and we’d ruined it without even asking for permission. Dirt and mud were everywhere, smoothering the plants like a Rotorua mudslide. I tried to explaining that he had given me the spot to garden but that was quickly interrupted.
“To garden! Yes, I gave you a spot to garden! Not dig to China!” Dad took a deep breath, ready to start a new tirade. And then he coughed. And then he sputtered. He leaned against the counter, a look of pure surprise covering his face.
Julia and I were terrified: had our mischief caused our Dad to have a heart attack?
Dad hit himself in the chest, coughing one more time. “I swallowed a fly.” He said in way of explanation.
All gravity was lost. Julia and I erupted into giggles, nearly crying in laughter. Dad had swallowed a fly.
Dad must have known that the room was lost to him as he didn’t continue with his tirade. With as much dignity as a fly swallower can muster, he made his way back into the backyard and spent the rest of his evening trying to repair the damage, burying our plastic shovels in the process.
I assume the plastic shovels are still there, about 3 feet into the ground, left for another family to one day find.
And for the record, we never did get in trouble for the attempted pool. It’s the only time in my life that I have ever appreciated flies.