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7 Questions to Ask for the New Year (or What I Learned from Trying to Grow Grass)

I am not a gardener.

I have a true appreciation for nature. I love flowers and trees and all of the beauty Mother Earth has to offer. I often have to take a pause to just process how perfect or unique certain plants are and appreciate the intricate patterns that can be found naturally. I just do very little to keep any of these things alive (I focus my energy on keeping four kiddos alive, and that’s a stretch sometimes).

But this year I was committed to a beautiful lawn, and I didn’t want to spend all summer focused on it – I wanted to appreciate it.

So I started in April. I got my sprinkler system checked out and repaired. I fertilized and put down something that was supposed to keep weeds at bay. I started laying seed in the areas that were struggling. And it started to work, helped by the incredibly rainy May we had.

And then I started noticing weeds. Not just any weeds – purslane. This particular weed had become the bane of my existence the previous summer. It’s a succulent that thrives where grass is not growing, and the leaves and roots and flowers all help spread the plant. And the seeds can lie dormant for up to three years.

Yes, we can appreciate the hardiness of the plant and despise it at the same time (last year at one point, I gave up, and, after learning that it’s edible, I started picking it and eating it in salad (delicious with a little feta cheese and a lemon vinaigrette – but I digress).

So, I caved in and asked for help by calling the lawn service, and they started coming out regularly to help with my weed control.

Through all of this, I had a few patches of grass that just weren’t growing (which, yes, made them ripe for purslane). I would water and put down more seed. I would make sure my kids never came near them. But nothing.

All of the other areas of my grass were doing exactly what they should be doing. But two spots refused. I no longer had weeds there, but I didn’t have grass either.

Recognizing that fall was near, and I’d done all that I could with my lawn, I resigned to just not have grass there this year, so I stopped exerting effort (and did everything I could to not let this failure take away from my enjoyment of the rest of my yard).

And then the other day while mowing my lawn, I saw new grass growing in one of the two spots! Just when I’d given up all hope, new life was sprouting.

So, as we approach a new school year and a new Jewish year, what can we learn from this?

Be clear about your goal.

I had a very clear goal to grow my grass. Your goal might be to introduce a new program or become a better leader or support your teachers. No matter the goal, the clearer the better. I could picture the green grass and feel it under my feet. Can you picture what success looks like?

Foster the environment.

In my case, I watered my lawn and seeded it and did everything I possibly could to keep my kids from stomping all over it. You might set a culture of innovation, reward trying new things, set aside specific time for professional development. What environment would give the best possible change of achieving your goal, and how can you create that?

Understand that not all spots (or people are the same).

Most of my lawn responded exactly as I intended; some of it did not. So, too, will some students respond to certain interventions or other teachers respond to certain coaching. That’s part of the beautify (and frustration?) or nature – the unpredictability. How can we embrace and not fight this tendency?

Recognize that some things just can’t be forced.

No matter how badly I wanted my grass to grow, I couldn’t make it. The grass was going to grow whenever (if ever) it chose, and all I could do was believe in the process. So, too, with your goals, you can’t force them. You can visualize where you want to get and create the environment and take all of the steps, but you don’t control the outcome. How can you focus on what you can control while releasing that which you can’t?

Don’t take everything personally.

My grass not growing was not a personal attack. It could have been too hot or too dry or too sandy in the soil. Some of this I could have prevented or worked around and some not. When we don’t quite achieve our goals, some of us may have an inclination to blame ourselves for everything, even when that’s not fair. How can we acknowledge our shortcomings and learn from them while still giving ourselves grace as appropriate?

There’s always next year.

One of the things I hate about lawn care is that it’s never ending. Even if my lawn looks great today, who knows what will happen next week. And what worked early in the season may not work later. And there is always more work to do. And there is always next year. And, one of the things I love about lawn care is that there is always next year, which means I have another chance. How can we learn from the past to make next year the best it can be?

If all else fails, xeriscape.

I haven’t gotten there yet (mainly because my kids love to play an elaborate game of barefooted dodgeball on the grass), but I know I have other options. If grass doesn’t work, I can scrap the whole thing and go with native plants and mulch. Same goes for everything in our lives – we always have options. We just need to know when the right time is to exercise those options. How can we give ourselves permission to totally pivot when the time is right?

Wishing everyone a healthy 5784, full of many lessons and growth!

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