Being a Potato and Not a Tomato at Christmas

From my small garden with different vegetables, two crops took my attention—potatoes and tomatoes. When I was planting tomatoes, I used seeds, but for potatoes, I picked those which had developed eyes and buried them into well-prepared soil. While both plants have the likelihood of being affected by similar problems, I did not expect them to behave the same. Although both were flowering and towering high with rich deep green stems, I saw their products occupying different spaces, that is, below and above the ground. Potato plants withered as they gave the priceless gift, but tomatoes continued to live on as they gave me fruits. As a gardener, I valued both. As I was harvesting both, I learnt a lesson that I want to share with my childless tribe and others who may be measuring themselves against their peers.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, most families have gatherings. In this part of the world I live in, those from the diaspora jet in with their children. This is the time where most family weddings are held. On such occasions, there are introductions that have the likelihood of adding insult to injury. Furthermore, there are uncourteous, careless comments that curtail and kill courageous womanhood or manhood as some in the clan will except a potato to have the redness of the tomato. This can be a difficult time for the childless. In some workplaces there are year-end parties where family members are invited. From the word POTATO, I have developed an acronym for a winning attitude during this season.

1. Patience: Being a potato calls for patience. Waiting for a child to come is not an easy thing. With taunts from those close to you, you may experience bouts of despair and hopelessness. As you compare yourselves with those who have been blessed with children, a part of yourself collapses into a lump of worthlessness. There has never been a time when comparison has been the source of joy. In life, we don’t only operate in different time zones but from varied wavelengths. What happens to tomatoes in the pace above the ground may not be possible for us who utilise the space below it. A Yoruba proverb teaches this lesson well. It says, “twenty children do not play together for twenty years.” Leaning this invaluable virtue will enhance thriving and not surviving.

2. Optimism: This is a virtue to be envied. It helps to separate the act of failing from being a failure. It helps the sufferer to open up to new ways of thriving in the midst of chaos. In my personal journey of being a man without children, I have learnt to reauthor my ideals for marriage. When I married Soneni, we thought we would have a boy and a girl. This was a beautiful view of our marriage. My darling and I listed the possible names of the children. Now that the children have not come, my wife has become the girl and I am the boy. Now instead of mourning about our situation, we help others who are walking the path we tread. I could choose to look at my situation as a call to self-pity and the world was not going to blame me. However, optimism says, “I may be buried but I am valuable. My contribution matters.”

3.Tenacity: This is a quality that every person needs. It is the attribute of being resolute. Childlessness may be throwing briers on your pathway. Thick clouds of sorrow may stubbornly dangle over the horizon of your life. The storms of life may be marauding the last pint of joy threatening to extinguish it. When others touch your stomach and carelessly ask, “when it will enlarge?”, tenacity says, “I am not the author of life, but I depend on the Higher Power for such.” It also says “having no children to parade at Christmas does not mean I am barren . . . I am awaiting the delivery of the blessing. And when someone is waiting, they are not responsible for the receipt of what they are anticipating.” When a bus doesn’t show up at the bus terminus, the problem is not the one waiting but the vehicle which has not yet arrived.

4.Actualisation: Someone who has had children after a struggle is said to have a success story. While this is a great occurrence for the family, the use of the phrase “success story.” In an African setting may sometimes communicate actualisation thus putting pressure on those who are still trying to have one. On the use of the word, the following questions may need to be interrogated: who has succeeded? Does this mean that those who are still battling to have one failed? Which partner was considered to be failing? There is a need to reauthor the myth that suggests that having children is actualisation. Since children are a gift from God, we can’t claim to have achieved when we have just received. This is a lesson that those of my tribe need to learn.

5.Thankfulness: In a life buffeted with tremors and wrecked by pronatal voices that demean the childless, thankfulness may be extinct. Develop a gratitude journal where you record all the great things that God has done for you. Celebrate the small wins that you have. An attitude of gratitude expands one’s latitude and raises their altitude.

6.Oak seed attitude: The seed of an oak tree is small, yet when it is buried in the ground, it produces a gigantic plant whose trunk can be up 1.8 meters. Being under the ground assures it of having a tree that will live up to 300 years. The “oak seed attitude” says “bury me and say I am gone, my vision will outlive me. I will leave an indelible mark in the hearts of many.” It also says, “You may consider me small because I don’t have a biological child, yet I have the potential to stretch a 300-year life span.” Do not allow people to measure you by how much you have failed, but condemn them by how what you have contributed to the world. We may not all have children because we are not all tomatoes. Be blessed as you muse on the words of my recently written poem.

I am a Potato Not a Tomato

Both tomatoes and potatoes show flowers
Potatoes always give to the world tubers
They never envy their tomato neighbours
Their redness doesn’t give them shivers
So am I that has not crossed parenting rivers
I am not startled by being in infertility figures
But I strive to focus on what really matters
I am a potato not a tomato

The tomato has fruits that are visible
But my joy is in having them invisible
Others have considered me as ignoble
Yet my Farmer deems me lovable
To His customers I am enjoyable
Buried in dirt but not deplorable
My productivity is incalculable
To please the onlookers is not desirable
Beyond my grave I will still be memorable
I am a potato not a tomato

I have read of the peril of being homeless
And have felt the anguish of being childless
A grief that is intangible and noiseless
I have traversed the jungle of the thoughtless
And have been the subject of the heartless
Their opinions deriding and relentless
This journey has taught me “I’m not any less.”
Truly, I am childless, but not hopeless
I am a Potato Not a Tomato

By Sikhumbuzo Dube