Monday, April 19, 2010

Dandelion Dreams

Writer's Note: As I recently plucked the dandelions from my backyard garden and watched the neighbors wage a losing battle with the prolific weeds, I was reminded of this piece I wrote several years ago. Shouldn't we all decide that dandelions are beautiful? Please?

I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes one spring morning when I spotted the traitor outside my bedroom window.
My husband, in rubber boots and gloves, was toting a gallon of weed killer and systematically attacking the dandelions that dominate our Kentucky yard from March until October.
"What are you doing?" I yelled from the window.
"They're just weeds," he offered sheepishly.
Obviously, he had caved into the pressure. For weeks, our subdivision neighbors had shaken their heads with disdain as they walked past our yellow-dotted lawn. One well-meaning gardener had even called me next door to demonstrate her new organic weed control  -- a vinegar mixture she regularly sprayed to halt the intruders that threatened her tidy, green paradise.
"This is wonderful if you're opposed to chemicals in your yard," she said, about as subtle as a hungry newborn in church. "See how lush my grass is?"
"That's great if you like that sort of thing, "I said.
I'd swear she tried to spray me.
Unfortunately, no one else in the neighborhood shares my fondness for the persistent plants. To be honest, I used to fight dandelions as diligently as the next gardener, making my fair share of calls to the local lawn company to control the unruly sprouts.
One early-spring visit from my mom changed my mind.
We had watched from the back door as my daughter stooped to pluck the first dandelions of the season. Her face lit up each time she spotted a new bloom, and before long, she had a handful.  She soon presented them to me as if they were the finest roses in the land.
I mechanically pulled a small jar from under the sink, filled it with water, stuffed it with dandelions and plunked it on the counter. My mother picked it up and smiled, recalling the many jars of dandelions and clover flowers that had graced her own kitchen years ago.
"You know why these are so special, don’t you?" she asked.
I shrugged.
"Because that's one of the only gifts she can give you," she said. "Children don't have money. They can't buy things for us. So each of these little bouquets is her priceless way of saying, 'I love you.' "
I never looked at dandelions as weeds again. Instead, I saw them through the eyes of my children.
Whenever they went out to play, my daughter would collect fresh bouquets and string together dandelion necklaces and bracelets, while my toddler son would pull off the golden crowns, roar, and yell, "LION!"
And when the dandelions seeded and produced their white, fluffy threads, my children whispered countless wishes before blowing them into the wind.
Somehow, I had forgotten the magic of dandelions. Responsible adults had green, manicured lawns that fit into tidy, suburban lives. But that spring, fighting the dandelions seemed wrong to me. Wouldn't my children rather have a yard full of wishes?
So when I saw my husband spraying them, I was disheartened and rushed outside to persuade him to stop. He looked over his shoulder at our pleased neighbors, winked at me and promised to leave some untouched.
If Ralph Waldo Emerson is right, and a weed is "a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered," then our yard is ripe with virtue and childhood wonder.
I prefer to keep it that way.

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