When I was little, I’d use them as yellow war paint, crushing stripes on my hands and cheeks and occasionally on my nose. Then I’d grab crabapples from the trees and ambush the neighborhood boys who left cigarette butts in my backyard fort. Later, we’d all become friends again over an after dinner game of kickball. We’d smash the dandelions under our off-brand Zips as we ran from second base to third, from third to home. By the time the fireflies made their evening appearance, my war paint had become a sweaty mixture of dirt and salt and freckles.
All four of my toddlers loved them, especially Mary Claire. She’d bring bouquet after bouquet to fill all my vases and juice glasses, her pudgy hands stained and dirty. Then she’d suck on middle and pointer finger as she routinely did, wincing slightly at the bitter taste left on her tiny fingertips.
“I love Candy Lions, Mama!” she’d proclaim, her voice sweet and sassy.
We battled them hard at our first two homes when I cared about the HOA and compliance, when I believed that yards should look like golf courses. We hired lawn care services and sprayed harsh chemicals on our new sod, even when our kids and puppies were rolling around in the green. It never felt quite right, but I did it anyway. It was expected, and I’ve always been a pleaser.
But I feel differently now. Today, our yard is yellow friendly — filled with both dandelions and bees. As I planted tall grasses by our utility boxes this weekend, a honeybee kept me company.
“You’re welcome here,” I said. “Come back anytime. We appreciate what you do for us.”
Last year, our city was without water for a week because of the algal bloom on Lake Erie. Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from fertilizers was largely to blame. It’s unconscionable to me to pay someone to spray our lawn with chemicals that will eventually poison our water supply. I just can’t do it. And besides, dandelions feed the bees that feed the food that feeds us.
And Mary Claire loves Candy Lions.
It’s not always easy being the dandelion house in the TruGreen neighborhood. Just last week, an older couple stopped in front of our house, hands on hips, shaking their heads. It was clear they did not approve of the kid with the purple hair in the sea of blondes and brunettes.
(One of these things is not like the others…)
It’s an interesting study in societal norms. What is it about us that makes us want to fit in? To be the same? To create a monoculture?
What is it about being different that causes such discomfort?
What does it say about our society when we starve ourselves into unreasonable sizes, when we spend ourselves into mountains of debt? And I’m certainly not claiming to be above the fray. After all, I have battled for decades with my own body. I drive a giant, gas guzzling car to transport my giant, food guzzling kids. But someday, when I’m able, I’ll make a different transportation choice. And every day, I try to make more conscious decisions, to chart a healthier course, to think a little more globally and a little less personally. I have four sets of teenage eyes watching, and their impact upon this world will be vast.
I dream about a universe where we celebrate and embrace our differences, where we break out of the box instead of trying to squeeze ourselves into it. Where we smile and nod at each other instead of shaking our heads, hands on hips, standing in judgment.
The beauty of dandelions, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. Some see them as weeds to be eradicated. But I think they are persistent and tenacious, strong and successful. They are bright and bold, colored like the sun, life-giving, sustaining.
They are reminders of my childhood, of my children’s childhood.
Dandelions, for me, are a handful of wishes ready to be blown into the waiting wind.