Crushed Up Dandelions

June 6, 2011
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"The wind is reading your book," she says, a knowing grin taking home in her chubby red toddler cheeks. Another page is flipped by seemingly nothing. "See, it's reading it again."

So much more perceptive than I am, even with our age difference. I barely notice the rustling of my notebook pages, but somehow she sees the wind’s hands turning each and every page excitedly, the wind’s eyebrows crinkling as he particularly enjoys a phrase, his mind traveling rapidly as he becomes enraptured in words that haven’t even been written yet. She feels no need to explain any of this to me, other than to point out what she feels is the obvious. It’s right in front of her, seen and unseen.

She toddles off and leaves me to wonder what it is that she sees. Could she see more than just the wind reading the book? Can she read my unwritten work as well? Maybe she can already see the sentences I have strung together and the plot I have sewn into the fibers of the page. She heads over to her favorite spot—a little patch of rocks we have on the side of our driveway. She calls them treasures, simply because they are there for her to find. The rocks hold her attention for a moment before her mind is elsewhere. By this point, I’m already trapped back in my own little world trying to find inspiration for the story apparently only I cannot see yet. I only look up in response to my name.

“You can’t see me, Jackie,” she says, holding a single branch of a bush in front of her face, covering only her eyes. She giggles in my direction. “I camouflaging.”

So much smarter than I am. Did I know that much at her age? I don’t think the word “camouflage” was in my vocabulary until I was at least ten years old. She is smart enough to believe that if she can’t see me then I can’t see her. Her world is simple. She chooses what she gets to see and blocks out all the rest.

By the twentieth time she has repeated the same phrase over and over again, she realizes that I’m lost again and moves on. Chalk is her new friend after the bush. Her mind sees millions of pictures her hand can’t draw just yet, but she’s a true artist. She can recognize all the colors by now, even a few of which I’ve never even heard. She scribbles well out of the lines of the figure I’ve traced of her body on the ground. Lines are just constraints that would hold her back. She sees the true lines outside the lines etched onto the black asphalt.

“I’ll use the red chalk,” she says, picking up the piece in her tiny, grubby hands and poising it over the driveway. She makes sure my heart has eye contact with hers. “I know it’s your favorite.”

So much prettier than I am. I’m dolled up with mascara and eyeliner and a tinge of blush, my hair slicked back into a perfect ponytail and the soles of my feet caked with the drama of my friends and family, social life, worries, religious beliefs, politics, cares, fears, loves…Her vibrant orange curls stand on every end in every which direction. Her shirt, once white, now holds a barrage of stains: grass and snacks and dirt and every color of the rainbow in chalk. The soles of her feet carry nothing. She wears childhood. I’m slowly growing out of mine, right on the edge of not being able to fit my head through the hole anymore. She’s so beautiful.

She’s just learned how to peddle on her bike. She wants to show me proudly, unafraid of the three big wheels and the long length of the driveway. It takes her a few minutes to get started, but finally she is on her way with her little freckled nose crinkling in concentration. She hasn’t quite figured out how to maneuver the handlebars, but that doesn’t even cross her mind. She is happily set on her path, unaware of the confusing left and rights and different courses and options that could restrain her next move. She doesn’t know how to stop, but that doesn’t matter to her either. She has nothing to hold her back.

“Ouch, I fell!” she says, the bike tipped sideways and half of her body hidden underneath it. She grimaces, pulls herself up again, and puts her leg back over the bike. “It’s okay, I just scratched.”

So much more trusting than I am, even though I am fourteen years older than her. She gets hurt from a new experience, and yet she is willing to get right back on again. This time was the last she would fall—no this time—no this time—no this time. Even though it hasn’t yet, she believes the bike will hold her. She trusts that it will hold her. Instantly, she forgives the hurt and just gets right back up.

She waves at our shadows, telling me that they are smiling at her. She discovers that the grass has a shadow and the ball has a shadow and the tree has a shadow. She learns to see everything equally. I watch the clouds and find pictures. The pictures come from things I know and the clouds that don’t seem to have a picture I know, I let pass by. I bet that she would be able to find a picture in every cloud.

“This is for you, Jack,” she says, shoving a handful of crushed up dandelions in front of my face. The pile is too large for her hands, but mine and close around them entirely and hide them from the world. “I picked them because I love you.”

So much more loving than I am, even though she has only been around for three years and I have been here for seventeen. I have been taught that dandelions are disgusting weeds that spread and that kill. But she’s right, of course. They are beautiful. They just want to grow too. They are pure nature, the flowers that grow without thinking about it or without any work involved. They grow so little girls and boys have something to pick to give to the people they love, because no one is allowed to pick the fake flowers that demand labor and water and money and extra effort. Dandelions are there to bring beauty without asking anything at all.

Kelly wants to return inside and I only think about the wasted trip I have just experienced. I came outside to get some inspiration and to write a new story to soothe my soul. All I got instead was a three-year-old sister who distracted me from writing. I picked myself up from where I was laying on the driveway and brushed myself off, preparing to walk back in the house but Kelly stopped me one more time by pulling on the bottom of my shorts.

“You almost forgot your book,” she smiles, giving me the book and putting her tiny hand into my large hands. “And your flowers. Aren’t they beautiful?”

She gives me more inspiration than I could get from anywhere else.

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