Weeds by Angela Collins

The school year 2010-2011 will go down in my personal history as the single most difficult class for me to date. My principal said there was “no synergy.” I’m not sure of an exact definition of that word but I think it was just one of many things that was lacking. I’m hoping, though, that the year wasn’t a total wash for the kids. I’m naïve enough to think that there were moments that will perhaps be remembered with a smile.

I know, for me, there were definitely lessons to be learned even on the most unmanageable days. Big lessons. . . like forgiveness, second chances, understanding, even third & fourth chances. But, the biggest lesson for me this year began with the hundreds of dandelions that appeared on our playground seemingly overnight on the first warm day of the year.

The girls picked bouquets of the yellow dandelions while the boys kicked the tops off the flowers that had already turned to seed. (In another, more gentler, year the dandelion heads would have been blown off but this was a different kind of year – remember “no synergy.”)

After recess the kids managed to bring several of the flowers inside and proceeded to ask some noteworthy questions that I used as a jumping off point for some research that would no doubt involve language arts and math. It turned out that the lesson I learned was not the one I had planned.

Somewhere, amid taking apart dandelions for a closer look with a magnifying glass, attempting to count the seeds, contemplating theories as to why they grow so fast, someone asked the question, “Why do people think these are weeds?”

Fairly quickly, Lydia found the definition for a weed on-line, and I was surprised. A weed, simply, is what grows where a gardener doesn’t want it to grow. So, in theory, a rose bush growing in my yard is a weed, if I’d rather not have it there.

As my good friend Mary often says, “It’s all about perception.”

This new knowledge caused me to think about my own children and the dozens of dandelion bouquets they had presented to me over the years during their childhood. Believe it or not, I actually had a special vase for the yellow beauties, and I even added water to these beloved treasures.

My own kids are 24 and 22 now so it’s been awhile since they have presented me with these flowers, and I can’t help but wonder what Spring it was when they saw these plentiful wild flowers as weeds.

I’m not exactly sure when that happened, just as I’m not exactly sure who told them they were weeds. I do know this. . . adults that my children love (maybe even their mother, God forbid) pointed out that they were weeds by spraying herbicides  all over their yards, by making less than flattering comments about other folks’ dandelion-laden yards, and what kid hasn’t had an adult fuss at them for blowing the dandelion seeds all over the place. All of these things served to slowly but very surely switch my kids’ perception of dandelions from a beautiful flower that was the perfect Mother’s Day gift to an ugly weed that is an embarrassment to any middle-class American.

Unfortunately, I think we do the same thing with people that are “weeds.” You know, people that seem to be where we would rather not have them, like homeless people wandering the streets, poor mothers applying for welfare, women in positions of power, immigrants speaking a different language, gays trying to raise families.

Really, these people are, well, just people, nothing more or less. Just like the dandelion is just a plant. It’s our perception that turns them into unwanted members of our community, members that we label because for whatever reason they make us feel uncomfortable.

The real tragedy is that my children, our children, are listening to the messages we send as we try hard not to make eye contact with the homeless, when we make rude comments about people on welfare, when a strong woman is referred to as a bitch, when we use a different language to exclude immigrants, when we laugh at gay jokes that we think are harmless. And then, suddenly, one warm Spring day, our kids see weeds instead of a mixture of people that all have a story, that are all worthy of a place in our community.

It makes me sad to know that Sam, Will and Carly will never bring me another dandelion bouquet. I only hope they weren’t listening too attentively to the lessons they have probably been taught about people as well. I want them to realize that weeds don’t actually exist, not in the garden, not in our community, not in the world.