Dandelions Gold

We should not mind so small a flower—
Except it quiet bring
Our little garden that we lost
Back to the lawn again.

So spicy her carnations nod—
So drunken reel her Bees—
So silver steal a hundred flutes
From out a hundred trees—

That whoso sees this little flower
By Faith may clear behold
The Bobolinks around the throne
And Dandelions Gold.

By Emily Dickinson

“holy mother, now you smile on your love, your world is born anew, children run naked in the field spotted with dandelions”

From “Kaddish,” by Allen Ginsburg

Spring is losing its tentative edge. We’ve had a lot of rain recently and finally some warmer temperatures. The dogwood in our front yard is blooming and the neighbor’s azaleas are just starting to show some pink. The sunflowers and zinnias we planted in pots two weeks ago and brought in on cold nights are sending leaves up through the dirt. The cucumbers and beans are not doing as well. Beth thinks I didn’t aerate the soil well enough when I planted them, but the good news is we started so early there’s time to start over with new seeds. Beth just put lettuce and spinach in the ground today and she’s been industrious about tearing down and uprooting the vines that tend to take over the edge of our back yard.

In addition to things we’ve planted on purpose and the weeds we are trying to eradicate, we have our volunteers, plants we didn’t plant but which aren’t exactly unwelcome either. There’s a stand of daffodils that’s come up in the back yard two years running and is now finished blooming. I suspect a squirrel transplanted the bulbs from someone else’s yard. Last year I meant to move them to the front yard where more people can see them but I forgot to mark the spot and lost track of where they’d been after the greens had been mowed down. This year we have a yellow fish on a stick to let us know where the daffodils are, once it’s safe to dig up the bulbs. And of course, we have dandelions. Their little golden heads are popping up all over. We have a dandelion-neutral gardening policy. We don’t plant them, of course, but we don’t try to get rid of them either and I’ve been known to let the kids blow the seeds across the yard. I think that’s a basic childhood right.

As I walked to Noah’s school yesterday morning, I noticed the trees along the creek are all covered with their new, delicate leaves. They look like tall women in pale green dresses. I am not tutoring on Friday mornings any more. I gave it up as a lost cause after no one came to three sessions in a row. I decided my time would be better spent in Noah’s classroom, so I asked Señora C if she could use a hand and she said come on over. When I arrived at the classroom at 9:30, she looked frustrated. She’d been planning to have me make a lot of photocopies, she told me, but the copier was broken again. This reminded me that Noah’s afternoon teacher had mentioned the photocopier is constantly breaking down and I’d promised her I’d email the principal about it and express my concern but I had not yet done so. I filed that thought away for later. Señora C set me to work punching holes in handouts and putting them in a binder. She told the students who were finished their work to turn it and go to play in centers and she told everyone else to keep working. About a quarter of the class, including Noah, stayed seated or lying on the carpet filling out worksheets and the rest of them wandered over to play different math and science games with each other.

Señora C asked if I could tackle an organization project. There were piles of handouts all over a long table against the wall and half-filled cardboard boxes on and under the table. I tried to grasp the system but as I went through the contents of each box I couldn’t figure out the theme and what else what might go in the boxes. I was afraid of making it harder rather than easier for her to find what she wanted so after a while, I begged off.

She handed me an instruction sheet for the children’s science homework for the weekend and asked me to go to the office and see if they would let me use the administrative copier. I took it downstairs and asked. The answer was no, but the secretary said the machine was being repaired right then and should be working in an hour or so. I brought the message back. Señora C glanced at the clock. It was 9:50. I was leaving at 11:00. It didn’t look good. She vented a little about how frustrating the copier problem is. I completely understand how she feels. If I’d had this problem when I was teaching it would have driven me crazy, never knowing when I could give homework. I noticed the computer on the table and asked if she had access to a printer and she said yes. Then handout was pretty short so I offered to type it for her. Her version of Word was so old I needed to ask how to do the accents and tildes, but it didn’t take me long. She instructed me to send enough copies for her morning class to the printer in the library. I had no idea we might be doing anything illicit until I returned and she asked if anyone saw me take the copies from the printer. I said no one seemed to notice. She grinned and said, “Send the rest,” so I did.

After I distributed the homework papers, I circulated through the classroom watching the kids at the various centers. There was a grocery store where children bought empty food boxes with play money. The clerk had to make change. Two boys and a girl were playing a game with multiplication and division problems on flashcards. They were all lightning fast, especially Noah’s friend Sean. They were giving their answers in English and I asked if they were supposed to be doing this in Spanish. They switched over and it didn’t seem to slow them down at all. Noah was over at a table full of test tubes filled with different colored liquids. One child held a sheet of paper that said what each was. She had to make a pair that were similar in some way then the others had to guess both what the liquids were and why there were similar. The kids kept joking and laughing between guesses but every now and then the hilarity would get out of control. While I was over there I had to break up some roughhousing between Noah and Sasha twice (and Señora C did it once while I wasn’t there). As I made my way through the classroom I watched and praised, asked how the games were played, made suggestions about how to use the fraction flashcards, reminded kids to speak in Spanish, and opined that surely Señora C must have a rule against telling classmates to “shut up.”

“We say it all the time,” the girl responded.

“Well, only the girls,” said another.

It was an enlightening morning. I’m sorry Señora C (and all the teachers) have to deal with the balky copier, but overall the kids seemed engaged and happy. I didn’t know they were so likely to lapse into English, but I suppose that’s natural during the more unstructured center time. I told Señora C I’d be back in two weeks. As I left I touched Noah on the shoulder and said, “Me voy” (ìI’m leaving.î)

“Awww,” he said. That alone would have made it worth coming.

This morning we were all out in the back yard. Beth was weeding, I was mowing and the kids were playing with the hose and sprinkler. Or rather, Noah was. June was so busy getting adults to change her into her bathing suit and then back into her clothes that there really wasn’t much time for water play. I think what Noah was doing looked like fun to her, but when she’d actually try it she’d get cold and want back into her dry clothes. So back and forth she went. One of the times I was indulging her, she brought me her suit and a swim diaper. I sat down on the grass next to the mower and helped her undress. For a moment I looked at her little naked body, winter-pale in the strong sunshine, and I thought of that line from “Kaddish”: “children run naked in fields spotted with dandelions.” It’s a beautiful image in an otherwise bleak poem.

Maybe I’m like the volunteer daffodils in the back yard. I just needed to transplant myself to a different place where I could be of more use. Or maybe I’m like a dandelion, a bit of gold that bloomed where it fell and watches the children dashing wildly around it.