In praise of the dandelion ….

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve had it in mind since last spring. In fact, I came this close to writing about dandelions a little over a year ago. Instead, I wrote about a crowd of crazies on Long Island, NY, who were making their teenagers’ lives tough with their ridiculous school safety measures. I thought about writing this post just a few weeks ago, but Mother’s Day made me think about being a mother (go figure). However, the glorious crop of dandelions everywhere I look these days demands to be loved in black and white, so here I go ….

I love dandelions. I love their hopeful, just-try-to-ignore-it colour. I love the feathery lightness of their petals. I love their perfect symmetry. I love the fact that, even in death, they’re beautiful:

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I love that children make wishes on the seeds. I love their resilience. I love them so much that I stop to admire them (sometimes taking pictures of them) on my way to wherever I’m going. I love them so much that I have cheerfully let the lawn become them. I love them so much that I permanently decorated my right arm with them:

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However, I have had enough conversations with the other side to know that not everyone loves them. Some people hate them so much they will acquire a special tool designed to yank them up. They will spend oodles of time and money getting rid of them. They will poison the earth to ensure that they don’t have to look at a single dandelion on their property, ever. They will look down on neighbours who tolerate them. The appearance of a single yellow puffball on their otherwise suffocatingly boring lawn ruins their day. Like bagging up leaves and throwing them away or hosing down your yard furniture and driveway every other week, it makes no sense.

A dandelion looks like this:

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People regularly pay for, and cultivate, this:

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And this:

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And this:

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What on earth is the difference between the three examples of desirable yellow flowers I just gave, and dandelions? The way people fuss about them, you`d think dandelions look like this:

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(Yes, that is a real creature. It’s a blob fish. Google it. Unless you’re eating.)

In case laying out the ridiculousness of your position hasn’t convinced you, here are a few facts about dandelions you might find interesting:

Dandelions are masters of survival. They can take root nearly anywhere, and then become impossible to get rid of. Why? There are a few reasons. For one thing, they are long-lived. A dandelion plant can live for years. You might think you’ve destroyed it by yanking most of it out of the ground, but you’ve merely dampened its spirits. All a dandelion needs to rejuvenate itself is one inch of root. And that root sinks deeper by the year – a dandelion root can grow fifteen feet deep if it needs to. It can muscle its way through gravel, and even cement – so dandelions thrive in the most barren of landscapes. Dandelion fossils have been found in prehistoric deposits – they’ve been around alot longer than we have.

Dandelions are an essential part of our ecosystem. Their flowering is an indicator to bees that the summer is on its way, and in early spring they are an abundant source of pollen and nectar. They are a great source of vitamins and roughage for small animals – rabbits love them. If you like bees, butterflies and bunnies, don’t kill dandelions.

Dandelions are useful. They have been, and can be, used for medicine, food and dye. The roots can be dried and ground to make a coffee substitute (something that made the dandelion of particular importance to early settlers here in North America). They can even be used to make wine.

Believe it or not, dandelions are good for your lawn. Their tough, quick-spreading roots loosen packed soil, aerating it and helping to reduce erosion. The deep root pulls nutrients from far below the surface and makes them available to other plants – like your precious grass.

A colleague of mine told me that he spent an entire day last spring removing dandelions from his lawn. Why? Not because he doesn’t like them, but because he was worried that his neighbours would be annoyed with him if he let them continue to grow on his property. He regretted yanking up what he considers “pretty yellow flowers” just because he was afraid of what people might think. And dandelions are the most common illustration on containers of herbicides …. I believe that people have been conditioned to see dandelions as a problem, and that is why they will go to such lengths to get rid of them. Large squares of flat, green monoculture are not natural – and they are time-consuming, expensive and harmful to the environment. Have you ever really looked at a dandelion – or, better still, a whole field of them? All that beauty is free, and good for everyone.

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Motherhood is the gift.

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In case you have just emerged from a lifelong coma, let me share something with you: Mother’s Day is a big deal, y’all! We’re talking spa day big. Diamonds big. Weekend away big. You guys, there is simply nothing that shows adequate appreciation for Mom – chauffeur, chef, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, tutor, playmate, confidante, cheerleader, bankroller and everything else that is really important and would cost mega-money to purchase (but you don’t have to purchase it because Mom is such a flippin’ saint that she does it all for free). So, dig deep …. or Mom will know you’re a complete ingrate who never thinks of anyone but yourself. Of course, she knew that already, because she knows everything about you.

The above parody, as silly as it sounds, really isn’t far from the commercials that air in early May every year. Mothers are such an emotional hot-button, companies know they can wax as nauseatingly gooey as they like, and the general public will play right into their hands. Apparently, many mothers have consumed the Kool-Aid, too – the days after Mother’s Day are just behind the days after Christmas and Valentine’s Day when it comes to filing for divorce. Before Mother’s Day, many mothers hit the net, stating that they want everything from a boozy night out with their girlfriends to a star named after them, whining about the paltry efforts of their children and significant others to make the day special, grimly predicting that Mother’s Day will be just like any other day for them. After Mother’s Day, they come back to complain that it was just as they thought it would be, and that next year they’re buying their own present.

Mother’s Day has been special to me since the day our lovely Fiona made her sharp-eyed, squalling debut. I usually get flowers from Ryan, sweet little handmade whatevers from the girls, and a bucket-of-fried-chicken picnic in the park (I loves me some KFC). This year was no different. Ryan gave me a beautiful bouquet of orange roses, and Bridget chipped in with her allowance because she couldn’t think of a present herself. Fiona gave me a pea plant she planted herself in her classroom, in a decorated pot. I received some nice cards, too. I also put in an order with our two little lovelies. Breakfast in bed just doesn’t work for me, because I am almost always the first one up – and I don’t want anything to do with food until mid-morning or later. So, I told Fiona I wanted her to make me an egg – she fries them just the way I like them. I asked Bridget for a slice of cinnamon toast, because that’s her specialty. I wanted it with a side of fresh fruit, and I wanted it served at ten – not the ass-crack of dawn. I got what I wanted, and ate every bite while two pairs of earnest, eager brown eyes watched my every eyebrow twitch. The KFC picnic has been postponed due to the chilly wind and threat of rain on Sunday. That’s ok; I’ll probably appreciate it more after work one day anyway. These things are nothing big, but I love them. Little gestures of appreciation for my role in this family make me smile, year after year. If they’re all I ever get on Mother’s Day, I’m blessed. I don’t need anything big, because – honestly – when it comes to Mother’s Day, motherhood is the gift.

Yes, being a mother is hard. It’s alot of work, and sometimes it’s utterly thankless. Cleaning a house that is about to get trashed any minute now. Preparing meals that someone always has to complain about. Eating yours cold because you spent mealtime feeding the baby or cleaning up a mess. Laundry – the amazing self-replenishing mountains of laundry! Cutting toenails. Wiping spills, noses and asses. Holding them still while a doctor jabs them with a needle filled with a substance that will keep them from contracting terrible illnesses. Administering foul-tasting medicine you know they need. Being woken up from your badly needed sleep to brush away tears and fears. Trying to keep siblings from destroying each other. Doling out punishments, and ignoring the knots in the pit of your stomach as you listen to them wail. Patiently assisting while they sweat over their homework. Reassuring them, again and again, that the playground bully is wrong – they are worthwhile and intelligent and beautiful. Insisting that they take responsibility for household chores and pets and their own bad habits. Staring down their nasty attitude when they get just a little too big for their britches. Seeing the accusation in their eyes when you choose not to rescue them, in the hope that they’ll learn to rescue themselves. Saying the same damn thing, day after day after day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re shovelling snow in a blizzard. In fact, when their children are very little, alot of mothers confess that all they want for Mother’s Day is to be left alone for more than five minutes! I was one of them, I don’t mind admitting!

But being a mother is also a profound privilege. You are their safe place, their first frame of reference. They have tracked your eyes and voice since birth to understand the world around them. You are all they want when they are sick or hurt. You witness not only their obvious firsts, like steps and words, but also the first time they share voluntarily or recognize that someone else is having a bad day and offer a hug. You are the test subject for everything from their first cartwheel to their first cuss. You get all the questions, from why-is-the-sky-blue to why-did-Grandpa-have-to-die to where-do-babies-come-from. You are the recipient of bouquets of dandelions, sparkly rocks, spontaneous (if, at times, sloppy) kisses. You teach them how to cook a balanced meal, how to clean a bathroom, why you should not leave wet clothes in a plastic bag for more than a day. You share your stories with them, and enjoy their reaction. You hear their take on the world, day after day, because with you they are simply themselves. You soak in their tears and cheer with them over their victories. Until they die, they will hear your words and feel your arms encircling them, whether you’re there or not. You don’t need all that stuff. What you’ve got is beyond price. Happy Mother’s Day, all day, every day.

Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

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In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.