Don’t pretend you didn’t know what these were. The stems were too wilted and short to braid into a weeded crown to place atop your head. And your too-chubby, five-year-old fingers fumbled with the stems until you gave up, flipped your thumb and said, “Momma had a baby, and its head popped off!” The yellow pom-pom flew through the air. Instead of pretending you didn’t understand the magic of dandelions, pretend it isn’t disturbing that you repeated this gleefully, day after summer day. One day, the hue of your child’s blond hair will echo the buttery mop of the dandelion, but you didn’t know that then.
Now, you’re older. Think more. It’s not okay for your child’s head to pop off–or for you to even imagine it. The days of prodding at potato bugs with sticks to watch them curl into a ball are over. You don’t play hockey with the little charcoal bugs, tapping them back and forth between popsicle sticks in your left and right hand. I dare you to remember the days of worms wriggling between your index finger and thumb. Don’t shudder when you remember how they sometimes bulged in one place.
Rarely, flowers bloomed in your parents’ backyard. Your mother was too busy to plant blossoms every year: taking care of your knee-scrapes from afternoon bike rides, slapping peanut butter sandwiches together when the daily noon siren sounded from the fire department. The neighbor had wild gardens that gave image to the word “bountiful,” and you spent days playing with her daughter in their backyard, but now, when you look out your mother’s kitchen window, they have built privacy fences like castle walls between the yards. Your mother has said, “What? Do they think they own both yards?”
Your son runs through their backyard now, and your metal swing set with the rainbow stripes is long gone. He can’t flip over the bars, or hang upside down with the metal bar in the crevice of his knees like you did, your hair scraping the dirt beneath you. Show him the dandelions in the heat of the summer months. Tell him, say, “Look, dandelions are everywhere.” He says, “Grandma says it means Papa needs to mow the lawn.” The time has come for you to agree, but you won’t.
Finally, after a day or two, the dandelions ripen, and then turn into skeletons of what they’d been.
Remember your small fist, how you gathered them into bouquets, puffed your lips, blew the feathery strands away, wishing for the ice cream man to bring you your Pink Panther Pop after lunch, or for your mother to make macaroni and butter for dinner. When all the strands floated into the humid air, they left behind a congregation of belly buttons, little outies reminiscent of the circle on your Cabbage Patch Kid’s belly. The seeds landed amidst the itches of grass. You didn’t worry. If you resisted popping the pom-poms off the new crop, there would be more wishes in a few days.
You began to see the terror in that phrase you repeated without thought, didn’t you? “Momma had a baby, and its head popped off.”
Soon enough, your son finds his way to the dandelions, leaving behind his bubble mower. He plucks dandelions by their stems, and you borrow one from him, drawing a yellow streak from his wrist to his elbow. “I’ll make yellow on you,” he says.
And you let him, on both arms. He’ll wish, too, before long. Before he plants weeds.