My daughter finally learns: weeding starts with 'we'

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This weekend was an important rite of passage for my 12-year-old daughter, and it made me very proud. This weekend my daughter learned to love weeding.

Sure, when she was younger she occasionally plucked the fluffy head off the occasional dandelion - but that behavior fell more into the category of seeding rather than weeding. As she grew older and I sometimes used weeding as a punishment for her, she would grudgingly grab handfuls of weeds mixed with just enough periwinkle to guarantee that I would soon say, "Oh forget it - go to your room."

My hope of being down on my hands and knees with my daughter alongside me, weeding her little heart out, seemed an impossible dream.

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Sometimes I think all the weeding I do is further proof that I'm wasting my life, and other times it is a much-needed meditation. If I get a good rhythm going, I can solve more problems than there are weeds around the dogwood. In its basic form of hand to weed - pull - it can be very soothing.

Every spring I get discouraged by the number of dandelions sprouting in the backyard. It's not that I'm a wacko about a weed-free lawn - trust me, there are plenty of other weeds to keep the dandelions company. But those others are less noticeable from afar. I can't abide the thought of dandelions spreading all through my periwinkles and perennials, so every year I wait too long and do what seems impossible - rid the lawn of dandelions.

At first I cheat and just pluck off the heads that have gone to seed and throw them in the creek, hoping to slow if not stop the madness. Once the immediate threat of invasion is gone, I stab my digger into the earth next to each tough old dandelion, use a little leverage, and pop it out. It's good for the soul, but it doesn't make much sense when there's a field full of somebody else's dandelions bobbing their heads at me across the creek. Somehow it works.

I had always hoped to instill my weeding philosophy in my children: Get down on your hands and knees, get dirty, and look at what interesting things are going on in the earth. But my children have been content just to let me make my own discoveries, and then bore them with them.

If I had never gotten down on my kneeling pad in the dwarf mondo grass to weed out the delicate plants that sneak in the nooks and crannies there, I wouldn't have seen the pea-size cobalt blue fruit it puts out every winter. I think it's something to see. As far as my children are concerned, it is dumb to go outside when it's cold and walk all the way down there to see the same color blue on the ground that is the color of our kitchen cabinets, especially when there are cookies to be eaten within them. Point taken.

So imagine my surprise when my daughter let me know this past Saturday morning that it was time for me to get dressed and get outside to the weedy spot she had identified - and she was coming, too. The fact that the designated weedy area is down a weed- covered path to the weed-covered natural area where I had promised to put up her tetherball set once the weeds were gone had something to do with her motivation, no doubt. Still though, this time, like no other, she weeded seriously, working through the discomfort and dirt, stooping and bending, kneeling and pulling, observing and chatting, never once complaining about bugs or worrying about snakes. We even weeded through the not always light rain that morning, at her suggestion.

Weird.

In fact, the more she weeded, the more she came up with ideas for more work: "We should cut the ivy back from the swingset.... I'm going to use those branches to line the path.... When can we move that monkey grass over there?... We should make different parts of the yard special places."

What gardening magazines has she been reading lately, anyway?

By the middle of Sunday she was worrying about accidentally tugging out some variegated periwinkle along with her weeds. Then she asked me to leave any and all dandelions I came upon so she could pop them out herself.

How could I refuse?

When I heard her say brightly, as she weeded around a small redbud, "It's addictive," I knew I had a devoted weeder in my midst. Those might be the sweetest words she's said to me in months.

And the tetherball set? After I tricked my daughter into weeding considerably more than was strictly required to set it up - so that half of my big perennial border is now weedless, too - she and I picked a spot. I drove the sleeve into the ground and put the pole in. In less than a minute of playing, the pole was leaning at an alarming and unplayable angle, so it was clear more serious site preparation would be needed. Not to worry. We'll make my husband do it. He didn't pull one weed all weekend (though in his defense, he was out of town).

Our work for the day was done. True, it was a slight disappointment not to be able to play tetherball immediately in our weed-free zone, but after spending hours staring at the small picture of this weed and that one, this root and that one, this insect and that one, we both see the big picture now. Tetherball is good for a laugh now and then, but weeding is forever.

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