Thursday, February 21, 2008

Planting annuals, remembering presidents

A lot of household tasks just don't lend themselves to 3-year-old participation. Refinancing the house. Fixing the computer. Organizing tax data. Changing the batteries in Ashlyn's mermaid toothbrush by removing a microscopic screw whose mind-blowing gravitational pull draws it to unknown places on the floor over and over and over again.

It's not that 3-year-olds do not want to contribute to these projects. They do want to, and in my house they have. (Oh, have they ever.) But "contribute" is a different thing from "help." On projects such as these they do contribute--chaos, mess, breakage, loss, fighting, noise, entropy. It's just that they do it so cutely that I can't resist letting them, at least for a few minutes, before abandoning the project till during their sleep hours.

With all the urgent aforementioned projects on the docket for Monday, I decided instead to plant flowers.

Rachelle was working and I had President's Day off, meaning Daddy Day Care for my girls. Over oatmeal, I threw out the idea. "Do you guys want to go pick out flowers and plant them at the rental house?"

A chorus of "Yeah!"

Something inside wondered if I really had suggested this, thinking about the logistics of pushing a cart with three little girls, 4 dozen fragile flowers and a bag of decaying manure (for once a poop reference unrelated to one of my children) around Home Depot. But I had crossed the Rubicon. We were going to plant flowers.

In the end, this was a rare stroke of genius. Flower-planting was a project they sank their teeth into (not in the literal sense—thankfully the dirt-eating stage is behind us). I loosened weeds, and they yanked them out. I dug holes, and they filled them with planting soil. I found worms, and they created a worm colony that now inhabits our kitchen. Even mommy was impressed (save with the worms).

At the same time, I have always had an issue with annuals. Ever since I earned my "Flowers and Seeds" patch at age 9 in Pathfinders (the scouting group at my church), I have favored perennials over annuals. It just seems an awfully big effort for something that only lasts a few months, so high maintenance. You spend cash on the plants, weed, break up the hard ground, enrich it with planting soil, dig holes, plant, water, weed, water, weed and water, always hoping no one comes along and stomps on them--all for a season of beauty.

Sometime that day, driving around town in the Odyssey (another perk of having the day off with the girls), I was explaining to Brielle about Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday helped give us occasion to be doing all this. "Remember how Moses helped free the slaves in Egypt?"


"Well, Abraham Lincoln was a good president because he helped free slaves in our country, kind of like Moses. But remember how someone killed Martin Luther King?"

"Yeah." She did, too. We made MLK mobiles a few weeks ago, and watched everything we could find on YouTube about him. I'm pretty sure Brielle thinks he was a king, but she knows enough about him to love him. "Just like they killed Martin Luther King, someone killed Abraham Lincoln."


Then I asked a question for which I had no real answer myself, half to see what she might say and half because it was just bothering me. "Brielle, why do people want to kill lots of good people, like Jesus and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King?"

"Why, Daddy?" asked Brielle, thinking this was a rhetorical question. This time I had only silence to share.

"I don't know, Brielle. It's sad though." I took a stab. "Maybe people who want to do bad things don't like good people because they want to keep doing their bad stuff. Maybe they don't want to hear anyone tell them to stop doing their bad stuff and be nice to people."

"Yeah." Neither of us were satisfied.

Some of the most beautiful lives that God plants on earth don't seem to last. "Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham? My old friend Martin? I just looked around and they're gone."

It bothers me. It makes me think about my annuals, whose beauty will change the world for a season and then die. It makes me think about the three souls I'm raising--beautiful, but fleeting, fragile.

I shiver. Lord, let their beauty be world-changing. But God, please let them be perennials.

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