Lizzy's Seeds

>> Tuesday, July 10, 2007

“Can we plant these?”

Elizabeth ran up to me when I picked her up from daycare. Her eyes were wild with excitement as she held a paper cup, taped together at the top. Inside rattled little black seeds the size of large peppercorns. “Can we plant them tonight? Please!”

What a wonderful school project, I thought -- a great way to introduce children to the joys of nurturing a small plant. Dutifully, we went home, found a terra cotta pot, filled it with dirt, then planted and watered the tiny seeds. “What are we planting?” I asked. “Beans!” Of course. Beans are the fast-growing seeds of choice for school projects everywhere.

Two days later, Elizabeth pulled another little cup from her cubby at school. “We have to plant these,” she insisted. More seeds? We went home, found another pot and planted these as well.

Over the next several weeks, this became routine. Wow, I thought. They’re very excited about beans at Elizabeth’s daycare. More and more pots lined the retaining wall in our back yard. Yellow pots, red pots, white pots. When we ran out of pots, we used lawn ornaments to germinate the seeds. When we ran out of lawn ornaments, we planted them into the ground.

Maybe I should learn how to can.

Eventually, the seeds stopped arriving in neatly-taped paper cups. They came in tightly clenched fists and pockets. They came wrapped in napkins and rolled-up pieces of paper. They came in spare socks. Pretty soon I found seeds everywhere; in the dryer, under the table, in her car seat, in her bed. I was worried.

Then it happened. While playing in the backyard, I glanced at the pots and noticed something tender and green. The beans! “Lizzy, come look!” I shouted. She ran over and we marveled at several sprouts pushing through the dirt. Their heads were capped with small black “hats” -- part of the shells that had housed them for so long. They were beautiful.

One day her teacher came up to me. “I wanted to talk to you about the seeds,” she said. Finally, I thought. They want a progress report. I was certain everyone would be impressed. We had successfully grown not one, but several, bean plants. I was practically bursting to tell her the good news.

“I just want you to know,” she continued, “Elizabeth spends a great deal of time collecting small seeds. She spends hours each week finding them. We try to put them in cups for her, but sometimes she puts them in her pockets. I just wanted you to know, in case you were wondering.”

I was confused. “I don’t understand. This isn’t a school project?” I asked.

“Oh, no. She collects them from the school yard. She loves it.”

I was oddly sad. “So they’re not beans?”

“Beans? No.”

Huh. Instead of impressing everyone with our success, now I worried about Elizabeth’s obsessive compulsion to collect seeds. But then it dawned on me -- this was important to her. This was another one of her special projects. How cool is that?!

But what about the beans? If we weren’t growing beans, then what was inside all those pots?

“Elizabeth!” I said, excitedly. “You’re not growing beans -- you’re growing trees!”

Her face crumpled. “I am?” she said in despair. “I wanted beans -- like Jack and the Bean Stalk. I want them to go straight up into the sky and then I’ll climb up them and see the giant.”

She didn't get it. “But they’re trees -- whole trees," I persisted. I wanted her to know that her simple project had become extraordinary -- much better than beans. "Real bean stalks don’t grow up to the sky, anyway. But a tree will grow higher than an entire house. What do you think about that?” She wasn’t impressed. Her heart was set on beans, and trees were a poor substitute.

That's when I realized that I didn't get it. How could a tree be better than a plant the grows up to the sky; a plant that takes you to a world of giants and blood and geese that lay golden eggs?

Since then, Elizabeth has stopped collecting seeds and now collects small rocks, flowers, or sticks. She makes “projects” from of them; pictures, smiley faces, small buildings. Meanwhile, the plants are thriving and clearly look like small trees. While they may not be as cool as beanstalks, I hope to plant one in the front yard, someday.

And just maybe, it will grow right up to the sky.

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