Sunflowers are such calm, quiet, peaceful things, unlike boys. But my two boys, Hank and Gabe, are raising sunflowers in our backyard as part of The Daring Quest, and we want you to see the results so far, beginning at the, well, beginning.
Saturday, May 9, the day before Mother’s Day. Here are Jennifer and Gabe preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Each of us has our various jobs: Jennifer and I shovel dirt and mix in chicken manure to improve the soil in the bed, Hank stays inside the house working on his Alaska state project for school, and Gabe occasionally wields the shovel but mainly collects bugs that he finds in the dirt.
Lured by the prospect of seeing something gross, Hank comes outside to see Gabe’s bag of bugs. “Dude,” he says, “that’s awesome.” “Do you want to feel them?” Gabe asks. “No,” says Hank. I confess during the shoveling that in all my life I have never planted anything before-not one fruit, not one vegetable, and certainly not any sunflowers. “That’s amazing,” says Jennifer. “I’m so happy to be part of your first experience.” Hank adds, “I’ve never planted seeds in chicken dung before.”
Thursday, May 14. Gabe and I water the sunflowers. Like the American economy, no green shoots are visible yet. Watering the sunflowers quickly turns into watering Gabe. He starts running around the lawn giggling and exulting as the spray from the hose soaks him like a spring shower.
Sunday, May 17. Success! Here, Hank explores the eight to twelve tiny shoots that are suddenly bursting from the chicken manure soil. This is a testament to the wisdom of The Dangerous Book for Boys, our guide for The Daring Quest, which recommended sunflowers because they grow very fast and children (and their parents) can see immediate results. Afterward Gabe and I go up to my office to download the pictures he has taken, and I teach him how to use the Kodak photo editing software. He quickly catches on and crops the photos and saves them to the desktop without my help. “I can do it,” Gabe says. “I know you can,” says his father.
In a moment Hank follows us into my office and learns to use the photo editing tools too. The two of them take turns editing photos, and it occurs to me that while the boys are ostensibly growing sunflowers, they are also learning some of the skills I hold dear: writing, editing, photography, design, publishing.
Tuesday, May 19. Before the finals of “American Idol,” I water the sunflowers and the other plants in the beds, something I’m doing much more than I ever have in the past. I feel more connected to the sunflowers because I helped plant them and they’re part of The Daring Quest. This seems a good lesson for teaching children as well: A thing that is done for them will never matter as much to them as when they do it themselves.
Saturday, May 30. I am brushing my teeth when Gabe runs into the bathroom to tell me something. This is not unusual. It is almost impossible to take a shower without Gabe coming in to tell Jennifer or me-whoever is in the shower at the time-his latest breaking news about how he can’t find one of his Warhammer toys or how he had a dream last night about a peanut butter sandwich. But this is truly a dramatic development. “I have good news and bad news about the sunflowers,” he says. “The good news is they’re growing. The bad news is they’re being eaten. By snails, I think.”
Springing into action, I go down to the garage, find a bag of snail-killing pellets, toss some handfuls in the dirt, and create a snail Maginot Line along the edges of the bed. Take that, you pesky varmints!
Wednesday, June 10. The sunflowers are growing, and growing. According to Gabe’s measurements, the tallest is more than twenty inches high, and there are a bunch of other plants that are nearly as tall.
Thursday, June 18. Gabe measures again and the tallest is now two feet high. Two feet! It’s a miracle!