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“On Allowing My Guerrilla Gardeners to Plant Unexpected Seeds”

“I love tidiness, order, and a slow, methodical approach. They love to push the limits, combine elements in new, edgy ways, and boldly charge ahead. Often, my first instinct is to rein them in. But slowly I’m teaching myself to observe, to admire, and to praise their unconventional ways.”

“What happened here? Boys… what did you do this time?” I scowled at the sprouts that crowded my potted aloe plant, the fingerprints of my children with ADHD (figuratively) all over them.

Tomas, my 6 year old, popped through the kitchen door, his face twitching with humor. “Well, mom, it was time to plant corn. So, I planted seeds with all of your indoor plants.”

We had recently purchased our first family home. In the upheaval of moving, our tradition of starting seeds for our Spring vegetable garden had fallen to the wayside. Typically, we would plant seeds in peat pots under a grow lamp and then transplant the delicate starts out into our garden beds in May. Staples included Purple Cherokee beefsteak tomatoes, stout Aquadulce fava beans, and blue-green dent corn, which our friend, Sandra, brought from her childhood home in Oaxaca, Mexico. As my husband is from Chile, he prefers the more chewy, savory dent corn over the ultra-sweet white eating corn that is more available here in the Pacific Northwest.

“What?” I exclaimed. I stalked through the house to examine my house plants. Sure enough, corn sprouts shoved aside the established plants. Some pots held renegade corn starts up to five inches high.

I frowned at my guerrilla gardener. He grinned right back.

[Self-Test: Symptoms of Hyperactive Impulsive ADHD in Children]

So often, Tomas, and my 8 year old, Matias, disrupt my plans. I love tidiness, order, and a slow, methodical approach. They love to push the limits, combine elements in new, edgy ways, and boldly charge ahead.

On paper, they each have an ADHD diagnosis. In daily life, they bring their elemental, multi-dimensional personalities to bear on the world.

They combine Tempeh with handmade tortillas…and douse it all with ketchup. They do handstands during church. They play chess with older men at the cafe and insist on loudly “killing,” instead of capturing pieces.

My boys are loud.

Messy.

Irreverent.

They question conventions and tromp in oblivion over subtle social rules. And even more explicit ones, frankly. They are like a flame to dynamite, always finding the way to explode a situation.

[Free Webinar Replay: Helping Children with ADHD Overcome Failure, Fear, and Disappointment]

Earlier this year, we happened upon our local firemen gifting out shiny red firemen hats to children passing by. Guess whose children realized that they could hold down the plastic hats over the nozzles at the nearby spray park, angle them just right, and then quickly release them so that they shot 30 feet into the air? Guess who demonstrated this to all of the other children, so that red hats exploded all over the spray park?

My first reaction in these situations is often irritation. Who thinks to combine two innocent elements, like plastic toy hats and water, to create such a mess? Why can’t my kids just be like all the other kids? I mouthed apologies to the other moms sitting around me.

But then I noticed something. All of the kids were laughing and shrieking with delight. For 10 precious minutes as shiny, red firemen hats catapulted around, children’s ideas dominated the landscape instead of those of adults. Chaos ensued. Fun ruled.

In the case of the corn, my first impulse was to weed out those sprouts. I wanted to yank out Tomas’ idea just as quickly. Certainly, it didn’t fit my plan of discrete, tidy house plants. But before I could start to pull out the corn seedlings, my 2 year old distracted me by free-soloing up the kitchen cupboards in search of marshmallows. Life ping-ponged us into May.

Suddenly, sleek, blue-green corn plants loomed up out of our potted plants. And it was time to transplant starts out into the garden beds.

Sheepishly, I dug out the corn starts and tucked them into the raised garden beds we had hastily constructed. Slower still, I hunted up my boys in their room and thanked them through gritted teeth for their idea. “Thanks to you, we will have Oaxacan corn to eat this summer.”

My boys beamed. They weren’t at all surprised that their idea had worked.

Here is the thing: As much as I love order and predictability, I also need to nurture my children’s quest to explore, try ideas on, and disrupt order.

We need to nurture all children’s natural ability to question and create. We live in a time in which our children’s future world is largely unknown. Imminent problems, like overpopulation, resource scarcity, and natural disasters propelled by climate change, loom on their horizon. Technology is accelerating at an unprecedented rate and will push ethical and intellectual boundaries of what is possible.

Perhaps the most important attributes my sons and their peers bring to the table is their creativity, their irreverence for authority and “how things have always been done,” and their fearless ideas.

So, here is what I am trying to practice. When I feel my sons’ ideas smash up against my need for structure, I try to take a deep breath and count to five. I try to pause and reflect on the possible merit of their idea — even if I don’t immediately understand their reasoning, or what the outcome will be.

I am trying to make space, in my schedule, my need for order and my rigid adult mindset, for their audacious, loud, and irreverent ideas.

Today it is guerrilla gardening and shooting firemen hats into the air. Tomorrow…?

[Your Brilliance Regimen: 3 Family Exercises to Nurture Creativity]

Updated on September 6, 2019

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