I sat outside the Stone Cup cafe on the balcony overlooking a strip of sidewalk and grass that leads away from the carousel at Coolidge Park down by the Tennessee River.
Leaning on a stroller that acted as an aircraft carrier for a toddler unlikely to need to land anytime soon, a young woman lagged behind two brothers with identical little-boy bowl haircuts. I would have guessed their ages were two- and four-years-old.
They had obviously been briefed on the basic rules of making Dandelion Wishes -- the older boy yelled "There's one!" and left the sidewalk to retrieve the "flower" that's technically called a clock. He pinched it off carefully, low on the stem, and held it up like a lollipop for his mother to verify.
"Yeah, that's a good one," she said. "Now, make a wish, and then blow on it, really hard."
He hesitated, squinted up at her, and then looked back down at the magical tool in his hands, studying it with a scowl. His brow folded in worry -- he was either deep in the process of deciding on his wish, doubting the execution, or possibly considering that there might be a civilization of tiny entities on a mote of dust whose entire world depended on his actions in this moment.
He began slowly walking back to join his mom on the sidewalk, like a tightrope walker carrying a candle.
His little brother zoomed up and made to snatch it away from him, shrieking instructions "Blow it out! Blow it out!"
The older boy yelped in panic and held the treasure high above both their heads.
Their mom patiently pointed out there were plenty of others, successfully diverting the little brother's attention to all the possibilities waiting in the grass. In a flash he was leaning over in that precarious pose toddlers assume when they find something on the ground, the one that reminds me of a miniature sumo wrestler -- pigeon-toed, squatting with their butts out.... You could hear the Pull-Ups® Training Pants rustling under his overalls.
The older boy still brooded over his dandelion clock, his mother trying to convince him that his wish wouldn't come true until he blew the seedpod apart. "... I don't want to mess it up ..." he said.
It was a perfect specimen -- enormous, spherical, without a single blemish or missing seed -- a computer-generated prop straight out of the film adaptation of Horton Hears a Who.
Meanwhile, his little brother tore any trace of white fluff off the stems with both fists, clapped his palms together, puffed out his cheeks, and huffed with all the cartoon might he could muster. He even threw handfuls of the yellow companion flowers, along with green gobs of clover and grass.... He soon ran ahead in a small tornado of swirling spring confetti.
He became a comet trailing wishes, screaming "I got another one! I got another one!" At one point, I believe his wild manifestations even included gravel and mulch -- just in case, he intended to rip up the entire ground and fling it away from him, in a full blown AK-47 assault of desire.
Their mom chuckled and cheered him on.
The older brother's face fell in horror at the extreme technique. "Can't I just save mine for later?" he asked.
"You can wait, but eventually, you're gonna have to blow it apart in order to make your wish."
The little brother sped on away down the border of weeds, dive-bombing nature and announcing wish after wish after wish, dragging his mom behind him with some invisible rope like a water skier behind a boat, her steps all but buried in a foaming wake of fluttering petals and blades and sticks and stones.
The older boy lagged behind in a tip-toe zombie walk, shielding his intact specimen with one hand, as if the blowback from his brother's reckless magic -- or even his own breath -- threatened his entire future or the population of miniature beings who prayed back to him.
I wondered if it might be a "birth order thing" -- I could see myself and my own younger brother at that age employing very similar approaches to wish fulfillment. At the age of four, I would most definitely have been fearful, reverent, serious about the preservation of a single wish -- afraid that by blowing my wish into the world without careful consideration, I might blow it in some other sense of the word.
But today, I have carefully trained my intentions toward the mad, abandoned method of the younger. For me, maturity resembles a regression, a relaxation ... an evolution moving in the direction of learned spontaneity (if there can be such a thing).
I have come to recognize the intuitive wisdom of the toddler, which puts immediate action -- and quantity -- ahead of contemplation and expectation.
Image credit MJorge via Creative Commons on Flickr