The Ruark Kids

The innocence of digging up the lawn


One Saturday a few weeks ago, I awoke around 7 AM upon hearing the storm door on our front door slam shut. Huh, one or both of the girls just went outside into the cool, misty morning. I got up and threw on some clothes and hustled downstairs and out the door to see what they were up to.

I found Siena kneeling down in our yard, on one of the few spots of lawn where I’m trying to actually get some decent grass growth because it’s very close to the house, and she’s got her gardening kit next to her, and her spade in her hand, and she’s digging and poking at the grass and flinging chunks of grass and topsoil around trying to hack away at some root that runs underneath the turf. She’d already dug out several spade-size circles of grass.

I was gobsmacked. And unfortunately, in my just-awoken state, I snapped at her, asking (yelling? probably but I wish not) what was she doing, why was she digging into the grass and ruining it, why at 7 AM, and what was she thinking.

As you might expect, she just broken down, dropped her tools, started crying, and ran inside. Siena doesn’t handle being reprimanded and/or yelled at well at all. She hates to disappoint people. She has a very strict moral code that frankly no one could ever hope to live up to. When she feels like she’s failed to match it, she gets very upset and mad at herself. It’s an ongoing project for us.

Anyway, as I always do, I instantly felt bad. I was  upset about the grass, but I also realized that, well, it’s only grass. Who am I to stop an inquisitive girl from digging up some grass. It can always grow back. I gathered up the grass pieces and set them back on the bare spots as if I was repairing divots on a fairway. So suffice to say, I have plenty of practice with that.

Fast forward about a week. Siena’s 2nd-grade class has been studying Native American culture this fall, which will lead up to a pow-wow mid-November. One afternoon, she randomly mentions to me as we were talking about it that the teacher’s assistant for her room brought in some Native American artifacts that her husband had dug up, in his yard, while growing up on Cape Cod.

It all fell into place. This young girl, full of sweet wonder, innocence, and a dash of adventure, had heard that artifacts could be found in one’s yard and had decided, of her own initiative, that she wanted to search for some herself.

Now I felt somewhat heart-broken. I had completely dashed her plans, made her feel totally guilty about it, and perhaps quashed a bit of the exploratory, scientific fire that burns within all kids but seems to get beaten out of so many of them as they grow up. Siena is completely guileless, and furthermore, she has a delightful lack of any sense of futility. Her chances of actually finding any Native American artifacts fifteen feet from the foundation of a house built in the 1980’s are near to nil. It’s not like digging in some wetlands-protected area of Cape Cod 50 years ago. Details like these trouble her not. If artifacts are to be found in someone’s yard, then they might be in hers too.

I realized that this is quality, this absence of an appreciation of the possibilities of failure, is a trait that I have lost in spades, partly because my commitments and responsibilities make it unwise to take on much risk, and also, I expect, because of a slow, steady trickle of dealing with a lifetime of little failures in various tasks.

I envy her for her willingness to do things simply because they are there and often without regard to the chances of success. I suspect it is a measure, a condition even, of growing up to realize that some things just aren’t worth doing after processing–whether explicitly or just intuitively–the cost/benefit analysis. It makes me sad to imagine the day when Siena and Thalia will hear about digging up something in the yard, and think it’s a silly or stupid notion, and won’t give it a second thought.

After I brooded on this on and off for a week, I met Siena coming off the bus one afternoon and told her that instead of taking the dog on a walk, we were going to go hunting for a good spot to dig for artifacts. We grabbed two rakes and went tromping into the woods looking for an open spot away from the house, not in the lawn, and without too many trees around. We cleared off the needles and brush to expose a surface of soil beneath, and Siena got her trowel and started digging away.

She was thrilled.



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