“Be like a dandelion. Whenever they fall apart, they start again. Have hope.”
Dandelions – growing up they were the flower my Dad loved to hate. To him they were like pimples marring the perfect, velvety green lawn that he longed for. He’d curse the lemony blooms as he yanked them out with a fishtail weeder or his fists. Usually, he’d only remove the top growth leaving the long, thick taproot, which eventually reproduced even more plants. He’d poison them into submission with Roundup, plant grass seed to crowd them out, and decapitate them with the lawn mower. Like the bucked toothed varmints in the arcade game Whack-A-Mole, no matter what Dad did to knock them down, they’d pop back up again with their smiling faces shining towards the sun.
As I kid, I secretly loved the little flowers. I’d walk barefoot in the grass inhaling their musky scent. The little buds would get trapped between my first and second toes and dye my feet bright yellow. I’d weave them into my hair and pick bouquets for Mrs. B, my kindergarten teacher.
Stage four, the reproductive period when the yellow flowers transform into perfect snowy puffballs was my favorite part of the dandelion life cycle and still is. The magical phase is a wonderful metaphor for midlife. Like the mature dandelion, which is known for balancing and putting you more in alignment with yourself, we can let our white hair shine and allow our “love and wisdom” seeds to find fertile ground. When we follow our hearts and show up authentically like the dandelion we are a force to recon with.
When Dad wasn’t looking, I’d pick a perfectly round, white flower head, make a wish, and blow. I didn’t know it back then, but those wishes were the start of a lifetime Law of Attraction practice. Hundreds of seeds, each attached to a tiny personal helicopter, would be released to the wind. They’d settle into the soil in sunny areas and grow into new seedlings, and the cycle of life would start again. Sometimes when Dad wasn’t home, I’d gather a bouquet of the mature flowers and twirl around creating a snowy cloud and scattering thousands of seeds.
Then I grew up, became a homeowner, and had a lawn of my own to deal with. Just like Dad, I’d curse those pesky dandelions. I’d pull them out with my own weeder, poison them with weed and feed, and cut off their heads with the push mower I bought at Lowes. Nothing worked. I’d curse them and get frustrated, but the dandelions didn’t care or stop growing.
When my children were toddlers, they’d dance on the dandelions with delight. As preschoolers, they’d make bouquets and weave them into their hair. Once my once tiny daughter (She’s turning 24 and is now bigger than me!), picked a mature bloom and blew on it.
“Aly don’t do that!” I screamed grabbing her by the hand and redirecting her away from the lawn.
She didn’t understand why I was so angry and fought so hard to subdue these flowers. To her, they were beautiful, valuable playthings much more interesting than the boring green grass that I was cajoling to blanket the lawn.
She was right. Rather than labeling them: obnoxious weed, I should have welcomed them into our yard.
Native to Eurasia, the plant was brought over from Europe in the 1600s. Named for the lion tooth shape of their leaves (from dent de lion French for lion’s tooth), dandelions are beautiful, useful, and even nutritious. Dandy for your health, the plant is rich in vitamins, A, K, and C and a good source of fiber, calcium and potassium.
I discovered the medicinal qualities of dandelions a few years ago while writing an article for iherb on “The Health Benefits of Dandelion Root.” I was surprised that they have so many uses and have been incorporated into traditional remedies for centuries.
Used for medicine by 10th century Arabian physicians and 11th century Welsh healers, dandelions have numerous medicinal uses including: laxative, tummy tamer, wart remover, PMS remedy, arthritis treatment, and skin toner. Taraxacum officianale, the Latin name for the plant, comes from the Greek tarazos (disorder) and akos (remedy). The root is the part of the plant responsible for its medicinal properties and the leaves can be used to make teas and drinks that aid digestion. Even the flower is edible, although I wouldn’t get too excited about eating it, as it’s not very flavorful.
A member of the daisy family and one of the first plants to grow in the spring, they are an important source of food for bees: small birds like finches that eat their seeds: and butterflies that sip their nectar. The dandelion also creates a fertile environment for other plants. Their roots reduce soil compaction by creating air and moisture pockets underground. This aerates the soil allowing other tender plant roots to grow and thrive. The long taproot draws nutrients up into the topsoil so other plants receive nourishment.
Fifty years later, I’ve come to love dandelions again. Last year when the world fell apart due to Covid, I moved from my sleek, sophisticated, city apartment to a magical island on Lake Champlain in Vermont called North Hero to be with Ken, my fiancé. A high-tech computer engineer by day, he moonlights as a master gardener, who grows most of our organic food in the summer and fall. This year, we germinated hundreds of seeds – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, kohlrabi, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, kale, zucchini…
We live next to a dairy farm on 10 acres of flat, fertile land that’s covered in dandelions. Each acre produces nearly a quarter of a million seeds a year so fighting or trying to control them is futile. Along with the doves, robins, and red winged black birds; we live in harmony with these ubiquitous weeds. Walking barefoot in the grass, I now feel peace where I once felt angst.
While the tomatoes and kale were germinating, the first dandelion leaves were a welcome addition to the store bought greens that we ate throughout the winter. Like the deer that live in the surrounding woods, the tender, slightly bitter leaves were a welcome addition to our diet.
Throughout our lives we learn to judge and label things. This flower is called a rose and is good; this flower is called a dandelion and is bad. This skin, or hair color is good, and this skin tone or hair color isn’t. Living in this way in this place is respectable and living across town or across the world in this other way is not. This diet is virtuous, eating that other way is awful. Being young is good, being old is not.
We start telling tales as children and continue to repeat these stories to define ourselves, help determine the direction of our lives, and make sense of our experience. These stories, like skeins of wool, knit together communities, countries, and tribes.
Often these stories aren’t even our own. Rather they are passed down from parent to child or are imprinted media messages that we assume are true. Not only do these narratives transmit information, they confer and confirm our identity and may even serve as a moral compass.
At midlife we have the opportunity to change any or all of our stories. We can learn to love things, like the dandelion, that we once hated. We can question what we have been told or taught. We can get curious and let our inner toddler out. Rather than admonishing or refusing to acknowledge our inner child, we can let her out and unite with her. We can question who we are and ask why is this, why is that; what is this, what is that… We can remove judgment pulling out all the psychological splinters around the stories we have been telling ourselves about what is right or wrong. The old shameful stories: “I’m bad, not good enough, not capable of, too old for can be deleted. In their place, we can write new stories that better serve us individually and collectively.
Questioning, redefining, and rewriting are powerful. This exploring allow us to see ourselves and our world with fresh eyes and s create new, more edifying truth. In the words of T.S. Eliot the result of all this question is:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
As Einstein explains, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. We have a choice. We can choose to see nothing or everything – from ourselves to the humble dandelion – as miracles.
Reaching midlife is a miracle. Until the 20th century few people made it past 55. If we leave infant mortality out of the equation, which accounted for 40-60 percent of the deaths of the total population, the average life expectancy between the 12th and 19th century was about 55 years. These days the average life expectancy of women in the United States is 80.5 years. We’re gifted with an entire second adulthood to know and love ourselves on a deeper level. To take all the mistakes we made in the first half throw them in a blender and create a smoothie of an existence.
Our lives can be like the life cycle of the dandelion. We start out as a seedling and germinate. In our formative years we are new plants – tiny rosettes tenderly getting to know ourselves and the world we inhabit. Rocks, weeders, and poisons may try to stop us but we adapt.
In the early spring of our lives, we flower. Like the dandelion plant we can grow multiple buds, reproducing ourselves to fit into various roles – daughter, sister, mother, friend, wife, employee, boss…
To stay grounded and hydrated we grow deep roots. Faced with change and challenges, our leaves morph from smooth to jagged. Al dente like, we become a bit toothsome, hardier like the mature dandelion plant. When life’s sunny, we open to the light. Everything seems possible and we expand and grow taller. When it’s dark or weather conditions are poor we close up until the storm passes or the light returns.
When budding is done, like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon, the dandelion flower closes up so seeds can grow. We morph too, closing up a bit and questioning who we are as we go through menopause and empty nest, lose loved ones and grieve. This redefines us.
Once that transition passes we are no longer the youthful yellow flower, but damn we can be productive. We open up, let our hair shine white like the dandelion puff in its final crescendo stage. We lighten up, make wishes and love ourselves enough to let them come true.
We can remember the tender youthful times with fondness, but now we’re different – wiser, more powerful, able to love in a deeper way.
Letting go of the need to look the way we did in our 20s and 30s, we can embrace how beautiful we are today. Rather than berating ourselves because our bodies have changed and don’t measure up to the made up, impossible beauty standards designed to get us to hate ourselves so we’ll buy products and services to fix our flaws, we can appreciate function over form.
Like the dandelion we can be prodigious producing copious seeds that impact neighbors and blow nourishment out into the world. No one can control us or tell us to stop sharing our truth.
We can question stories about dandelions and ourselves. Like the war on dandelions, the war with ourselves is one we cannot win. Like the dandelions, midlife women are here to stay. It’s time for us to take up more space. Life’s too short to berate yourself and be bent out of shape by a tiny little plant.
This is your invitation to reinvent yourself. Let go of what’s no longer serving you, and be like the dandelion in mature magnificence.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”