Not About Writing

Sunflower Wars, a brief memoir

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a 6 yr old boy came home from school with a small potful of dirt and this:


So his mother (that would be me) placed the pot upon a windowsill and watered the contents each day. A shoot appeared, and when the tiny plant grew large enough to need support, the mother stuck a drinking straw into the earth and tied the stem with string. Whenever she was writing outdoors, she took the pot with her, basking her fragile charge in sunlight.

Time passed and the mother taped another straw to the first. The sunflower continued to grow but it did not flower. Eventually, the drinking straws were discarded in favor of a bamboo stick. The mother did not name the sunflower but she nurtured it, and when she wrote, it was her only companion.

The day came when it was time to take the sunflower back to school to be judged. The boy was excited but his mother was anxious. What if all the other sunflowers had bloomed? What if they were much taller? What if the boy or indeed the sunflower felt diminished by the forthcoming judgement?

On the way to school, they met another mother. “Oh my goodness, that’s amazing,” she said. “Ours never grew. We watered it for weeks and nothing happened, so we emptied the pot out and we couldn’t even find a seed.”

The mother sympathized but inwardly she rejoiced.

The entire way to school, they didn’t see anyone else carrying a plant. It was the same story in the playground. A woman there saw the sunflower and her eyes widened. “Did you do that?”

The mother preened. “Yes, I did. It’s my only gardening success.”

“Ours never grew. We watered it for weeks and nothing. In the end, we tipped the pot out and we couldn’t even find a seed.”

“Someone else said the same thing. I’m worried that all the others will have flowered.”

The woman looked at the boy. “You’ve won.”

The boy smiled, but to be honest, he wasn’t particularly interested.

The classroom door opened. The mother handed the plant (her precious!) to the teacher and managed to resist the impulse to instruct her on its care. As the boy disappeared into class, a dad appeared from nowhere with a carrier bag containing two sunflowers of a size comparable to the mother’s (for she no longer thought of the plant as belonging solely to the boy). Somehow she restrained herself from rugby tackling the dad by reminding herself that this wasn’t Thunderdome.

Then she beheld a monstrosity: A woman carrying a large flowerpot. Needless to say, it was not the one issued with the seed. Inside, was a short and incredibly stocky plant with a massive yellow flower blooming at its apex. Her kid was clearly facing some skepticism from his peers because even as the mother clocked this travesty, he cried out, “I didn’t buy it!”

Bullshit! the mother thought. That’s bullshit, kid. I don’t care how old you are, you’re lying your arse off.

The stem on that thing was several inches thick. It wasn’t even the same variety of sunflower. Of course, the mother didn’t say any of this out loud because that would be petty and mean. Also, swearing in the playground is frowned upon.

It’s just a bit of fun for the children, she told herself, because she knew she had to rise above such unspeakable chicanery.

She walked home and told this story to her husband who was working from home that day, and he found her outrage cute instead of exhausting, which was lucky.

When the mother picked the boy up from school that afternoon, the sunflower looked tired and bruised, like it had endured a tough day. She took it home and, after she’d re-potted it, they sat together in the sun while she read the latest Victoria Stone. The boy received a certificate:


You’re goddamn right we did.