Blanca heard a commotion coming from the garden of the Escondido Community Center. Many voices were excitedly whispering as she entered. She was planning on attending to her vegetables in the tiny plot that the center had given her. She loved having this space to work since living in an apartment was so limiting and snug. But the thing she loved the most was having other people to talk to while she gardened.
As she got closer to her plot, she saw her friends and realized that the commotion was coming from her space.
"How is that even possible?" Lenny asked.
"The season is not even close to being done for zucchini. And look at those sunflowers. They're enormous," Gayle said.
"I planted mine the same time she did and they’re not even close to the same size," Desiree said.
"We did plant them at the same time, Desiree,” Blanca interjected, “I'm sure it's just a tiny difference.”
Her friends separated to the point where Blanca could finally see what they were talking about. They were right. Her zucchinis were huge and ready to pick even though Desiree's and Lenny's were just beginning to show. Blanca's sunflowers were at least a foot taller than anyone else's in the garden and the petals were such a striking yellow that it was hard to tell the difference between the petals and the sun's rays.
Gayle came up beside Blanca in the sweet grandma way that she had about her and asked, "What's your secret darling? Magic?"
Blanca chuckled nervously, "I don't know."
Blanca thought about the way she was gardening that year. There was only one change, but that couldn't be it. If it was, then this beautiful harvest is the result of anger and pain. How could that be possible?
"Those zucchini look mouthwatering. Can we try one of them?" Lenny asked.
"Sure," Blanca was nervous. Would they taste as good as they looked, or would they taste fowl? Could they even be poisonous? The emotion unleashed on those seeds was so intense. How could anything good come from those seeds? "Let me try it first, just to make sure."
Gayle sighed, "But of course. You deserve to enjoy your amazing work first."
Lenny smiled and pointed like a giddy child at the largest, greenest zucchini in the plot. Blanca hesitantly cut it off the stem and rinsed it off. She studied it closely. It looked fine. No, not fine, it looked wonderful, better than anything she had ever grown before. She cut off the edge and it smelled like springtime, so fragrant and joyful. She cut off a part to taste and sat down, just in case her initial thought was correct and the vegetable would make her sick. As she bit into it, her taste buds felt like they were dancing with glee. It was more than the best zucchini she had ever tasted.
It was a treat.
There was plenty to give her friends seconds which they all wanted and even some more to give strangers who were working in the garden and happened to stop by with curiosity.
Not only was the vegetable safe to eat, but it also seemed to give everyone extra vitality. Blanca was relieved and wanted to understand. How did the seeds end up being so perfect?
The next day, Blanca arrived at work with her harvest to share with her students. She taught eight toddlers and loved showing them as much of the world that she could fit into their tiny classroom. She knew the zucchini and sunflowers would be a source of excitement that day.
The day started the way it had for three weeks, with ear-shattering screams coming down the hallway. The classroom door opened and little Camilla was screaming and crying in her mama's arms. She was only a few months older than two, but her anger made it difficult for her mom to keep her balance as she carried her in. "I'm so sorry. Camilla is having a rough morning, again."
"We all do at times," Blanca reassured her as she went to rub Camilla's back. "Has she seen Papa lately?"
"They spent Saturday afternoon together, but it's not the same as seeing him home with us each night. This is our new normal and she's not happy about it."
"It takes time. It's also rough with her abuelita passing away around the same time. It's hard for a two-year-old to understand why a person is not around as much or anymore," Blanca tried to console her.
"The timing's horrible. I would've scheduled it differently," Camilla's mom grieved.
"Me too," Blanca agreed.
A meek, "Me too," came from Camilla.
Blanca and Camilla's mom sighed with "awes" as they comforted her.
"We'll have a good day today," Blanca reassured her, "I know you're working but I hope you find some peace today."
"Thanks, Blanca," Camilla's mom sighed as she handed her daughter to Blanca and left.
Blanca cuddled Camilla for a moment, noticing how precious she was in her arms. When Camilla seemed ready, Blanca sent her to go play and within a couple of minutes, Camilla was back to screaming and crying. "It's like a toothache," Blanca thought, "She tolerates the pain for a little while and then she can't take it anymore."
Camilla was an early start student and Blanca's next child would not show up for another fifteen minutes.
"Come on," Blanca said as she held out her hand to Camilla, "Let's talk about how the seeds grow again."
Blanca had the book The Tiny Seed and talked about what Camilla liked in the pictures. Blanca also had a box of soil and seeds nearby to go with the story.
When Camilla played with the seeds last time, she rubbed the seeds and the soil in her hands. She raised them above her head and then dropped them into the soil over and over again while she watched them fall. She cried quietly while she did this, coating her seeds in tears. Camilla pushed the box to Blanca when she was done and said, “Your garden.”
“Yes, I will plant them in my garden,” Blanca said and kept her promise. However, Blanca wasn’t sure if they would grow. How did those seeds grow so well?
This time, Blanca gave her the tomato and cucumber seeds and watched as Camilla held out her chubby little hands and felt for them carefully. Her tear-soaked eyes made it difficult for Camilla to see them. She wrapped her fingers around the seeds and began to rub them. A few seeds fell into the soil and Camilla picked them up one at a time with an exaggerated thumb-index-finger motion. She placed them in the palm of her hand again and began talking while she cried. Blanca noticed that her babbling was an imitation of her mama's intonation as she talked. Camilla dropped the seeds onto the soil and patted them into the dirt. Blanca was able to make out the final words of Camilla's conversation, "Mama, Papa," then a hiccup in her cry, "Abuelita."
Blanca kept her promise again and planted Camilla's seeds. A week later there was another commotion around Blanca's plot at the garden.
"It's shocking," Blanca thought as she saw tomatoes and cucumbers that had brilliant, sharp colors, and were huge.
"You've got to tell me your secret," Desiree surprised Blanca with her enthusiasm as she came up next to her, "We went to the same store, bought the same supplies, and now look at my garden compared to yours. My tomatoes and cucumbers are babies compared to yours."
"Yeah," Blanca could barely manage to speak. She was retracing the steps of the seeds. This couldn't be possible.
A tap on the shoulder jolted Blanca back to the garden. She didn't notice that Lenny and Gayle had joined Desiree and they were all waiting for a response. "Um, hi," Blanca said confused, "What were we talking about?"
"Your secret," the three said in unison.
"It can't be what I think it is. It would be wrong if it's true. What I believe about love and kindness would be a lie," Blanca said, “Love and kindness should make things grow, not, not what happened.”
"That sounds intense," Desiree said.
"Forget about improving my garden," Lenny said, "I need to hear what happened."
"We need to sit," Gayle said, "I want to hear this with no distractions."
Blanca thought for a moment, choosing her words careful to make sure that she protected the privacy of her student. "I have a toddler in my classroom who is having a tough time. She has a lot of love in her life, but she is experiencing some painful emotions too. She expresses her emotions with screaming and crying. I have been giving her the seeds and soil to explore. It seems to calm her but when she interacts with them, she is still crying. How could something so beautiful grow from such tortured emotions? It doesn't make sense."
The three are confused as they ponder the question.
Gayle broke the silence, "But the emotions are coming from a child."
Desiree nodded in agreement, "She might be sad or angry, but she's so young. She has all of those wonderful little girl emotions like imagination and hope. Maybe the seeds are getting those qualities too."
"The zucchini tasted wonderful. Let's see what the cucumber and tomatoes taste like," Lenny suggested.
Blanca broke off some cucumbers and a few tomatoes and passed them around. Each person enjoyed the sweet scent of the tomatoes and then bit into a sublime, wonderful flavor.
"I don't taste any sadness or anger here," Desiree said.
"It tastes like imagination and hope to me," Gayle said.
Blanca laughed through tears, "Me too."
That weekend, the garden had new visitors. Blanca told Camilla's mom that she might have a knack for gardening, and it might be a good hobby for them to try together.
Camilla squealed with delight as she looked at all of the different plants. "Look Mama! Pretty."
"This excitement alone is enough motivation for me to bring her back here," her mama told Blanca.
Desiree, Gayle, and Lenny watched quietly as they saw their new mentor at work. It turned out that Camilla didn't only talk to seeds. She loved to talk and connect with plants as well. In about a week's time, the patrons of the garden would all have some interesting surprises, because Camilla had enough energy to talk to every plant that day.
Author’s note: Camilla is real. This story is a fantasy in her honor. When I was teaching, I met an angry toddler who struggled to speak and was happiest when she got to do things with her hands, like finger painting and playing with seeds in soil. We planted her seeds along with seeds that our other students planted. Camilla’s plants always grew at least five inches taller than her classmates.
The only explanation that we could come up with was the amount of time she spent playing with the seeds.