Editor's note: This column was originally published on July 28, 2008.

It was carried home on the last day of school with all the careful energy a 6-year-old can muster. It didn’t look like much at first glance: a basic yellow plastic cup, filled to the brim with smooth black dirt.

His kindergarten teacher pulled me aside and pointed to the cup.

“We had a little problem with that one,” she confessed. “It spilled over today, and we did our best to get the dirt and seeds put back in place. I’m sure it will be all right now.”

I nodded. I figured we’d be OK. How much damage can you do to a cupful of dirt?

My son was taking no chances. Based on his concentration and cautious stride it was clear that he was going to do everything in his power to protect his precious possession.

I found out later that while the cup itself didn’t look like anything special, it was beneath the dirt where the magic existed.

“We have to water it,” my young son ordered. “So it can grow, like magic!”

We set the cup in a very special spot next to the kitchen sink where we’d be sure to see it and remember about the watering part. Still, every morning he reminded me that his “plant” was thirsty.

Each day, I checked the cup for signs of life, hoping to see something new in the dirt. It took about a week, but there it was: the unmistakable curve of an embryo breaking through the soil. I couldn’t wait to show my son. His plant was growing!

The first stem was joined by another and we were the proud parents of two budding something-or-others. Now it became even more important to feed our plants. When we went to the lake for the weekend, we took the yellow cup with us and set it next to the sink there. We weren’t taking any chances with the magic we’d helped create.

After another week or two, the plants were starting to take form. Their leaves were jagged and almost fern-like. I thought I recognized their familiar shape as the kindergarten flora of choice: marigolds.

I told my son that soon we’d have yellow flowers, and we both thought about how pretty they’d be. Our marigolds grew bigger and soon they were ready for a larger home outside their yellow cup. We looked for a place worthy of their presence – a place of honor in the garden – and planted them in a large container with our very special tomato plant. We continued to water diligently and provide as much TLC as two little plants could tolerate.

Another trip to the lake — this one two weeks long — left our marigolds to fend for themselves. By this time, they were big and strong and I thought they’d thrive in the elements.

I was right. While we were gone, our marigolds grew tall and sturdy. We returned to find them healthy and green, right alongside their tomato neighbor. My son was the first to check on the garden. He came into the house, euphoric, claiming that his marigolds were actually taller than the tomato plant.

I found that hard to believe, but went to see for myself. When I saw the plants, I stifled a giggle. The marigolds were indeed tall and strong. There was only one problem: they weren’t marigolds.

The plants my son brought home so proudly from kindergarten, the plants that we’d tended ever so carefully bringing them back and forth from the lake and watering daily were nothing more than roadside weeds that sort of resembled marigolds.

They were weeds. Weeds that were stealing precious nutrients from my special tomato plant. Weeds that had no business in our garden.

So what did I do? What could I do? My young son was watching and I had to make a decision.

With our two plants, we’d created a little bit of magic, and magic — whether in the form of a marigold, rose or even a roadside weed — cannot be taken lightly. Magic is special. So, as my son looked on, I touched the fernlike leaves and then did what any responsible mother would do. I went to find the watering can so we could feed our marigolds.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.