You Can’t Stop the Hunt

easterMy son celebrated his first Easter at his Great Aunt Timmy’s house. He was just under two at the time, just barely walking. Given his age, we hadn’t really done anything to mark the day. We hadn’t even talked to him about Easter. We had just moved to California, and were still settling in. We hadn’t even unpacked all of our boxes, let alone found a church.

Timmy, however, was two steps ahead of us.  When we got to her house, she had an Easter egg hunt already set up. She’d filled plastic eggs with candies and goldfish, along with matchbox trucks (the Dude’s favorite thing on the planet). At first, the Dude was confused about what he was supposed to do. When she lead him to the first egg, he tried to put it in his mouth, as children will do. When she opened it for him and he saw that there were M&M’s inside, that was all the explanation he required. He was on an Easter egg search and destroy mission.

The next year, when Easter rolled around again, we knew that we couldn’t slack off this time. The Dude’s expectations were already set. Once he went to bed, my husband and I hid the eggs, along with a big basket with some candy and gifts from my mother, who also knows how to do up Easter. We had the camera ready, and were looking forward to taking him downstairs and watching him tear around the house looking for hidden goodies.

Usually, the Dude would wake us up by running into our room and jumping into bed with us. Easter morning, however, we woke up to a rustling sound outside of our bedroom doorway. I called out to the Dude, who then toddled in, face completely covered with chocolate, toting a half-unwrapped Easter book from the basket my mother had put together.

“Look Momma!”

He’d found every single egg, plus the basket, and hauled the whole shebang upstairs. At that point, I knew we’d crossed some sort of Rubicon. He wasn’t going to wait for us. Not anymore. If he knew there was something out there that he wanted and could get his hands on it, he would.

There was a moment of letdown. A knee-jerk reaction to say “Dude, you shouldn’t have done that.” Luckily, both my husband and I held back. Did we really want to tell him not to explore the world? We never told him not to find the eggs. We didn’t tell him to wait for us. He hadn’t disobeyed, or broken any rules. He’d been self sufficient.  So we did the only thing we could.

“Come show us.”

I knew by his sugary yellow lips that the Peeps were toast.  He held a toy cement mixer in his hand. “Simimi!” I loved his word for it, so I didn’t correct him. He’d learn the word soon enough. Simimi would be a short-lived joy. Another thing he’d grow out of that I’d be left to remember fondly.

We stopped doing an Easter Egg hunt a long time ago. My mom still sends a basket, which the Dude loves, and one of my sisters sends a goodie box, which he also loves. I buy Peeps and Cadbury Eggs to celebrate Lent. I like doing things backwards. I’ll do my atonement after Easter, when the candy is gone. I still have the cement mixer though. When I hold it in my hand, I can almost feel the weight of my son in my arms. It’s a reminder, that no matter how old he gets, no matter how far off he goes to find what he’s looking for, he’ll want to show me the Simimi if I ask him to. I can’t keep him from the journey, all I can ask is that he share the details. Except for the dating stuff. That, he can keep to himself.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Jeff Petersen © 2008 Creative Commons

To-Do #8–Do Not Eat the Chocolate Egg

I’ve seen the enemy, and it’s a pastel, candy-coated chocolate egg.

I’ve already had four and it’s only 7:00 a.m.  They were very tasty at the time, but right now, I’m wishing I’d shown the will to resist.

In a classic experiment, a researcher set a marshmallow in front of a four-year-old and told him/her that it was theirs.  However, if they were able to resist eating the marshmallow for a few short minutes, they’d get another one.  The study went on to link the ability to delay gratification to academic success, avoidance of risky behavior and higher SAT scores.

I would have eaten the marshmallow and used the five minutes to create a persuasive essay about why I ought to get the second marshmallow anyway.

I see my lack of will power as an evil twin undermining my efforts to eat like a grown up while I’m off taking care of everything else.  My husband cries bull.  I’m a powerhouse, he says, able to plow through a mountain of life’s detritus and get things done.  I’m a badass. (I’ve got to say, being a badass would have been useful as a 10-year-old carrying a violin case.)

So why does this badass become a four-year-old in the presence of a chocolate egg?

I went back to the original research, or at least articles about the original researcher, Dr. Walter Mischel.  What I learned was that when citing the study, the speaker generally references the initial conclusion–that children demonstrate innate differences in their ability to delay gratification.  What people often miss is the why.  Children who delay gratification create effective strategies to deflect their attention–covering their eyes, or the marshmallow, singing to themselves, inventing a game.

Some people see a task, and focus on the goal.  That would be me.  That works well when it comes down to action. When it comes to inaction, not so much.  That is, sitting there and thinking “I will not eat the marshmallow, dammit,” doesn’t work because all you think about is the marshmallow.

In addition, studies indicate that will power is a finite resource. It posits that if expend my will elsewhere, when confronted with the chocolate egg, I’m already depleted.

So I’ve done all of this research to discover that I eat candy when I’m stressed because while I’m moving the mountain, I have no will left to resist the chocolate I’ve been thinking about all morning.  Even at 7:00 a.m.

Duh.  That’s two hours of my life I won’t get back.  But I did get a blog entry out of the deal, so I can cross that off the list.

What’s next ?  Let me check.

Do not eat the chocolate eggs.

I’ll get right on that.

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Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Geishaboy500