This weekend, my wife and I found ourselves filled with the Easter spirit — as well as enough marshmallow Peeps to send the average human into a diabetic coma — so we decided to take the kids to an Easter carnival at the local park.
The highlight of the carnival was, of course, the Easter egg hunt. What better way to celebrate the brutal torture, sadistic murder, and creepily Sam Raimi-esque resurrection of the Risen Lord than with a quest for candy-filled plastic eggs?
When we arrived at the park, the air was electric with the hum of the children’s nascent, ill-formed greed. Hundreds of kids lined the perimeter of the park’s baseball field, eying the hundreds of colorful eggs nestled in the tall grass. Who knew what treasures might lie within those magical multicolored orbs? Diamonds… rubies… exotic meats and spices… maybe even a Fun Size Snickers.
As the start of the hunt drew near, the children began to grow unruly. Desperate parents struggled to restrain their rabid offspring, hooking belt loops and clutching fistfuls of shirt collars, all while glaring disparagingly at the few parents prescient enough to bring along a monkey-shaped kid leash.
“Look at them,” they sneered. “Putting their kid on a leash like a dog.”
“Ugh. It’s horrible. So degrading.”
“Yeah. We should ask them where they bought it.”
As the excitement reached a crescendo, the Master Of Ceremonies stepped up to the press box microphone, his words booming from above like the voice of God Himself.
“Hello, every-bunny! I hop you’re ready! On the count of five! 5 … 4 –”
With the rending of cheap Wal-Mart fabric, one child tore away from his exhausted mother and streaked across the field ahead of the countdown. Chaos ensued.
The rule of law was subsumed by the laws of evolution. Survival of the fittest. Every kid for himself.
Hair was pulled. Eyes were gouged. Fingers were trampled. A bloodied spine spun through the air like a wayward javelin. The ground was littered with what might have been Chiclets, but may also have been a scattering of human teeth.
The children swarmed the field like locusts, vacuuming up every single Easter egg on the field in less time than it takes a school of piranha to skeletonize a wild boar.
Within 30 seconds, it was over.
For some kids, the hunt was a glorious, candy-filled victory. For those lower on the evolutionary scale, it was their first taste of the crushing disappointment that is sure to plague them throughout their painfully average lives.
One girl — a 3-year-old in a Cinderella dress, whose life will never come close to fulfilling the potential implied by her wardrobe — sat on the ground, sobbing over her empty basket. She hadn’t gotten a single egg.
Nearby, a 5-year-old alpha male lorded over the spoils of his conquest, regaling his friends with tales of the pillage and plunder which had brought him such splendor. This was no ordinary 5-year-old. He was about 6′2″, and was already sporting hairs on his lip that would surely erupt into a glorious mustache by the time he got to first grade.
The boy’s mom spotted him in the crowd, which wasn’t hard seeing as he was the only kid there with hair on his knuckles.
“How’d you do?” she asked.
“I won,” he said.
“Oh, honey,” she clucked. “Everyone’s a winner here.”
He pointed to the sniffling 3-year-old, who will never grow up to be a princess, no matter how hard she tries.
The boy’s mother gasped. She knelt down next to the girl.
“Oh, poor thing! Didn’t you get any eggs?”
The girl shook her head.
The woman beckoned to her son. “Caleb, come here. Give her some of your eggs.”
“But mo-om …” he whined. “These are my eggs. It’s not my fault she’s a loser.”
The girl sobbed even harder, realizing deep down that she will never be swept away by a dashing prince on a white horse, and will instead end up married to an accountant, or possibly an orthodontist.
The mother grabbed her son by the arm. “I said share,” she intoned with a growl that came with the implicit addendum of “or else.”
Or else what? I wondered. You’ll take away his motorcycle?
With a mighty sigh, the boy dropped one of his eggs into the girl’s basket.
“Share more,” his mom said.
The boy sighed even harder, then dropped two more eggs in the girl’s basket.
As if someone flipped a switch, the girl stopped crying. Her tears evaporated instantly. She leaped to her feet and sprinted across the field towards her mother.
“Mom!” she shouted. “I won!”
Within a few minutes, I managed to locate my own children in the teeming horde. As we headed for the exits along with throngs of other families, I found myself surrounded by crying children with empty Easter baskets. Apparently, little Ashley wasn’t the only loser in the bunch.
“It’s a shame,” my wife commented. “They should have enough eggs for everyone.”
A woman next to us leaned in. “They do.” She pointed. “Up there.”
Sure enough, a gaggle of elderly volunteers was stationed at the exit, each of them wielding a shopping bag full of extra Easter eggs. As the children with empty baskets filed past, the volunteers would drop a few eggs into their baskets, along with just the right amount of motherly condescension.
“See? It’s not so bad, is it?” or “Here you go. These are some special eggs, just for you,” or “The Easter Bunny asked me to give you these.”
As we passed through the exits, my wife smiled.
“That’s nice. Now nobody has to feel bad.”
Yeah, I guess it’s nice. But is it honest?
It’s easy to rationalize. It’s a holiday, right? Who wants kids to feel bad on Easter? It’s just a stupid Easter egg hunt. Let them enjoy it. It’s not like it’s something important.
Okay … and when it is something important …? Is that the right time to be honest? When the stakes are the highest, and the emotions are the most raw?
How long do we maintain the illusion of a perfect world where everyone gets exactly what they want? When is it okay to say, “you’ll need to do better next time,” or “you didn’t work hard enough” or “you didn’t deserve to win.”
We have a responsibility as parents to protect our children from harm … but do we have a responsibility to protect them from disappointment?
How old do our kids need to be before they’re no longer “too young to fail”?
The way I see it, we need to stop misleading our kids into thinking everyone’s a winner. It’s bullshit. There’s usually one winner, and it’s probably someone better-looking than you, with a name like Chad, or Brad, or Keanu. That’s life. What’s important is how you deal with it.
I want my kids to understand that most people fail, most of the time … at least at first. If they know how to deal with failure — how to accept it, how to embrace it, how to be motivated by it — then maybe they won’t be crushed by it when it happens. And I’d rather they learn that lesson now, with the small things, so they’re well equipped to deal with the big things when they happen.
Let daddy ruin Easter now, and maybe you won’t go on a bender ten years from now, when you find out the lead in the school play went to Lindsay Lohan’s untalented little sister.
You’ll thank me later.
After the Easter egg hunt, my family and I ambled over to the Easter Carnival. There were several tents set up with a variety of kid-friendly carnival games: tossing stuffed baseballs through hula hoops, kicking soccer balls into kid-sized goals, spinning a mini wheel-of-fortune.
My daughter decided that she wanted to play a variation of the “goldfish toss,” where the player tries to toss a ping pong ball into a grid of water-filled plastic cups (which, incidentally, were curiously absent of goldfish).
Her first toss fell short, bouncing off the front edge of the table and into the grass. The second toss sailed well past the table, pinging off of the forehead of an elderly lady in the next booth. The last toss made it onto the board, but ricocheted hopelessly off the rims of the cups.
“Oh well,” I said to my daughter. “You can’t win ‘em all. Maybe next time.”
“Oh, she still gets a prize,” the volunteer said cheerily. She held out the prize bucket. “Take whichever one you want, hon.”
My daughter looked up at me as if to say, “should I?”
I shrugged. “If you think you earned it.”
She considered for a second, then shook her head.
“No, that’s okay,” said said to the volunteer. “I’ll get back in line and try again.”
[This post was originally written as a guest post on DadWagon.com. View original]