Thursday, April 28, 2011

Confessions of an Easter Egg Socialist

I don’t have OCD. Things I do that appear on the surface to be OCD are merely survival mechanisms. My kids will tell you I calculate the grocery bill in my head as I shop so as to be within pennies of the final total, tax included. This is not OCD. This is a mom on a budget. My kids will also tell you I have been unsuccessful at turning the laundry over into their capable hands, possibly due to OCD. Sure, turned up hems and wrinkles bug me, but the truth is, I secretly hope when people see my kids doing something embarrassing or unbecoming in public, those people will think, “What is wrong with those kids? Clearly it’s not their mother’s fault—look how clean and pressed their clothes are. That mother surely has it going on. Maybe it’s the dad.”

Having said my OCD piece, there is one little thing that has reared it’s ugly head every spring, and it has consumed me to the point where I spent hours behind closed doors doing it. I knew it had gotten worse over the years, so I kept the details of just how extreme to myself. After all, I’d avoided the OCD label for 18 years of child-rearing, and I wasn’t about to own it over one nasty compulsion that really only lasted one day a year anyway.

I’m proud to say that, without the aid of costly therapy, time consuming meditation, or even outside pressure from well-meaning loved ones who knew my dirty little secret, I have finally broken free, and I feel liberated. As it turns out, I didn’t have seasonally-induced OCD at all. I was an Easter Egg Socialist.

I didn’t grow up that way. I don’t even know exactly when it started, but I think it coincided with the time period that “IT’S NOT FAIR!” became the most commonly uttered phrase in our household. Then again, I’m willing to admit it’s entirely possible that, once I had kids, my subconscious realized I no longer had control over much of anything…except the Easter Egg Hunt. I compensated by developing and fine-tuning such an amazing formula for making everyone happy and keeping everything 100% fair for every child regardless of age, gender or ability, that I never once heard those stupid words, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” over an Easter egg hunt. With three girls and one boy (that’s FOUR kids, one with Aspergers) spaced two to three years apart, this is an accomplishment I was proud of.

Here’s what I did…

For the hunt each year, I would buy plastic eggs in four colors—one for each child. As the kids got older, I made it extra fun by assigning two colors to each child. If the eggs came in different sizes, I made sure I used equal numbers of each size egg in each color. I always purchased several different kinds of candy to fill the eggs—things like Sweet Tart bunnies, Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, etc. Some years I would also fill the eggs with money. Regardless of what I used to fill the eggs, it was always fair. Totally fair. I counted every piece of candy (even the M&Ms and Skittles) and divided them equally among each color egg. If a particular candy had more than one flavor (in the case of Skittles and Sweet Tarts), I further divided the candy equally by flavor. When it came to things like chocolate Kisses, it didn’t matter whether the wrapper was pink or blue, but I would divide them evenly by color anyway because I was not about to have a child melt down over getting all blue ones when they wanted all pink. If I filled eggs with money, not only would each child receive the same amount of money, but if I put ten dimes in a blue egg, I put ten dimes in a pink egg, and so forth—not ten dimes in one color egg and four quarters in another. I didn’t want to spend that holy day explaining that four quarters and ten dimes are equal, so I avoided to conflict before it could begin.

I know it sounds crazy, but truth be told, I enjoyed the good two hours of total peace every Easter Eve—just me, my plastic eggs, and my compulsion. Besides, I always ate the “odd” candy.

When Easter morning rolled around, hiding the plastic eggs was a breeze as long as my husband paid attention to which color belonged to each child. Part of the beauty of my plan was the ability to hide little kids’ eggs in plain site without the big kids being able to come along and snatch them up. We could reserve our more clever hiding techniques for the older kids’ eggs.

My kids became pros at the Easter egg hunt system in our home. The only snags came when other families visited at Easter and didn’t appreciate my instructional lecture on color assignment prior to the hunt. In those cases, there was always a poor listener who ended up with an odd colored egg in their basket. Fortunately, those children were easily called out and compelled to hand over the egg to its rightful owner. At the end of the hunt, each basket was filled equally to the brim with all one color egg per basket, and I thought it looked really nice.

No one ever complained. I was really proud of the peaceful hunt I’d orchestrated and the equally-distributed sugar-high it produced.

This year everything changed. When I sat down in the middle of my bedroom floor and dumped out all the plastic eggs I’d accumulated over the years (because I was too cheap to buy new ones), I counted the eggs for the very last time.

There was an odd number.

That was the moment I decided to end the madness. I ripped open my bags of candy and forced myself to quickly fill the eggs without counting a single piece of candy. I paused long enough to pop a few chocolates into my mouth, but not long enough to contemplate what I would tell the kids in the morning. With reckless abandon, I stuffed one orange egg with chocolates, and the next orange egg with mostly yellow sour bunnies. I refused to pay attention to how many of each color egg I filled or what I filled it with, and I purposely put the same kind of candy in small eggs that I put in large ones. I even went so far as to put tootsie rolls in only one egg. I wondered how that would go over!

Within minutes it was over. The eggs were filled, and I could have read a novel with the time I had left on my hands.

I hid the eggs myself the following morning and smiled at the fact that I had no idea if I was hiding a chocolate-filled egg in the hot sun. I contemplated whether my son would pick up any girl-colored eggs. I hid eggs higher than my youngest child could reach, knowing she was at a disadvantage, and I didn’t think twice about doing it. There was no method and no madness, and it was awesome.

When the kids lined up for the hunt, baskets in hand, Kennadi asked, “Okay, Mom, who gets what color?” I took a deep breath. This was the moment of truth. I announced that I’d denounced the OCD that I didn’t really have by hiding an odd number of eggs in all kinds of colors (did I mention my kids all know who the Easter Bunny is?)

The response?

High fives and cheering! WHAT?!? To be clear, I explained that it would be impossible for them to get an equal number of eggs. Not only did they not care, they were thrilled! My 11 year-old’s exact words were, “Now that’s just crazy!”

I was beginning to feel like all the thought and time and planning I’d done for over a decade in their behalf had gone entirely unappreciated as they bowled me over on their way out the back door.

I resisted the urge to point out any eggs that had been carelessly overlooked, but I was sure to praise the kids who found the “hard-to-find” eggs. Before long, the hunt was over, and the eggs were counted. As expected, no one got the same number of eggs, but, to my surprise, no one cared. Wait ‘til they figure out only one kid got tootsie rolls, I thought.

Less than two hours later, and without even opening all his eggs, Jordan traded his entire basket of loot to Kami so she’d do the Sunday dinner dishes. Good thing I didn’t waste any time filling his basket with fairness!

On the Monday following Easter, two of my girls told me they figured out there was only one egg with Tootsie Rolls. They also told me Kennadi hadn’t landed a single Sweet Tart egg, while Kami had managed to find nine. On the other hand, Kennadi seemed to have a nose for the chocolate-filled eggs because she’d found more than anyone. Unfortunately for her, I thought, the chocolate was mostly Cadbury, which I knew wasn’t her favorite. Knowing I was about to hear what I’d so craftily avoided every Easter for my entire parenting career, I braced myself, and settled in for a loving lecture on how life isn’t fair. I began by saying, “And how did that make you feel?”

Kennadi replied, “We thought it was AWESOME!” Awesome?!? What’s so awesome about one person getting all the good candy and another getting stuck with something they don’t like, I thought? What’s so awesome about only one person getting tootsie rolls, I wondered? I seriously couldn’t believe my ears. Furthermore, I couldn’t believe my problem-solving intervention skills were not being called upon to deal with this “injustice.”

It turns out the kids had developed their own system of trading and negotiating that was impressive. For the next several days I heard things like, “I’ll trade some sour bunnies for chocolate eggs,” and “I’ll give you two eggs if you’ll finish unloading the dishwasher for me.” As for Jordan, who had so easily forfeited his entire basket (which I later appreciated since he doesn’t need the extra sugar, anyway), he resorted to buying eggs from the girls at fair market value of $.50 each. I was fascinated by my kids’ ability to creatively negotiate with their eggs. Not once did I hear, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

So, as I reflect upon my experience this Easter, it seems I am a recovered Easter Egg Socialist. It’s crazy to think I spent so many years, in the name of fairness, being a control freak over people who didn’t want or need my kind of fair. Without realizing it, in trying to help the younger “less able” child, I’d actually held her back. When I let go of the control this year, my youngest and smallest out-performed everyone! The kids were more excited at the prospect of things NOT being fair than they’d ever been when they knew the outcome before the hunt ever started. I guess knowing that no matter how hard you work, at the end of the hunt, you’re going to end up with exactly what the next kid has, isn’t so much fun, even when the results are "totally fair" and yummy.

My kids taught me that it’s not about what’s inside the eggs, and it’s definitely not about fairness, or my idea of what's fair, anyway. It’s about running around finding eggs your way in a hunt that isn’t run by a control freak who thinks she’s doing you a favor. They taught me that it is way more fun and rewarding when your basket is filled with eggs of all colors, shapes and sizes, and when you can do whatever you want with those eggs.