Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On candy, self-awareness and the pursuit of happiness

I have a theory that we all struggle with something. Do you think that, too?

So I’m sure you know that today is Halloween. The influx of chocolate has been swarming around us and it used to be a source of tension, the chocolate. That tension is gone now and I don’t know when it happened and I find myself feeling appreciative of the chocolate, and all the non-tension that it represents.

Our sweet E doesn’t like chocolate, never has. She doesn’t like a long list of foods so this is not particularly remarkable but it is a pervasive universal opinion that kids like chocolate. She has faced down incredulity, shock, disbelief, pressure to try it again, a whole range of external inputs on a girl who knows herself. And for what? To eat sugar. It’s silly but we can’t trivialize it because it’s cultural and it’s common. People want to give her chocolate. She wants to be the easy-going kid who can feel appreciation for these tokens of kindness. A love-language of most children is chocolate. Nothing is easy. And chocolate is everywhere.

Last year was a chocolate-shed moment. Her sweet teachers had a tradition of giving each kid a Hershey’s Kiss each Friday. First she had to say “no, thank you.” Then she had to insist she didn’t want it. Then, a month or two in to the year, her teachers remembered to skip her in the chocolate dispensary. But sometimes they’d forget, out of habit, and she’d have to say again. Or to a substitute; or the mom of every birthday kid who offered her chocolate ice cream or chocolate cake or cupcakes.

It’s a chocolate, chocolate world.

Eventually, though, E embraced her difference. When she receives chocolate now, she reflexively says she’ll bring it home to her sister and brother. Like they didn’t adore her already, they now know to pounce on her at each birthday party’s end, waiting for their bounty from her goody bag. She’s reframed her quirk from a personal deficit to a mantle of generosity. And the thing that makes her different that used to make her feel badly about herself now makes her feel good.

It’s just chocolate, of course, and I’d be fine if none of our kids ate junk so regularly as they do, but the little things that make us each different shouldn’t be instruments of torment. It’s just chocolate, but when you’re four or five or six, chocolate is a currency of serious import.

I’ve seen this again and again on facebook in the past week:

Those aren't specifically our thing. But we have a chocolate thing, and we acknowledge that lots of people have a thing of some sort. (What’s your thing?) And reading that passage again and again this week made me realize how far we’ve come.

Halloween has lost its tension this year. She knows she won’t like most of the candy even before she receives it. She recognizes that the currency most kids trade on tonight isn’t her own. She recognizes that for her, the camaraderie of friends and tradition and costuming and contagious happiness will be wonderfully fun. We’ll sort her candy at the end of the night. She’ll give most of it away and I’ll have a stash of lollipops on hand to bring some balance to her measured loot lest the doubts creep in.

Halloween has a special charm for being both the most frivolous of holidays and the most venerated of childhood traditions. It’s getting dark and we’re headed out soon, trick-or-treat bags and flashlights in hand, but before we do I’m taking this moment to tell you about my girl, and how well she’s growing; and to remind you that whatever your thing is, it’s neither an asset nor a deficit, just an instrument for your use.

The Tooth Fairy and Batman, c. 2009.  Along with a third friend they've known since infancy, they still celebrate Halloween together.
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