I picked the boys up from school, I briefed them on the great fun we’d be having, we went for a stroll along a country lane bordered by vineyards and olive groves. Late afternoon sun slanted. Lizards scuttled across sunlit stone walls. We picked blossoms and interestingly-shaped leaves, laughed, chatted.
What we were doing was gathering materials for our annual Easter egg decorating, but this year there was a slight twist. It seemed that D’s school was having a competition in which each student could bring in one egg they had decorated, with awards going to the best in each class.
A few days earlier the director of the school and I had gotten talking about this little competition, and I guess a certain note in my voice betrayed my determination that D win.
“You want to win this thing, don’t you?” he asked.
“Oh, no, we’re gonna win this thing, mothafucka.” (Ok, so the last bit was unspoken, but it was tonally implied.)
I had been to a dozen stores over two days to find white eggs. I had carefully crafted our homemade dyes, having scoured every shop in town for sufficient onion skins (and bewildering shop owners in the process – “Excuse me, could I, ah, have your onion skins?”). We were ready for total egg-decorating domination.
Our process involves placing leaves and blossoms on raw eggs, carefully wrapping them in sections of pantyhose, tying them up, then placing them in the dyes to boil for roughly 30 minutes. It produces stunning eggs. Oh yes, we were going to win this thing.
Egg one: Our youngest takes it out of the carton and brings it down hard on the table. It’s cracked, but seemingly usable. I admonish him to be more gentle.
Egg two: Slips from his fingers and splatters across the table. My eyelid begins to twitch as I clean up the mess. I admonish him to be more careful.
No one, at this point, is having any fun.
The problem, essentially, was that in the past we had always decorated eggs simply for the pleasure involved. Now there was something at stake. Now we were doing it to win. And that sucked every bit of joy out of the event.
I’d rearrange the flowers on the kids’ eggs just so. I’d get frustrated if the nylon covering wasn’t perfect. If it scrunched the leaves to one side, I’d take it off and do it again. And again.
Once the eggs were in the dyes the kids wandered off to play, but I stood at the stove. Watching eggs cook. The blue of the red cabbage dye didn’t seem dark enough. I added a bit of food coloring. The red of the beet dye was pale and anemic. I added a bit of food coloring. I was cheating.
Then the moment of truth. The boys were reassembled to unwrap the eggs and marvel at their beauty. The first one was splotchy and spotted like a skin disease. I began to worry. The cracked egg had blown open and a festering ribbon of egg-flesh had spurted out. I began to sweat. The next was just flat-out ugly. I began to panic.
With each egg our spirits dropped. In a previous post I had written that “each one is a mini Christmas present.” These were not presents. They were flops, deadbeats, duds. They were fodder for a Pinterest ‘fails’ page.
There was a certain irony afoot here. It had been me who had promoted this very project far and wide. It had been me who had posted gorgeous well-lit photos on Pinterest of our ravishing Easter eggs. It had been me who had been all smug and self-righteous about using homemade eco-friendly dyes and spending quality time with your kids.
And now it was me who was sitting with two disappointed children, looking dejectedly at a bowl of unsightly hen spawn. We chose the least ill-favored looking one for D to take to school for the competition. We are not going to win this thing.
I’ve learned a few things.
Firstly, engaging in vicarious competition through your children is at best foolhardy, at worst probably downright damaging. I had taken a fun annual tradition and turned it into a stresstival. If you’re one of the parents in the stands screaming at your kid’s team, you need to sit down, shut up, and let them just have a good time.
Secondly, suffering from so-called “Pinterest stress” is a self-inflicted dose of stupidity. You shouldn’t compare your own achievements (if making pretty eggs can be called an achievement) with what others have been able to produce, even if, in this case, the ‘others’ in question is yourself.
Lastly, sometimes you’re going to fail. As I’ve written before, failure is an important part of the learning process, and provides kids with the tools they need to cope. So things didn’t work out this time. So what? Maybe next time they will.
I’ve also learned from this year’s debacle a few things about dying Easter eggs. Next year? We’re gonna win this thing, dammit.