This story begins, as any compelling story must, with an absurdly large chocolate chicken. Specifically, THE absurdly large chocolate chicken that arrived in our home on Easter Sunday as a gift from one of the 18 (18!!) people invited. Let me elaborate on the sheer enormity of this chicken. The box in which the chicken arrived was large enough that, once the chicken was evicted, it (the box) easily housed la cocotte along with a 10 year old boy. Here is a picture of the chicken with an accidental wine bottle and Magnum PI DVD boxset for scale:
You will note that the chicken resides in a basket, also chocolate. Note also the dazzling selection of candies and chocolates around the base of the chocolate chicken and bear in mind that this mountain is what was left AFTER 5 five children had attacked. In brief, the chicken and its environment constituted an appreciable amount of chocolate. Chocolate that was unexpected and in addition to that which I had purchased for the egg hunt. Just to give you a feeling for what I consider to be a reasonable amount of chocolate, I had purchased the following for each child to find: a 100 g bunny, two fist-sized hollow eggs, five solid thumb-sized chocolate eggs (the classic foil-wrapped ones). I put lots of thought and attention into choosing the chocolate, both the quality and the quantity so you can imagine my horror when the chicken was presented.
I put the chocolate chicken out of sight initially. We had a fun egg hunt, a relatively peaceful dinner. The toddlers had a ball getting tricycle rides up and down the hallway from the older kids. Then it came time for desert. I was dreading bringing out the chicken but there was no avoiding it. The guest who had brought it asked me pointedly when I was going to bring it out. So, I gritted my teeth and put it out on the desert buffet.
There is a classic type of fable that comes to mind. It goes something like this: there is a village in which everyone is content. No one is particularly rich but everyone has what they need, there is equality and cooperation and the villagers lead lives of quiet contentment. Then one day a mystical source of wealth enters the scene. Let's say, for the sake of argument, it's a pot of gold that magically refills itself. This "gift" which ostensibly should bring prosperity and greater happiness is inevitably the village's downfall. It causes conflict, chaos, jealousy, greed. The village splinters into factions and is brought to the brink of total destruction when the pot of gold is destroyed and gradually peace is restored to the valley; an important lesson learned.
Let me tell you, absurdly large chocolate chickens and magically replenishing pots of gold have much in common. Up until the chocolate chicken was unveiled, the evening was going well. When I brought it out, the scene that unfolded was so deeply disturbing that I am having trouble shaking it. The toddlers started cramming chocolate into their mouths without even stopping to chew. They fought each other for the spots closest to the chicken and tried to prevent others from having access. There was enough chocolate to satisfy a platoon of toddlers but yet there was fighting and tears and such ugly, naked greed. I know I am being over-sensitive about this (and I know I am in a bit of a dark, post-partum place) but honestly it was a glimpse of ugly, dark humanity that really shook me. I want to be clear on this... I am not criticizing the toddlers or blaming them or even inferring anything negative about them. They were just acting like the two year olds they are. The blame lies with the guest who brought the chicken and the mom (me) who managed it badly.
The other aspect I noted about the chicken was that I don`t think it actually made la cocotte happy; excess of any sort does not make people happy in the long run. Any joy brought by the chicken (and honestly I don`t think there was joy, just the stimulation of base instinct) was more than offset by her displeasure, confusion and sense of injustice triggered by the abrupt withdrawal of the chicken by her horrified mother.
I want to raise a happy little girl who grows into a contented, caring teenager and adult. People are poisoned by excess of material goods. My growing concern, as a mom, is that we are increasingly living in a society where excess is the norm. I do not want my cocotte growing up to think of foot tall chocolate chickens are normal or god forbid, expected. I know the people in our lives are well meaning and have good hearts but we are drowning in games and toys and largess. I don`t want her expecting a present every time she sees someone. I want la cocotte to be happy to see the person... not the item they are bringing. It is my responsibility to raise her this way mostly because this is the path to her happiness. I look at our toy room filled with forgotten toys; pieces long scattered, plastic without purpose and I genuinely feel ill. I want simpler giftsfor her, the gift of time, the gift of attention and, occasionally, the gift of ONE, SMALL, high quality piece of chocolate.
To end this post on a lighter note, some material objects did find their way into our lives today which warmed my heart. I appreciate them for their inherent utility, the fact that they are used and therefore imbibed with the experiences of other happy babies and parents, the fact that they will be transient in our lives and then passed on down the great assembly line of babies and, as an added bonus, they are NOT pink! So, thank you Sea Legs Girl, Fast bastard, The Lorax and El Guapo: