Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Musings on giant chocolate chickens and excess

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:


  1. I know the scene was disturbing but that chicken is really funny. Someone didn't spend money on it, did they? And I understand your concern about excess. Zach has been receiving a ton of big brother gifts. Today he received 3 boxes of cars totalling about 20 cars. Even he realized the situation is getting nuts and said, "i am getting full of cars. I don't need anymore."

  2. Well PPC, we don't see eye to eye on everything (poetry, music, roses, other people's kids), but in the matters of chocolate chickens, I couldn't agree more! And I love Angela and David's comment from Zach. That is too cute. Now the book just to the right of the chicken- is that the Jared Diamond's classic G, G & S? And a black one even further to the right.. is that called "God" or "Goo". I do so hope it is called "Goo". And finally, is that an extremely adorable baby, you have there or is she just well-dressed ?? :) Great post. A good moral!!

  3. Too many typos in my last post to even go fix. errrrr.

  4. When I say post, I mean comment. errrrr.

  5. Angela - thanks, your comment about the humor in the chocolate chicken snapped me out of my Lord of the Flies-esque funk. You're right. It is funny. And I know I am reading too much into it. Also Zach's comment about having too much makes me realize that slightly older toddlers (sorry pre-schoolers) can detect and be offput by excess. That is encouraging.
    And yes, someone laid down a chunk of change for the chocolate chicken. Chocolate Chickens don't grow on tree you know! Finally I was so sorry to read about the grocery store episode. I remember well the scary twinges and sharp pains post c-section when I would forget... I hope it was just a passing twinge.

    and SLG you didn't let me down. somehow I felt sure you (and SteveQ) would try to decipher the books we have on our shelves. I also thought I would get a TON of flak for the Magnum PI box set. To answer your questions, the book is "God Delusion" (not Goo) and yes that is G,G & S right next to Collapse both my Diamond.

  6. I didn't think of checking your library (though I DO do that when visiting people's houses). I was busy thinking of how I ate a 1 kilo (actually, 30 oz.) chocolate rabbit in five hours when I tried desperately to savor it and not have my mother complain about how I inhaled it, at about age 6 or 7. By age 10, the rabbits were hollow - which made eating them easier, as well as less sickening - and were gone in minutes, as were loose baby teeth.

  7. And I secretly like to go through Magnum to see the thread of "is Higgins really Robin Masters" develop.

  8. I can tell you it is getting worse as kids enter preschool and kindergarten. My son's kindergarten class has "share" every Monday and one kid brought his iphone in the other day. My son told me he "needs" and iphone, too. WHAT?

  9. We are trying to work out a polite-gracious-but-firm way of telling grandparents, friends etc that we love them and appreciate their thoughtfulness, but please don't give our children gifts. 90% of the time the discontent, stress, and unhappiness they cause outweigh their enjoyment.

    Got any suggestions about how to do this and not sound hostile?

  10. Hi Robyn,
    It is heartening to hear that I am not the only one who struggles on this issue. One of my family members suggested that I say, in advance of an occasion when there might be gifts given: "while we appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness, [child's name] really has an excess of toys/clothing at the moment, if you do wish to mark [insert occasion] with gifts, we will keep a few items for [child's name] and happily donate the rest in [child's name] to a children's charity."

    still might come across as a bit harsh... there does have to be a balance in that family/friends love your children and want to express that love with material goods but on the other hand... there has to be a way to KEEP IT REASONABLE without offending anyone. The above is the best suggestion I have heard.

  11. It's an interesting idea! I was thinking of maybe saying something like "if you would like to celebrate [holiday] by giving a small gift, the boys would like [a book, flower seeds, insert small acceptable-gift idea here]". One problem we HAVE solved is one you probably don't have yet -- the "please don't address packages to our children because they can read their names and want to open it now NOW NOW" problem. Everyone now knows to address it to me, and make the outside of the package look BORING.

    And now I am laughing, thinking of what a children's charity would do with that giant chocolate chicken!

  12. it's funny you mention that Robyn. when i first saw the chocolate chicken, my reaction was - we're giving that to the local food bank and hubby said - i'm sure the local food bank doesn't want to deal with it either! in the end we performed what i called "the massive slaughter" and slaughtered the chicken and divided into 9 portions - one for every household present. the eggs around the base were divided into piles for the children. once divided into 9, the amount of chocolate was actually manageable... god for making a cake or something.

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