Monday, November 12, 2012

How a Five-Year-Old Put Me in My Place

Yesterday afternoon, one election and one hurricane later, my son and I enjoyed an unexpected blast of summer at the park. Like so many other families, we kicked around the soccer ball, played hide-and-seek, tag, anything that allowed us to linger a bit longer in the sunshine. You could tell that there was a collective sigh of gratitude among the parents: for our kids’ safety, for the balm of a New England fall day, for having weathered the storms of the past weeks.

Nicholas and I gulped in the warm air, wiped our sweaty brows, and stopped for heavy swigs from our water bottles after a marathon soccer game. Eventually, a few of his friends joined in and I retreated to the sidelines to chat with other parents, comparing notes on the recent high winds and flooding. When the kids tired of the game and gathered around the monkey bars, they, too, began to trade stories of what had mattered most to them in the wake of our collective storms: Halloween candy. I listened as one boy boasted he got one hundred pieces, another seventy-five. Nicholas himself had scored forty-five pieces, which he’d proudly lined up on our window seat. As the Halloween tales made their way around the circle, one cagey five-year-old stopped and looked at me. “Hey, we came to your house for trick-or-treat,” he said.
I was secretly pleased to be remembered. I must be one of the “cool” moms, I thought with a warm smile. I felt a surge of love for this little boy. Already I was mentally arranging a play date for him at our house.

“Yeah,” he continued. “You gave us licorice.” His voice carried a slightly accusatory tone.
“Oh?” I said. “That could be. We gave out lots of stuff. Kit Kats, Butterfingers, M&Ms, licorice.”

He shook his head, as if about to call me out as a liar right in front of his now curious pals. “No, I’m pretty sure it was licorice.” Big, wondering eyes looked up at me.
“Could be.” I tried for diplomacy; I really did. “Lots of times I like to throw in licorice with another treat.”

He stared at me. “Just licorice.” His disappointment was palpable. I felt the need to defend myself, if not for my sake, for my son’s.  Surely we gave out plenty of good stuff. Maybe not whole candy bars like some of our neighbors, but we didn’t shirk when it came to Halloween.
“And isn’t licorice delicious?” I tried again. “I love the red kind. But some people really like black licorice.” The kids eyed me skeptically.

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved red licorice, all kinds. The tried-and-true Twizzlers that you can peel off with a satisfactory tug, the longer whips that you can curl and twist onto your tongue, even licorice pipes held a place in my heart. They seemed so grown-up and whimsical at the same time. So maybe I harbored my own little addiction to the red stuff. Perhaps it played a role in my decision-making in the candy aisle, but what parent doesn’t let his or her own preferences influence the final pick?
Still, it never occurred to me that we might get a black mark on our house for handing out this particular treat on Halloween. I assumed such scorn was reserved for folks who gave out home-made popcorn or a single lollipop or, even worse, toothbrushes! Dispensing licorice with an assortment of other choices didn’t seem like such a travesty. But then again, I hadn’t been five in a long time. What did I know?

When we were walking back from the park, I asked Nicholas if he liked licorice. “Yeah,” he said, then ran off ahead of me. Once home, I pulled out the tub of week-old candy, determined to prove my theory once and for all: kids still liked licorice. I unwrapped a miniature three-pronged Twizzlers and handed it to him. He took a bite, then gave the rest to me. “I think I’ll have the M&Ms instead,” he said.
And there, writ large in his chocolate-smudged face, was the truth: I’d become the mom who hands out old-fashioned trick-or-treat candy, the kind that no kid really likes.

Next fall, with the election and the hurricane a distant memory, I’ll remember this tall truth as I cruise the aisles in October. I’ll stuff my cart with treats of the chocolate variety. But don’t be surprised if a bag of Twizzlers gets tucked in underneath.
This time, though, it will be just for me.

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