Saturday, March 22, 2008

...And the Agony of Defeat...

We took the kids to our church's open-to-the-public Easter Egg Hunt today.

Now, Easter Egg Hunts are tricky things to organize, especially when they are open to the public. For one thing, while I am generally of the opinion that our society's tendency to segregate kids into different age groups is a net negative, this does not hold true for full-contact sports.

And, um.... Yes, Easter Egg Hunts can in fact become full-contact sports.

Blessedly, our church had arranged separate hunts for the under-3's, for ages 3-4, for ages 5-7, and for 8 and over.

For another thing, you don't know how many people are going to show up. And when that's the case, it's hard to judge how many eggs you should prepare in advance. (And it certainly doesn't help when, as one of the other parents told me, "They can't find one of the boxes of eggs....")

But then, there are hunts where you're actually hunting, and there are hunts that are more like round-ups. My family has hosted treasure hunts in our backyard as part of birthday or Easter parties before, and the way we hid the goodies in these hunts favored those kids who were careful and deliberate in their searching. We like to hide our packets of goodies under orange trees, in the middle of bushes, behind rocks, in the middle of patches of weeds, or in crooks of trees four feet off the ground--where most kids don't see them, because they're looking down so intently. So Easter Egg Hunts that we host truly are hunts.

Unfortunately, our church's need to run four different Easter Egg Hunts simultaneously meant that some of the hunts needed to be staged on open patches of ground, with all the eggs just lying there, their garish colors screaming out, "Come get me! I'm over here!" while entirely too many kids line up on the starting line, pushing and jostling, like the mass of people waiting for a marathon's starting gun. And when the word was given, the crowd surged, and the eggs got hoovered up as fast as the greedy little kids could elbow each other out of the way.

This was a Wild Easter-Egg Roundup.

Now, the Adrenaline Junkie (age 3) did pretty well. Their hunt was staged in a playground full of playground equipment, so the eggs actually had some good hiding places. There were a few cheaters, of course--much older siblings of the tykes who came in with them and "helped" them collect the eggs that should have been for the other 3- and 4-year-olds to find. But even with all that, there were enough eggs to go around, and the Adrenaline Junkie managed to get eight of them before she got bits of redwood bark stuck to her tights and had to sit down to take off her shoes.

Alas, the Pillowfight Fairy (age 5) wasn't mentally prepared for combat.

You see, she has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. In fact, it's not even a drummer; whatever it is she marches to, no one else can tell. Maybe it's bagpipes or nose-flutes or something. Anyway, she's always been introverted; always been more interested in what goes on in her own mind than in what goes on around her. Often when she plays a game--any kind of game--she decides that the rules aren't satisfying enough, and so she makes up new ones. These new ones may be more or less restrictive than the originals, but they're always more interesting to her (and frequently to me, as well).

Furthermore, the Fairy has always had a strong aesthetic sense. I've posted many of her pictures in previous blog posts. She likes lots of color in her pictures. She doesn't always use the color one expects, but she always has a reason for doing what she does. She has a strong sense that the world needs to be this way, and any other way is unacceptable.

She recently has been reading books about living things, and she rather liked the idea that many birds (like robins) come out of blue eggs. Little ones. In fact, a few days back, we actually found an empty eggshell in our backyard, that was maybe half an inch across and an inch long. We looked at it, and studied it....

And so today, she decided that she wanted to collect only the blue eggs. She was rather intrigued by them! She noted that they are bigger than robin eggs, and the blue is much darker, but they are still very pretty. Yes, I will collect just the blue eggs today.

And then the event started, and a flood of five- through seven-year-olds swarmed the field and started vacuuming up anything looking vaguely plastic. When the dust settled, the Pillowfight Fairy, who had been carefully checking each egg to see if it was just right--like an experienced gourmand selecting just the right cantaloupe--had managed to land exactly two eggs (both of them blue, of course).

She was heartbroken. She was downright despondent.

Of course, Mommy is on record as having no mercy. Her attitude was simply, "That should be a lesson to you not to be so picky. You were too picky when you had the chance to collect perfectly good eggs of different colors, and your lousy haul is just a natural consequence of your pickiness." Note that the Pillowfight Fairy wasn't comforted in the least by this line of reasoning.

And, of course, Mommy is right, as Mommies usually are.


I have to think to myself about all the wonderful life lessons this experience has taught her. Little girl, you have to be much more aggressive if you're going to get everything out of life that you can! Because if you don't get it first, someone else is going to take it away from you! You have to be aggressive, so you get it before they do! And you shouldn't worry about finding just the right one, because they're going fast; so you need to grab what you can now, and... um... hm. Let me think about this.

The Pillowfight Fairy wasn't mentally prepared for this game. As she so often does, she rejected the rules of the game, because that wasn't the game she wanted to play. And the more I think about it, the less I blame her. True, she was being very picky, and that is a tendency in her that we need to curb. And for the sake of her social life, she does need to learn a bit more to be sensitive to the needs of those around her, so she can occasionally accommodate them. The world does not revolve around her; she does have a very stubborn streak, and could stand to learn a bit more humility.

But on the other hand, think for a moment about the game she wanted to play. She wanted to sift leisurely through the field, picking and choosing which eggs to keep and which not to keep. She wanted to search; to look under bushes, to root around, to find them in unusual spots, to giggle at the clever way that the egg was hidden in a pile of old walnuts or balanced on the top of a fencepost. She didn't want to push and shove, or be pushed and shoved. She's stubborn, but not particularly aggressive--certainly nowhere near as much as most kids her age. You know what? I don't blame her one bit.

Now, I didn't go telling her this. The fact is, she needs to learn a bit more sense about games. When she's playing a public game, she needs to follow the rules of the game--and she does need to learn a bit more strategic thought, and not let herself be intimidated so easily by aggressive kids and big crowds.

Anyway. Being a Daddy means always looking for teachable moments, and this little event had them in spades. And perhaps because of the long comment thread on my recent Beatrix Potter/Economics post, I happened to see an economics application.

Now, the very fact that I could see an economics lesson in an Easter Egg Hunt rather makes me laugh at myself. No wonder my daughter isn't normal--look at her genetic material! ;-)

Well, here's the opening line of the Wikipedia entry on the Tragedy of the Commons:
The Tragedy of the Commons is a type of social trap, often economic, that involves a conflict over finite resources between individual interests and the common good.
The Tragedy of the Commons is this: resources that are held by society and made freely available to all tend to get overused and destroyed. The classic example is pasture land: if there is public pasture land available to everyone in a medieval town, then everyone with animals has an incentive to graze their animals there since they don't then have to pay to feed their animals. Wikipedia continues:
The herders are assumed to wish to maximize their yield, and so will increase their herd size whenever possible. The utility of each additional animal has both a positive and negative component:
  • Positive: the herder receives all of the proceeds from each additional animal.
  • Negative: the pasture is slightly degraded by each additional animal.
Crucially, the division of these costs and benefits is unequal: the individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared among all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing these, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same rational conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate. Nonetheless, the rational response for an individual remains the same at every stage, since the gain is always greater to each herder than the individual share of the distributed cost.
I explained to the Fairy that since there were a limited number of eggs, all the kids were extra eager to snatch them all before anyone else did, lest they not wind up with any. And I went on to explain how this can be a problem that shows up in other places--like the fact that my parents, who love abalone, haven't been able to eat it in decades. Why? Because there are only so many abalone out there; and the abalone fishermen were collecting them a lot like those kids were collecting Easter Eggs--If I don't get them, someone else will; so I'd better get all I can before they're gone--and as a result, abalone stocks fell so low that they are now a protected species.

I have no idea whether my impromptu economics lesson penetrated her consciousness, although she did appear to be listening. But then, she was still mourning the haul of eggs that she was supposed to have but never got; my lesson may not have made it through. The trouble with these Teachable Moments is that so often the kid is such an odd emotional state that you have no clue what part of your lesson actually gets in. I like the way the Adrenaline Junkie put it on the way home. She had asked the Fairy, in her sweet little three-year old voice, why she was crying; the Fairy was too weepy to answer, so the Junkie relayed to us the news (bearing in mind that she tends to pronounce the word "saying" the same as "sane") that "Sister's not sane!"

We've been wondering about that, at least since she turned five or so.


Anonymous said...

Often when she plays a game--any kind of game--she decides that the rules aren't satisfying enough, and so she makes up new ones. These new ones may be more or less restrictive than the originals, but they're always more interesting to her (and frequently to me, as well).

Sounds like she would do well in the Kobayashi Maru.

Timothy Power said...

Kobayashi Maru? Perhaps; but I'm thinking it's more like Calvinball.

In fact, the Fairy has fallen in love with our set of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. She loves Calvin, and can often be heard quoting him. And her attitude towards group activities is very similar to those early strips where Calvin and Hobbes are trying to escape from the rest of the Cub Scout troop.

Ruby said...

What a wonderful teachable moment! My husband has the same ability to find unexpected lessons in life's daily events. I admire it.

Your Fairy reminds me a good deal of our Banana (although her current interest in robins' eggs or things closely resembling them sounds like Dojogirl!)

Thanks for sharing,
Ruby in Montreal

FatcatPaulanne said...

I think you might enjoy reading the book "The Highly Sensitive Child." I think you might have one!

I do. This so sounds like him at the age of 5.

Sebastian said...

This is a hard balance to strike. We have to teach our kids when to stand up for themselves (or their friends and families) and use their elbows to get what they need. And we have to teach them when to walk away because the game isn't worth playing.
Nice post.

Heart n Soul said...

Fascinating! I am always foyful (and amazed, since it's missing here) when I find a man/husband who "teaches"! Good show.

Your daughter reminds me of my first-born son, same way with rules! My son must "understand" for himself before anything makes sense enough for him to bother to participate in. At almost 16 it's looking alot like arrogance now instead of a nice unique personality :( but on the other hand, can say "no" quite well too...
and there's nothing wrong with rejecting what the masses are doing. Even if it seems anti-social (to the herd), there may be a higher calling instead.

kat said...

One of the benefits of having a bunch of kids is not having to participate in the Easter egg hunt chaos and have our own. My older ones (8,9) hide plastic eggs all over the house and backyard and then allow their little brothers and sister to hunt, helping them when needed. This allows for multiple hunts and those yummy parenting moments when a sometimes bossy older sibling gently guides the 3 year old, "You are getting warm, its over here Charlie."

I think all of mine would get run over and end up teary eyed at a huge church-wide hunt so I highly recommend the home version!