I’ve made my own kids cry on plenty of special occasions. There was the time my son’s requested Saturn V rocket cake turned out looking like a giant tampon. There was the time my daughter decided in the middle of her own party that it was too crowded, and I (cruelly) refused to kick half the kids out. There was the time I told my son he couldn’t come to Thanksgiving dinner (in between his bouts of projectile vomiting). A few clunker holidays are hard to avoid in parenthood, right?
But the first Easter I celebrated as a mom (with a child old enough to participate) is the only holiday on which I’ve made other people’s children cry. A whole bunch of them. Adorable little toddlers dressed up in their Easter best.
Let me set the scene. I’d had a rough first year or so with my son. He was a really fussy baby, I had postpartum depression, my husband was super busy. I didn’t get out much. But when my son was about eighteen months old, we finally reached the stage where he was both interested in other kids and wasn’t screaming 95 percent of the day, so in a burst of spring optimism, I joined a mom’s group. The first big event on the calendar was an Easter egg hunt at a local park. Hey, that sounds fun, I thought. I can totally do this! I gave myself such an effective pep talk that I even volunteered to bring eggs and arrive early to hide them, along with another mom or two.
Sure, I was a bit nervous, as I found chatting with new people while also taking care of my needy child to be challenging. But with a lot of planning and a lot of effort, I managed to get my son to nap early, not arrive my normal one to two hours late, and even get the eggs hidden before everyone else arrived. Woohoo, go me! Supermom in the making!
When the gaggle of children was finally set free, off they went, rampaging through the underbrush in search of their brightly colored prizes, as if they were born to hunt eggs.
I hustled to keep up with my son, who could rampage with the best of them, and happy sounds echoed through the forest. Some kids were laughing, some kids were shrieking, some kids were squealing. Some kids were crying, but that wasn’t a big deal — at any group event, some kids were always crying.
Usually my kid, actually.
But not this time! My kid’s face was flushed with joy! This was awesome!
We passed one of the kids who was crying. I noticed she was holding one of the eggs I’d hidden. Poor kid, maybe she didn’t like yellow? Who knew! At least my kid was still having fun!
Speaking of which, he’d just found an egg. Clenched in his grubby hand, it split in two and some M&Ms fell out. He snatched them up and stuffed them in his mouth before I even realized what was happening. His excitement over this egg hunt suddenly flew off the charts, just as mine began to shrink.
For the first time, I felt…uneasy.
But there was no turning back, my son was already off again, now on a mission to find as many eggs as he could. I remembered where I’d hidden some, so when he got impatient, I led him in the right direction. When he found one, he immediately cracked it open. No M&Ms in this one, though, and instead of putting it in his basket, he threw it to the ground in disappointment.
He was mad; I felt queasy.
A little warning light was blinking in my brain, but we finished the hunt, because what else was there to do? When there were no more eggs to find, we all went back to the picnic area. The kids surveyed their loot while I eyed my car across the lot. I didn’t really know any of these people, no one would really care if I left early. Could I slip away now without anyone noticing?
But it was already too late. The children were opening their eggs, one by one. Some of the kids had been lucky to fill their baskets with the eggs brought by other moms. Good moms. Moms who knew things that I guess moms should know. Those kids squealed over foil-wrapped chocolates, pastel jelly beans and fluffy marshmallow chicks.
But other kids had clearly lingered too long in the areas where I had hidden my eggs. These poor sweet toddlers, now opened egg after empty plastic egg, and wailed.
I studied a nearby tree, trying not to look at the crying children, trying not to start crying myself. I had no idea what to do. Should I say something? Should I try to explain?
There were rumblings among the mothers until finally one came out and asked, loud enough for all to hear, “Why are so many of these eggs empty???”
Silence settled over the crowd. I glanced around the park, at my tree, at my car one more time, before coming clean.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I didn’t realize you were supposed to fill them.”
They all looked at me. Looked at me. The question so clearly written across their faces: who was I and what rock had I crawled out from under to come ruin their egg hunt?
These were nice women, but they were perplexed. And annoyed. I couldn’t blame them — I’d made their children cry!
I probably should have claimed to be an Easter novice. My husband was Jewish. We’d just celebrated Passover. Not everyone celebrates Easter after all. But in that incredibly uncomfortable moment, I just didn’t have it in me to lie. Though I also didn’t have it in me to tell the truth, which was that I grew up celebrating Easter every year, but my parents had been sugar-hating health nuts.
I’d just assumed these new-fangled plastic eggs were an easier alternative to the hard-boiled ones I grew up hunting, less likely to stink up the house when accidentally left behind the couch for a few weeks. It had truly never occurred to me that I was supposed to fill them with candy.
While the last of my spring optimism wilted under the heat of all those stares, my son started crying too. Screaming, in fact. Who knew what he was unhappy about — he’d been lucky enough to find a fair number of the other mothers’ eggs, after all — but for once I wasn’t sorry to have the fussiest baby on the block. I grabbed onto him like a lifeline.
“I’d better get him home,” I said, “He missed his nap.”
Super mom, no more. But at least a missed nap was a woe that every mom could understand, and I even got a few “awwws” of sympathy. These were nice moms, as I said. Not a single one shouted, “Go back to your rock!” though I’m sure that’s what they were thinking.
So with as hearty a “Great to meet you all!” as I could muster, I fled.
Wow, was all I could think as I took some deep breaths and tried to navigate familiar turns that now swam a bit before my eyes. Just when you’re riding high. Just when you think you’re starting to figure it out. In that way, my day had actually been a totally typical parenting experience — as soon as you think you’ve got it down, you get rudely reminded that you know nothing at all.
It would be a while before I ventured out of the house again. I vowed never to volunteer for another holiday-related event, as I was clearly not qualified. And even though those tear-streaked faces will remain forever etched in my own memory, I can only hope the adorable toddlers soon forgot those sad empty eggs.
Of course, my son had NOT actually missed his nap, but he still fell asleep on the car ride home– his face covered in chocolate, cheeks flushed with that feverish combination of joy, rage and sugar. Bedtime would be a disaster.
My only consolation, as he cried himself to sleep in the backseat, was that his Easter basket was on the front seat next to me. By the time we pulled into our driveway, my face was stained with a bit of chocolate too, my own cheeks flushed with a different, but just as feverish, combination of dashed-hopes, humiliation… and sugar.
I wondered if I had time to call my mom before my son woke up.
Nora Ericson grew up in central New York and studied painting at Yale University and writing for children at Vermont College of Fine Arts. After working her way up the west coast, she now makes her home in Portland, Oregon with two kids, two dogs and two cats. Nora is the author of Dill & Bizzy: An Odd Duck and a Strange Bird and Dill & Bizzy: Opposite Day, both published by HarperCollins, as well as the forthcoming Too Early (Nov 2022), published by Abrams and available to pre-order. You can find her online at noraericson.com.