Editor’s note: Marion is taking the day off. This column first appeared in March 2002, but it has been slightly updated
Attention parents of young children: I am about to share with you one of my most brilliant ideas about raising children. It’s a seasonal idea, so you need to pay attention today.
Actually, this is not an idea about raising children, but rather something more important: a suggestion for how to keep them amused. And I admit that it only works for one afternoon per year. But that’s worth it, right?
Like most brilliant ideas, this one came by accident. One day, many years ago, my kids and I were standing in front of the Easter egg kits at Longs Drugs Store (now CVS). This was back in the days of great deprivation when there were only three boxes to choose from and none of them included 3-D glasses or produced “eXtreme eggs”.
“I want the swirly stuff,” said my son.
“No, I like plain colors,” protested my daughter, “with stickers.”
“Plain colors are boring.”
While my kids continued this pleasant discussion, I scanned for dangerous phrases like “colors may stain some fabrics” and “add two tablespoons of white vinegar.” (Everyone learns about vinegar the hard way. Mom can really spoil Easter if she doesn’t have it in the home when needed.)
The kit that would please everyone did not exist, so I bought three.
Back home, we poured the dye in Chinese rice bowls, like we always do, and lined them up across the dining room table. We poked at the two orange tablets and tried to figure out which one was going to surprise us (again) by producing yellow. We all watched carefully as the purple tablet dissolved. Would it be brighter this year?
Then we dug in.
I felt like a Real Mom because I was replicating something my own mother did with me. I even bought dye from the same company that spells funny: Paas has been around since 1880. My mother didn’t use Chinese bowls, but she did sometimes forget to buy vinegar.
From the earliest years when my children were toddlers, I always liked watching them dye eggs, but I know now that I didn’t watch closely enough. If I had, I might have spared myself ten years of worrying about their homework. The signs of future patience and diligence, the kind of temperament that leads to good students, were evident in the tender way they held their eggs suspended half way into the Chinese bowls, in hopes of achieving a two-toned effect.
I dyed eggs, too, and just like the children, I called my husband over saying, “Come see my best eggs!” Actually, my best eggs were sitting at the table with dark hair and bright eyes, coloring their own best eggs.
When we were done, an extra kit lay on the table, unopened.
I held it over the garbage can, but changed my mind. Four months later, it turned up in the closet when I was rummaging around for beach gear. We were heading up to a rented cabin near Donner Lake, the kind of summer vacation that sounds perfect, but isn’t, because even near water kids get bored.
I threw the dye kit into my luggage, and one day, when my husband was back in the city and I was on duty alone, I said, “Let’s dye Easter eggs!” The kids gaped at me as if I had suggested trick or treating in July.
But I was ready. I ran back into the house and emerged with 24 white eggs that I had cooked in the “enamel, stainless steel or glass” pan that Paas required without saying why.
We spread newspaper over the picnic table. Spills were OK. Two hours flew by. The resulting artwork tasted great on the beach.
We had created a new family tradition, and every year we vacationed at Donner Lake, I bought extra dye at Easter and tucked it away.
Don’t ask me how I feel about the fact that my kids are all grown up now and it has been a long time now since we sat at that picnic table near the lake, discussing the orange tablets and twirling eggs in the sun.
Instead, I suggest you get moving. They’ll take those extra dye kits off the shelves today. You just head on over to the store, while I go wipe my eyes.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears Sundays