Sometime around the age of four I became obsessed with ballerinas. I don’t know if it was the tutu or the toe shoes or the reenacted fairy tales but for whatever reason, I was intrigued. The only thing I wanted more than a career in the ballet was chocolate. Which is why on a visit to find a child-sized tutu at the local department store, when I saw a group of happy children clutching chocolate bars after standing in line to meet Santa, I wanted in.
Let me explain, there were no sweets in the house growing up. Well, that’s not entirely true. Scour the cupboard hard enough and you’d find two snacks, diet licorice nibs and some sort of healthful raisin cookie. Think Fig Newton’s very ugly step sister. Pickings were slim is what I’m saying. So when my child-mind got wind of the holy grail of cocoa–a Hershey’s bar–I knew I had to have one at all costs. Who cared if I went to temple on Yom Kippur and my great-grandmother carried herring in her purse on the boat over. This was chocolate. This was serious. My parents and I stood in line for what seemed like hours until finally Mount Kringle sat before me. I scrambled up on the man’s lap.
“What would you like for Xmas little girl?” the kindly fellow asked.
But all that waiting had caused the dark seeds of conscience to take root in my four-year-old brain. I sighed and shook my head. “I can’t have anything cause I’m Jewish,” I confessed.
“Well then, what would you like for Hanukkah?” he said.
What was this? A Unitarian Santa? My lucky day! I craned my neck, pointed over his shoulder, declaring loud enough for my parents to hear, “I would like that tutu, the one over there.” He placed the chocolate in my enthusiastic palm and I was on my way.
I wolfed the Hershey’s down immediately, of course. Poor impulse control, you see. As for the tutu, turned out it was encrusted with silver sequins that itched like a hair shirt, and I could only wear it once. Clearly some higher power was not amused at my willingness to abandon the Semites for a bar of chocolate.
I’m telling you this silly tale to talk about the spontaneous nature of kids, and how it effects me as a writer. Like the two girls I watched walk down third avenue once. One wanted to touch everything, the smooth metal railing in front of a restaurant, the tiny holes in the green painted post of a No Parking sign, something sparkly embedded in the sidewalk, every inch of the street expanded her curiosity. I’m sure her mother counted the seconds before she could whip out the Purel. Meanwhile, the other little girl didn’t walk, she wiggled and skipped down the road dancing to a staccato beat of her own making. That freedom to explore and not feel self-conscious came to them naturally, life had not interfered with it yet. I tried to remind myself that day, as I often do, to pay attention to the world in the same way as those girls, to live and write from a place that still retains spontaneity and a willingness to try something new.
We live in challenging times. Our news is filled with hypocrisy and violence, the bills to pay are large, and every demagogue with a microphone and a set of advertisers is preaching at us about the merits of his or her political position. What do you do in the midst of all that noise to hang on to your spark, to see magenta when it might be easier to get consumed by beige? Do you blow bubbles, do you play the ukulele, do you read a good book? Tell me about it. And the next time a kid skips by, watch, listen, learn, and remember to feed your child-mind. Chocolate I find is a particularly welcome snack for just this kind of occasion.