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The Easter egg hunt mentality

Posted: April 15, 2014 5:01 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Easter. Go ahead and let the word resonate in your mind. Let all the memories and fond associations come rushing over you. Easter is such a lovely holiday. The Biblical story behind it teaches people to be hopeful, that there is the possibility of redemption, unconditional love and eternal life. The natural season is a time of blooming and birth and renewal. The earth wakes up from its winter slumber and the air feels softer and warmer.

Personally, I have always approached Easter with a bit of trepidation, caution and deep-rooted anxiety. I’m sure that sounds confusing, so I’ll explain. I’ve never been a competitive sort of person. Competitive, aggressive, domineering, confrontational -- those are terms that would never be applied to me. I just lack that streak, that drive. Say I’m up against someone else for an award or a job or for the attentions of a gentleman, I don’t really fight. I tend to back off and lose interest. I’m just not cutthroat and I never have been.

The second of three girls, I’ve often felt I am THE quintessential middle child -- moody, emotional, creative, talented, brilliant, exquisitely lovely … and utterly humble. The truth is, I’ve always been sandwiched in between two rather aggressive sisters and have reverted to the “back off and find your own path” tactic rather than the “fight to the death until you get what you want even if it’s a pile of rags by the end of the struggle” method employed by them.

All jokes and jabs aside, Dabnee and Jordan are the two best sisters I could ever hope for and I wouldn’t want them to change in any way, but I am starkly different from them in comparison. In my mind, the difference comes down to the Easter egg hunt mentality. There are the type of people who love egg hunts and the type of people who absolutely dread them. My sisters are the type who love them …

Whether you realize it or not, Easter egg hunts are not fun for all involved. Have you ever seen that child at the end of the hunt sobbing inconsolably in her fluffy dress, clutching an empty Easter basket and wondering why the world is such a cruel and unfair place? That’s eight-year-old Haley Atkinson. To this day I still feel a faint tinge of horror at the prospect of an egg hunt.

If you’re asking why, you’re clearly a first or third born … maybe even an only child. The reason is because Easter egg hunts are vicious affairs. Basically you take a bunch of ruthless, egg-hungry hooligans, get them all jazzed up over the prospect of finding a finite number of plastic eggs in a limited amount of time and then you set them free in a backyard or a playground or some other space. What follows is chaos, anarchy. It’s practically a bloodbath with no blood. But, there is usually pushing and fighting and chasing and hair pulling. I remember an egg hunt one year where I spotted an egg under some pine straw and grabbed it only to have it snatched out of my hand by a mean little devil of a boy. I’m sure he’s in prison somewhere these days because I’m sure he became a criminal.

I feel nauseous even unearthing those dark memories now as an adult. Seriously, it still gives me chills. One particularly vivid memory from childhood resides with me in perfect clarity to this day. I was in third grade and the entire grade was heading out to the home of one of my classmates for a huge Easter egg hunt blowout. All the other kids were pumped; it was like they’d been eating nothing but pure sugar for the days preceding -- all of them, boys AND girls. And then there was me. I don’t want to paint the picture of me being shy and defenseless because that wasn’t the case; I was just completely disgusted and terrified by the spectacle I’d seen displayed in previous Easter egg hunts.

There was an announcement that at the end of the hunt, all the eggs in each kid’s basket would be counted and the top winners would get a prize. The anxiety induced upon me with that statement was crushing. My strategy had been to stand off to the side and pick flowers while the rabid dogs fought each other, but that would not work if egg totals were being announced. I knew I was going to have to play dirty.

The night before the hunt I got my Easter basket ready with its bows and plastic grass. Then, quiet as a mouse, I snuck into the closet where my mom kept all the holiday decorations. There was a full pack of Easter eggs, fresh, unused and ready for someone like me to take them. I hid most, if not all, the eggs in my basket under the mounds of Easter grass and patted it out carefully. To the unknowing eye, it was a typical, egg-less basket. I shook off the tinge of guilt I felt by telling myself I had to do this. They made me. They pushed me over the edge.

The next day, I strolled into my third grade classroom confident, ready for the barbaric act that awaited me. My small, sweaty hand tightly grasped my basket and I knew I would be safe with it by my side. That is until the overzealous mom-patrol that had swarmed and overtaken the class informed me that they were collecting the baskets and stacking them up at the back of the classroom and then would be transporting them in a separate car to the site of the hunt after they made a nametag and connected it to the basket. “That way you kids don’t lose your baskets or forget to bring them,” they said.

I kept my cool, even though my little heart was about to explode out of my chest. I thought, I’ll go dump these eggs in the trash in the bathroom. “I have to go to the bathroom!” I yelped. My teacher, in one fell swoop, took the Easter basket out of my hand and gave me a push towards the door. “Be quick,” she said.

When I returned from my staged trip to the bathroom, I expected to face an angry inquisition of mothers, pointing and staring and asking why I’d sought to sabotage their egg hunt, not to mention neglect the spirit of the season, with my debauchery. However, everything seemed business as usual. I calmed a bit, but my guard was still up. The baskets (with names firmly attached) stacked at the back of the room, we all sat down at our desks to take a quick spelling test before embarking for hell, I mean the egg hunt. If there’s one thing that can distract me from anything, it’s language arts. Even back then, words held sway over my thoughts more than anything else. I furiously focused on acing that spelling test and practically forgot about the basket.

Always the teacher’s pet, I even volunteered to help my teacher grade them and she obliged. As I was engaging in doling out red pen checks and exes, I failed to notice a little boy (who after that moment became my arch nemesis for life) prowling around the stacks of baskets. I still don’t know what that little monster was doing back there, but I do know that he screamed as loud as though a snake had bitten his behind and pointed an accusatory finger at me.

“There are EGGS in Haley’s BASKET!” he shouted and the rest of the class turned to see if it was true. I am sure I was as blood red as blood red can be at that moment. All those eyes. This was worse than the hideous egg hunt itself. Being outed before my peers as a cheater. I stammered something incoherent, but the little tyrant wouldn’t stop. “She’s cheating!” he shrieked and demanded that I be reprimanded.

I think my teacher was amused and probably surprised to see this darker side of her pet student, but she quietly asked me why I’d put eggs into my basket before the hunt. I mumbled something about bringing extras in case we ran out and, good woman that she was, she thanked me and gave me a hug and told my classmates that it was lucky I was looking out for them.

The little vampires knew better, I’m sure, but they backed off. The egg hunt was, as expected, a complete nightmare, but if nothing else I had learned a lesson about cheating and getting caught and how humiliating it could be. I also realized my teacher was one of the sweetest people in the whole entire world and I vowed if I were ever to be a teacher myself, I’d treat my students the same way.

So there you go. The Easter egg hunt mentality spelled out in detail. Now you know which type I am and maybe you’re questioning whether those things really were fun after all. Happy Easter everybody!

(Haley Atkinson is the Localife editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email responses to hatkinson@chronicle-independent.com.)

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