October 8, 2013 by lucieromarin
1. Treasure. They love treasure. By treasure, I don’t mean whizz-bang toys or obviously expensive gifts. I mean things like a shiny purple sequin found unexpectedly behind a couch, which gleaming object (the sequin, I mean, not the couch!) can be poised on the end of a little finger, while the child exclaims, “Lucy! I found treasure!”
They also love treasure maps (any piece of paper will do; it’s the imagining that makes it fun) and a hidden cache of buttons, brass, ribbons, or plastic-that-looks-like-silver. More than once I’ve seen siblings ushered out of a room, so that a child can show me the secret box of treasures from which others are banned…and, guess what? There was never anything that cost anyone any money in that box.
A child’s treasure will be shiny or brightly-coloured. It will also be small – small enough for their hands, and small enough to be hidden, just like them. It will, very often, be redolent of adulthood; a tiny jar of green glass, with a little screw-top, or a used tube of hand-cream, or a button that looks like a medal, if your imagination is in good working order. Most important, it looks like no one else has it, because it was found, rather than bought. That’s why the most favoured toy isn’t treasure; it’s big, loud, and other people have it too. Treasure is private. Treasure is privacy.
There was a time when a number of children thought it was great fun to pull apart polystyrene cups after Mass, and to scatter the parts hither and yon as part of some kind of half-creative, half-mindlessly-destructive game. The worst problem was that they’d then leave these parts behind, so that older and creakier individuals had to climb into gardens and bend under benches in order to retrieve them. One day, in an attempt at discipline, I asked some children to clean up their mess. I might as well have asked them the same question in Hungarian, for all the effect it had on them (i.e none).
But one day, for no reason that I can think of (and which I assume, therefore, was my guardian angel) I called out, “Hey, everyone! Hey, children! It’s time to pick up the pieces! Listen – we’re jewel-hunters, and these are the jewels! Let’s see who can find the most jewels!”
Seriously, for a good ten minutes afterwards the place echoed with little voices crying, “I’ve found a great big blue jewel!” “There’s a jewel! There’s a jewel in the bushes!” “I’m carrying three jewels in my hand right now!” and so on.
Okay, I have to admit that by the third week in a row either the novelty had worn off, or they’d wised up to the fact that they were doing the cleaning, but I’m not saying here that children are perpetually manipulable. I’m saying that they love treasure – and they do!
This is why it is mean to deny children Easter Egg hunts. We had them in our parish for a while, until someone wondered if it was too redolent of the Easter Bunny. After that, the eggs had to be doled out from the hand of the chaplain, who, at that moment, ceased to be the Captain of the Hunt, and became merely the Dealer. Forget the Easter Bunny – no one cares – the point about hunting for the eggs is that it gives children something better to enjoy than mere sugar and instant gratification. It gives them an adventure!
This is also why I like the Advent Calendar. I know that it’s not exactly a hunt, but opening that little door each day is a moment of discovery, akin to looking behind the door to an enchanted cave – you know there’s something behind it. Also, the patience needed to wait for each day in its turn (rather than just opening the whole lot at once) calls on the same kind of patient endurance that treasure-hunting needs. A real treasure-hunter never finds everything all at once, first go.
There was going to be a 2, 3 and 4 in this post. But I think this is enough for now!