Saturday, October 27, 2012
Trick-or-treating last night in my hometown, my son was given a fortune cookie by the local Chinese restaurant. This was something new to him; we don’t eat Chinese food. I have nothing against it, mind you. I actually rather enjoy it…or, I did, but my body has decided, in the past year, to refuse to accept most of the foods I used to enjoy. I already do not eat meat. I gave up dairy some time ago. And now I’m forced to enjoy a wheat/gluten-free diet as well. This basically means I eat like a rabbit, which actually isn’t too bad once you get used to it and has a quite fabulous effect on one's energy level and figure. But my son and I have never been ‘foodies.’ I’m quick to tell people that dinner is not a big deal in our house. We eat to stay alive, not as a social activity. And as the saying goes, we ‘Simply eat. Not a lot. Mostly plants.’ When a friend got me involved with community gardening this summer, it opened up a whole new world of food to my son, because certain things – like eggplants – just flourished in abundance and had to be eaten as such. Also, he had his own row of crops to tend, and there was a certain magic to eating what he knew he’d grown and planted himself.
But back to the fortune cookie…I’m not sure why it delighted him so much. His fortune inside was pretty generic - you will soon be the recipient of good news – but he held on to it like he’d been given a gold doubloon. As I write this, I can still see him walking there beside me, his full bucket of goodies in one hand, his little slip of fortune held tightly in the other. “I’m not going to lose my fortune, Mama,” he said. Every so often, he’d stop and look at it again. We had parked at my parents home and walked the mile or so to town, been on our feet steadily for hours doing the candy rounds, and were walking back when he asked, “Mama, what is a fortune actually?”
By this time, his candy bucket was about half-full. Not because he’d eaten it, no. It was because he’d steadily given away his candy to children in line who were just arriving and did not have as much in their buckets. I celebrated this silently, but after many, many instances of him giving candy away, I finally stopped and told him he was making me very proud.
“What?” he said. “It’s just fair, I have already gotten so much and they didn’t have any yet.”
These are the moments I want to stop the world for, the moments when I see glimpses of who my son really is, who he is going to be, and my own good fortune to be the mother of a child who would so easily give away what he’d stood in line two hours to receive. In these moments, I recall others - how he packed a favorite stuffed animal into his book-bag so he could give it to a child in his classroom who was returning to school that day after being sick. The day he suggested, while at the grocery store, that we also buy food for my elderly grandmother and take it to her. How, on his own, he picked wildflowers on Mother’s Day for all the Mothers that we know. And recently, while out having lunch, when a friend jokingly asked if he could have some of his pizza, and my son pushed his plate towards him, saying, “You can have as much as you want.” My friend was amazed and a little embarrassed. “I was only teasing,” he said.
“No, have some,” my son replied. “It’s really good. Try it.”
Looking back at my little boy, I smiled. He is but a child, after all. A child who asked, what is a fortune?
“A fortune is the knowledge of what might happen in the future,” I told him. “But it’s also all the good stuff you have in life right now.”
“Like this candy?” he asked, holding up his bucket.
“Well, in some way. But really it’s more like all the other stuff. Friends, family, love, Lammy (our cat), our home, that we live by the woods, that we are happy and healthy and have all the things we need, that we are here, together, right now…you know…all the blessings.”
“Can we really tell what’s going to happen in the future?” he asks.
“Kind of. Well, most of the time. We create the future with our choices. It’s not something predestined that happens to us, many things will happen to us in our lives, good and bad things. It’s how we react to them that really determines what will be,” I say. “And how willing we are to really work for whatever it is that we want. So in a way, that fortune is true, because there is always going to be some good news that comes. But there’s going to always be bad news, too." I say. “But, remember the future is not what we worry about. It’s not guaranteed or promised to us. All we have is the moments we’re in, like right now. That’s what matters most. That's what we need to give our attention to, the moments. We can waste a lot of life worrying about what might or might not happen in a future that might or might not happen. Be in the moment. I think this is a real good one, don’t you?”
He shrugs, his eyes focused on the small slip of paper. “I’m not gonna lose my fortune,” he repeats. I smile at the way he holds the paper in his small fist. “I’m gonna save it forever.”
Then he stops walking, frowns a little. He didn’t want to dress up for this round of trick or treating, as we’d both dressed up extensively for a Halloween celebration the night before. And I didn’t force him, as it honestly made no difference to me. Kids need to make some choices for themselves, especially when it comes to spending hours walking around in a hot, itchy costume or just wearing one's regular clothes. A werewolf passed us by, followed by a clown, and I thought maybe the look on his face was because he regretted his choice not to put on the medieval Viking king ensemble he’d worn the night before. But I was wrong.
“Mama, I really don’t want all this candy. Will you be mad if I give the rest of it away?”
“No, love,” I responded. “It’s yours to do with as you wish.”
I didn’t tell him how glad I really was that he didn’t want to run home and eat as much of it as he could. Nor did I complain that we’d spent basically two hours on a quest for something he was now just going to give away. We have often labored, in some capacity, for something we were simply going to give away. I’ve demonstrated to him that there is a sacred beauty in doing something for purposes beyond self-gratification. And I’ve always been practical with him when it comes to unhealthy foods like candy. He knows what it means to be sick. He knows unhealthy food is the primary thing that makes us sick. This is a battle I don’t have to fight in my house, and for that, I’m so grateful, because every Halloween, he ends up giving away 90% of the candy collected.
At home, he pulls out a few select pieces for himself and we put the rest in a basket. We will take the basket to the Soup Kitchen, where we’ve donated many things before. He adds all the candy from his class party and a wrapped cookie he’d saved from a boxed lunch the day before. “Those kids will be so happy to get this,” he smiles. “And I certainly don’t need it all.”
I love my child beyond measure. I love our life here, the intense bond we share, and the way we live. And I also love all the wonderful things that are happening for us right now. I take his fortune and put it on the refrigerator, slipping it into a photo of the two of us on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
What is a fortune? It’s knowledge of what might happen in the future. But mostly, it’s all the good stuff that you have, in your life, right now. Which is all that matters, really. What you have right now.