Op/Ed

Faith Gong: On dyeing eggs… again

THE GONG FAMILY egg tree

Having now parented five children over the course of 15 years (and counting), I can attest that parenting is seldom repetitive. Each child is different, every stage and season brings new challenges (or, as parenting blogs often frame them, “exciting new opportunities for growth!”) Even predictable developmental milestones seem novel, because I honestly can’t remember when my older children hit those same milestones. (This is embarrassingly clear when our fifth child has pediatric appointments and the doctors ask, “When did his big sisters start walking/talking/eating solids?” I hem and haw over vague time ranges, all the while thinking, Do I LOOK like I have time to keep track of all that?!?)

But there is one area in which repetition is apparently required: holiday celebrations.

When I was a younger, more energetic mother, I had an idealistic vision of creating our own particular family traditions around holidays. We would do special things year after year that would define our family culture! These things would channel our creativity! They would bring us closer as a family! They would be the very things our children would remember nostalgically when they were grown!

What young, energetic mothers don’t realize is that raising children involves a lot of holiday celebrations. Yes, the time goes quickly, but at a very minimum you’re likely looking at 18 years of holidays. I just crunched the numbers for my family, and found to my horror that, assuming my youngest child leaves home at 18, we will have celebrated 30 years of holidays with children living at home — and this doesn’t even account for the children coming home from college or with their own families. 

The thing about special holiday traditions is that they are often stressful and messy. They are things that children outgrow, yet every year someone will ask wistfully: “Aren’t we going to make sugar cookies/carve pumpkins/have green eggs and ham?” And you will sigh, because secretly you were hoping that everyone had forgotten or lost interest. You will pull out the sprinkles or carving knives or food coloring and go ahead and check that box. And in the end, even if nobody was quite into it or you ended up with a lot of food that nobody really wanted to eat, you’ll have avoided the guilt of skipping a Family Holiday Tradition. Because the only thing worse than having to repeat these traditions year after year is having one of your children exclaim, post-holiday, “Hey! We never made a gingerbread house/bobbed for apples/rolled beeswax candles this year!”

Dyeing Easter eggs is one of our family’s holiday traditions, and it may be the one I dread most each year. As a young, idealistic mother it seemed like a no-brainer: Of course children should have the annual experience of coloring eggs at Easter! Egg decorating is a tradition dating back to over 2,500 years ago, when the ancient Persians decorated eggs for New Year; then the custom was adopted by Eastern Orthodox Christians and became associated with Easter. Who am I to buck that venerable history? 

But try decorating eggs with young children, and you’ll start questioning the wisdom of the ancient Persians. It’s a special kind of torture to hand children a bunch of eggs — one of nature’s most fragile objects — with instructions to blow out the insides and dunk the eggs in cups of dye. Our own family’s annual egg dyeing tradition usually begins with me doing most of the blowing out after my children get too frustrated and ends with our dog eating the beautifully decorated eggs as soon as our backs are turned. 

This year started on a more auspicious note than usual: I remembered to buy the egg dye kit a whole week before Easter. I opted for the classic Paas kit, the one with bright color pods that dissolve in vinegar. We’ve stuck with Paas ever since the year when I decided it would be fun and educational to make natural dyes from plants and berries; it took hours of effort for lackluster results. I also avoided my usual mistake of thinking: Hey, we don’t need to buy eggs because we have laying hens! Our hens, you see, lay brown eggs, so even the brightest dyes have undertones of brown. This year, I remembered to ask my husband to pick up a dozen white eggs at the store. 

Still, despite all my preparation, I wasn’t excited about the egg dyeing. It just felt like one more box to check. We had a busy week, so the egg blowing and dyeing got pushed off until Good Friday. 

Expecting the worst, I got my three youngest children set up at the counter with the eggs, a pin for making holes in each end, and a bowl in which to blow out the egg guts. Then I braced myself for mess, frustrated tears, and blowing out most of the eggs myself.

Much to my surprise, this was the year when past experience and slightly older children aligned to create…a pleasant experience. I did have to make most of the holes in the eggshells with the pin, but that’s largely because we discovered that store-bought white eggs are more fragile than our homegrown variety. For the most part, my children were able to blow out the eggs on their own; even our three-year-old proved to be gentle and patient with egg-blowing. When some eggs cracked a bit in the process, nobody had a tantrum; they just shrugged and moved on.

The biggest mess didn’t involve children at all, but happened when my husband attempted to transfer the egg innards from the bowl into a jar for storage. He planned to make the eggs into three quiches for an Easter breakfast we were hosting, which seemed like a perfect solution for twelve egg’s worth of whites and yolks. But as he poured the eggs into a large Ball jar, the jar’s bottom broke off and all the eggs disappeared down the drain. It was a bummer, and we have no idea how the jar cracked, but it was minor compared to the mess of past years.

As it turned out, I wasn’t even around for the dyeing itself: I had to work at the library all day Saturday, so I got my children set up with the egg kit, some cups, and vinegar. When I arrived home that evening, I found a dozen brightly colored eggs with no other evidence of egg dyeing in view. To be honest, I felt almost nostalgic for the chaos. 

Maybe that’s why, at 11 o’clock on Easter eve, after all the kids were in bed, I snuck outside to check off another of my least favorite traditions: hanging plastic eggs on the maple tree by our driveway. This tree has been dead for over a year now, but our children won’t let us take it down because, “That’s the egg tree!” 

So I hung those bright eggs on the dead tree because my children expected it. And because Easter is all about the miracle of dead things coming back to life. My children might be older now, but you’re never too old for a little miracle. 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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