I have a hate relationship with sugar. I do, however, subscribe to a life of balance, so when my child begs for a box of artificially flavored sugar, I understand that saying yes from time to time means the possibility of fewer binge sessions later on in his life.
I remind myself that I grew up in the generation of fast food and TV dinners. I ate food that I wouldn’t feed my dog. Today, I shudder at minute-made food and drive thru signs. So there’s hope.
During the week I headed over to World Market, one of my guilty pleasures. I like to meander through different “lands” and take in pillows, textiles, textures and more.
My little YouTuber, on the other hand, is less than thrilled with such things. I can hardly blame him. We aren’t building-block-like structures, discovering mysterious places or mining for emeralds after all. Shopping these days is a compromise for both of us. I move faster than I’d like, and the mere thought of walking in to a store brings on teenage groans from my seven-year-old.
On this particular outing, I jogged through aisles, dreamed up design vignettes in my head, and realized that peaceful, indulgent shopping days were years away – or at least relegated to weekends when Dad is on watch.
Eventually, we came upon the food section. Mesmerized by candy aisles that would make Willy Wonka swoon, my son weaved in and out as though he was up against the clock. My son’s powers of persuasion are strong, and I knew I wouldn’t be leaving without something half eaten before we reached check-out.
Only a short plea later and the “Jelly Belly BeanBoozled” game box found its way into the cart. Part game, the box is filled with a variety of 20 flavored jelly beans, or 10 pairs that are identical to one another in appearance, but not in flavor.
The green jelly bean could be “Booger” or “Juicy Pear,” while the brown jelly bean could be “Canned Dog Food” or “Chocolate Pudding.” Spin the dial and eat the designated color. Your taste buds, or perhaps your gag reflex, do the rest.
We headed towards the check-out area. My son wasted no time and challenged the 20-something cashier to a spin of the wheel. To my delight and surprise, he was up to the challenge and more than willing to play along. Like a multi-tasking beast, the cashier scanned the few items I’d collected, spun the wheel, and fearlessly popped stomach-turning flavors.
“Oh man, ‘Dead Fish’!”
Before long, the bagger was involved, and then the person behind us in line. This was not simply a game; this was a crowd pleaser and a unifier. Once silent strangers had now become child-like thrill seekers, daring one another to try yet another flavor. My son was having an absolute blast running the show, ordering participants to spin and select their jelly beans. The joy was infectious. We laughed at each other’s palette misfortunes.
I had several other pit stops to make that day, and our new “BeanBoozled” box accompanied us across every storefront threshold. We wouldn’t be in a store for more than a minute before my son spotted another victim.
The game was fast becoming a phenomenal ice-breaker. It also allowed momma time to take a few distraction-free laps, while my little man entertained himself, and many others, with “Barf” or “Peach,” “Stinky Socks” or “Tutti Fruitti.”
Little did I know how much entertainment this purchase would add to our otherwise bland, errand-filled, run-of-the-mill day. My son didn’t hesitate to reach out to complete strangers. He didn’t question the rules of social engagement or worry about potentially awkward interactions. He was on a roll, enthusiastic and inclusive, never ill at ease, and as a result, the strangers he invited to play willingly participated.
Today, we live in a lonelier, more isolated world, punctuated by texts, Facebook “friends,” and photographic storytelling. More often than not, our connection is one of silent engagement. I am not ready to abandon these platforms. They each have their place. But that day I was reminded of the beauty and necessity of connecting with people in a random and intentional way.
How delightful it was to hear strangers laugh together in shared physical space. No viral videos, no “likes,” no tags. Just joy, and my son facilitating the proceedings with adorable charm.
This is the stuff of magic. Maybe we all just need to get together and share a few more jelly beans.