What did you do for Easter?
If you believe the supermarket TV adverts, Easter looks a little like this:
1. Mother (no other member of the family because only mothers own purses and vaginas and both of these are necessary for food shopping) goes to said supermarkets and fills trolley with lambs – sorry, lamb – fresh vegetables, and rosemary sprigs.
2. Everyone comes over and Mother (no other member of the family because only mothers own hands and eyes and both of these are necessary for cooking) serves up the moist and delicious meat, surrounded by glowing succulent vegetables that all the children joyously eat without throwing them on the floor.
3. Everyone puts on their adorable bunny ears, gathers their beribboned baskets and takes to the sunny garden, where the weather stops its constant pattern of RAIN!WIND!SUN!CLOUD!HAIL! for a whole day and they run around discovering the hidden eggs, jewel-like, that peek out from behind old painted watering-cans and under sheds. The ones that definitely haven’t been eaten by foxes in the night or melted in the sun or been trodden on by drunk Auntie as she staggers up the garden path.
4. JOY! RABBITS! LAMBS! (oh wait-, not them, because we ate them). CHRIST! (That was said drunk Auntie tripping over on the way to the shed again for a smoke).
People, let me preach for a moment. We have let the supermarkets take Easter from us.
The only thing in all of this that makes sense is the joy. Easter comes at a time of year when we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel – the weather hints enticingly at warmth, the animals wetly plop out young, the daffodils turn their sunny faces to the sky. The world teaches us that things can change, that months of wind and rain can give way to calm, that dark soil can produce bright flowers. Winter is long, but not immortal. Certainty gives way to possibilities…
Why would you celebrate that with buying stuff and tolerating people you fantasise about roundhousing in the jaw? Save that for Christmas.
No, Easter is the time to set your own traditions. If you must make it about religion, take a lesson from Jesus. (That’t the first and last time I’ll ever type that phrase). Say what you will about Jesus, he was a bit of a maverick. Jesus wouldn’t have plodded round the garden picking up foil-wrapped supermarket chocolate eggs, that’s for sure.*
This year, we set a magnificent and glorious challenge for our offspring that shall hereafter be called the Easter Escape Room. (Before you call Social Services, they were allowed out for toilet breaks and cigarettes). If you’re not familiar with the idea of an escape room, think an extended Crystal Maze room – explore the room, work out the challenge, try and complete it. Sometimes there’s a time limit – we didn’t set one, which is a good thing as it took about three hours in total.
The general idea is to make your children earn their Easter eggs (or jellybeans, or tequila) by solving a mystery, a set of puzzles, or combining clues to crack a code. We used all three in a complex case involving thrilling drama, dangerous villains, and chocolate-snatching. Quite apart from it being amazing fun, we wanted to achieve three things:
1. To teach them that they don’t just always get stuff, automatically, by virtue of being small and cute.
2. To teach them to look harder at things. (For example, the clock was stopped at five past one as part of a clue – boy, did it take them a while to see that).
3. To teach them perseverance and teamwork – although, more on that later, and it’s dark….
We left a series of objects and papers around the room – some useful, some red herrings – and largely left them to it, although more prompting was needed at times. I’d like to think that next year we can crank up the difficulty levels now they’ve had their first crack (and I’ve made my first Easter pun).
As with many video games, finding out what to do was the first hurdle. They needed to find a series of answers to puzzles in order to open combination locks and get further clues. One particularly inspired part involved figuring out the login and password to the villain’s email account, whose inbox contained a link to a YouTube video from the dastardly villain himself.
It also involved newspaper cuttings, a file full of suspects to sift through, a Caesar cipher wheel, using a compass to locate objects around the room, weighing things on digital scales, Scrabble word scores, and classic riddles. Hats were also included, because of the Sherlock Holmes effect (wearing a hat makes you a better detective).
Finally, when it came to the final unlocking of the suitcase full of loot, there was a sinister twist. If you’ve ever heard of ‘the Prisoner’s Dilemma’, it involves two prisoners, one decision, and a whole lot of game theory. We adapted it for this situation so that both children were given two cards, one ‘split’ and one ‘steal’. They had one minute to discuss and play a card face down. If both ‘split’ cards were played, they’d happily split the loot and altruism would reign forever. If one of them played ‘steal’.. they got the lot. Two ‘steal’ cards means no-one got anything.
What happened? An epic drama unfolded before us.
Child A spoke eloquently about the benefits of sharing. Child B agreed. High fives across the table. Happy dances all round. Timer ran out.
Child A triumphantly stole all the loot.
(Child B cried and we explained that we would, in fact, share it out between them. Because we are terrible parents who give in to our children’s every whim.)
So – next Easter, I urge you: throw out the old stereotypes of egg-painting and spraying branches gold and roasting baby animals. Try something new and awesome. Take the four hours of hell you would have spent stuck in a supermarket queue surrounded by dangling plastic chicks and make something amazing for your children (or your partner or your parents or your housemate), something they can come down to on Easter morning that will make their world explode with possibilities. But it’s just a clock! Can it be a clue, too? What about the old picture in the frame? Could there be something hidden…behind it? What about that jigsaw puzzle? If we make it, could there be something written on the back? (There was, this year. There won’t be, next year. Ha!)
Special thanks go to the quite brilliant @Groinheart, who masterminded the whole thing. Here he is, in the Youtube video as Mr Naughty Boy. (Note the strong resemblance to Cthulhu. I’m a lucky girl).
*I think. Jesus and I aren’t all that well acquainted, if I’m honest.