“When is the movie going to start?” Vivvi turned to me and asked.

“It’s not a movie,” I remind her. We were sitting in orange plastic chairs as we waited in the brightly colored music room of the local middle school for their production of Aladdin Jr. to start. Vivvi had never been to see live theater before, so she had no idea what she was getting into. “It’s real people,” I said.

She stared at me for a second—a stare that said, You idiot. Answer the question. Or, if I am being more generous to myself, a stare that said, I’m four, and I like sparkles. “So when’s the real people going to start?”

“10 minutes,” I said.

“How long is that? Long or short?” she asked.

“Long if you are waiting for a birthday party to start. Short if the party is almost over,” I said. “You can open your Skittles and eat them while you wait.”

She shook her head. She was delaying gratification, something I used to do as a kid—something I know I don’t do anymore. And yet, like so many quirks and flaws, it has mysteriously passed from me to both of my children. They want to save things. I can remember the words pouring from my elementary mouth as they say them, “I want to save it.” I think of the Lisa Frank stickers that lived in a box for years, never to fulfill their destiny of livening up a boring folder, instead losing their stick and dying a miserable trash can death.

Five more minutes passed. I talked to my friend who was sitting on my other side. Vivvi passed the time by setting down her Skittles, then picking them up again, then adjusting her posture. Repeat and repeat. Unlike my son, my firstborn, who always needed me so much, she has always been the most independent child in the land. I blame my approach to their babyhoods, actually. When my son was a baby, I was in his face constantly trying to entertain him. So when he was 2.5 and Vivvi was born, he continued to need me song and dancing and jazz handing. So Vivvi hung out with her little self and continues to enjoy doing so at the age of 4. There she sat in her orange chair, waiting for the real people show.

They flashed the lights to indicate it was nearly curtain up. “It’s going to start soon,” I said.

“Okay, can you open my Skittles now?” she asked. Only she asked, and at the same time tried pulling the sides of the bag apart herself. I watched it unfold—if it were a movie, you would see her fingers start pulling in slow motion. You would see a close up of my friend’s face as her eyes go wide. You would see me reach, and my deep slow-mo voice bellowing “No!!!!” You would hear Vivvi’s slow-mo voice, probably lowered from her normal munchkin tones to something more like what usually comes out of my mouth saying, “AHHH!” And you would see thousands and thousands of Skittles burst from the bag, landing in the hair and laps and shoulders and hoods and mouths of everyone in a 3 row vicinity. Then time would speed back up so you could hear the remaining thousands of Skittles land on the tile floor and skitter in every direction. It would be such a glorious click-clacking sound for which Sound Editing awards would be considered at next year’s Academy Awards. You would imagine yourself remembering this sound for the rest of your days—you would come to think of it as the sound of hope lost. And as the click clack of all that glorious sweetness faded away, you would hear silence—for I assure you, the entire room of hundreds of waiting theater-goers paid a moment’s respect to all of that wasted candy. Then, you would hear me turn to my friend and say, “Taste the rainbow!” as I shrug and Vivvi collapses into my lap in a puddle of tears.

It took me only a second to realize that I was in a pickle. My daughter, who thought a movie was going to start any moment, had no interest in being entertained anymore. She had no interest in finding out how much longer until it would start. She had no interest in the fact that hundreds of kids were waiting backstage to give the live performance of their middle school careers and that their parents had waited months for this day. She had no interest in my consolation, my hugs, my reassurance that I had at least 10 Skittles on my lap and in my hair for her. She cared only about what she had lost.

I looked either way down the row of packed-in chairs calculating the time it would take to make an escape with a child who was raging from the unfairness of this tragedy. I was soothing, and feeling stuck. I was trying to will the Skittles in my hand to multiply like loaves and fishes. I was hearing the clock tick down to the curtain opening—it sounded like Skittles dropping to the floor, click, clack, click, clack—and I was asking for a miracle.

And then I felt a tap on my shoulder. An out-of-breath boy who was around 10 years old from the row behind me handed me a glorious, unopened bag of M&Ms. “What’s this?” I asked, so baffled from the previous chaotic minute of my life.

“It’s candy,” the boy said. “For her.” He pointed at Vivvi, who was still buried in my lap convulsing with tears.

I peeled Vivvi’s head and shoulders up like she was a bag of candy and I was peeling her open in the proper way, slowly, with care, like a sane person and not a baboon—note to self—must teach my children to open candy less like baboons. “Vivvi!” I said. “Look!”

And the glory of the miraculous gift slowly wiped the dark tragedy out of her eyes. The clouds parted. The rainbow broke across the sky.

I turned back to the dad of the boy. “Thank you so much!” burst from my mouth, probably a little too loud for a quieting theater, but I couldn’t stop the relief and gratitude from pouring out like an exploding bag of Skittles on a tile floor.

“It was his idea to run and get it,” the Dad said, gesturing to his son. And I saw the moments since the candy burst open play out in my mind. Only about a minute had passed. So this boy, after being pelted with Skittles, noted Vivvi’s distress. He asked his dad for a dollar, and he shot from his chair into the lobby where they were selling concessions. He guessed that the multi-colored candies were M&Ms (so clearly he wasn’t lucky enough to have one fly into his mouth), and he purchased and returned to his seat, tapping my shoulder and becoming my new hero.

A hero. Really and truly. The next several minutes could have been dramatic and devastating for my relationship with Vivvi, for my vision for our fun girls’ day and Vivvi’s first theatre experience, for my fragile ego. It could have been a story about baboon fingers, about the heartbreak of failed best-laid plans, about public and embarrassing moments in parenting. But one bag—one dollar worth of sugary goodness—made this a different story entirely. Instead of a story about a girl with Skittles, it became a story about a boy with M&Ms.

I would say that I hope Vivvi learns from this boy’s goodness, his capacity for kindness, his ability to sense how a simple act or gesture can flip something on its head. I would say what a lesson he provided to Vivvi. I would say that I hope my children turn out like him. But I can’t say any of that and feel I am saying it exactly right. Because I actually wish those things for myself. I want to be as good, as generous, as creative as this boy. I want to have the instinct for kindness. I want to be able to see people who need help and know in my heart, without thinking about it, what I can do for them.

I opened Vivvi’s new bag of candy for her. The lights faded, the curtain opened, my eyes filled with tears. And as good as the show was going to be, I knew I had already seen the best show of the day.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper Flickr via Compfight cc

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