Category Archives: Allegories

Allegory of the raspberry lollipop

One day after I picked the kids up from school, we went through the drive-through at the bank on the way home so I could make a quick transaction. The teller at the window asked if we’d like lollipops, and I said, “Yes–thank you! We’d like three, please!” She came back to the window brandishing three red Tootsie Pops instead of the usual little Dum-Dums we’d been expecting. Because we’ve programmed ourselves to set our expectations at absolute zero these days and considering the fact that my children all adore Tootsie Pops, this felt like a holy moment. I thanked the woman profusely and reached into the metal drawer to find that there were, in fact, three red lollipops there, but they weren’t all the same flavor. Two wore bright cherry-red wrappers while the third boasted a magenta cloak of raspberry. I knew immediately that this presented the potential to elicit discord, or at the very least consternation, unless the unlikelihood that two children wanting cherry and one child wanting raspberry could exist.

Liam didn’t seem to have a strong preference, so it came down to the younger two, who of course both wanted the raspberry. I’m on edge during the hours between school pickup and bedtime because that’s frequently when the moods can shift quickly, often making interactions difficult or complicated, so the thought crossed my mind that it would have been so much easier if the woman at the bank had just given me three of the same flavor. I thought, ‘How hard would it have been to pick three cherry lollipops and thereby negate the necessity of the negotiations I’m about to have to navigate with these people?’ As soon as that notion took shape in my mind, I heard in it the echo of past generations and realized my error. I had absolutely no right to teach these kids that life always hands everyone the same flavor of lollipop, that everyday events are meted out by a hand of circumstance that is at all egalitarian. How dare I even desire to alter reality by presenting the idea that fairness isn’t the exception to the rule? Sure, it would be easier for me in the moment if I could have said, “Oh, look, kids! Three cherry lollipops, one for each of you!” but it might not have made life easier for the kids, or therefore for me, in the long run. Maybe it’s the accumulation of microcosmic unfairnesses that contributes to a well-adjusted human, one who is pleasantly surprised when things work out in ways that please everyone equally but who certainly doesn’t expect it.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to moderate a dramatic disagreement. After about thirty seconds, Arlo said, “It’s okay; Summerly can have it,” and once everyone had agreed that the next time there is only one preferred treat coveted by both, it would go to Arlo, the Tootsie Pops were distributed without further ado. I spent the rest of the car ride wondering: is Arlo’s flexibility a byproduct of being the third child, inured to the constancy of inequality endemic to never having existed without siblings? Is he just magnanimous beyond the paucity of his years? Did he really not care that much and see no reason to make an issue? Is he (as I’ve suspected for a while but would never say to him, at least until he’s grown) a child genius who already grasps the benefits of playing the long game? Or is he a brilliant manipulator who didn’t want the raspberry at all but thought this would give him the edge next time when there may be something even better in the offing? If I ever know the answers to these questions, I’ll let you know.

What I do know is that sometimes it makes the most sense to hand everyone the same flavor of lollipop. At times it’s a good idea to read the room and recognize that the energy abounding suggests that another iron in the fire might lead to an unproductive conflagration that would suck the oxygen out of the situation and smelt nothing but seeds of dissent. And at other times, though it might feel counterintuitive, it’s a worthwhile decision to choose to allow for the opportunity to practice “working things out” because that’s what people spend most of their lives doing. If we give every kid the piece of cake with the sugar rose on top every time, why wouldn’t they expect the same with each cake to come? If we prepare them for reality in a world where sugar roses are few and far between, we’re doing them a service and saving everyone a lot of frustration and chagrin, or worse, later on. Is this easy for parents? No. Is it usually exhausting? Completely. Is the dividend worth the investment? Absolutely. Is life like a box of chocolates and you never know which one you’ll get? Maybe, at least sometimes, life is knowing exactly which chocolate in the box is which and that you might not get the one you want. But maybe a sibling will give it to you anyway, which is even sweeter.

Allegory of the Matryoshka

As a child, I loved them but I didn’t know what they were called, so I gave them a name of my own: “Open People”. Later on I learned that they carry various titles, including Matryoshka dolls, nesting dolls, stacking dolls, and Russian dolls, and I’ve accumulated a very small collection that I’d love to enlarge if I had a budget and small gallery dedicated to that end. I’m not sure why I’ve always been fascinated by them, considering their structural simplicity, but I think I’m beginning to understand.

Matryoshka dolls provide a facile metaphor, that of one generation of parents giving rise to another and another after that, and there are many other interpretations and iterations of the doll as a symbol, or so the internet tells me. In the spirit of layers upon layers, I’m having another idea: imagine that every person is like a Matryoshka doll. Within each of our identities we carry other versions of ourselves, postures from the past that date back to that moment of birth represented by the innermost doll, the one usually painted to look like a baby. This is the only doll that cannot be opened, and it’s traditionally hewn from a single piece of wood; it’s the only version of self that has no cracks. I do not believe that a human baby comes into this world with inborn sin, afflicted by the misdeeds of any human who has existed before. We are born innocent, fully intact in our purity, free of prejudice and bereft of belief. We are unbroken, wholly equipped with nothing but genetic material and instinct as directives. We are honest, faultless, guileless and real. If anyone can ever be considered perfect, this is the hour when that term can apply. Never are we more divine than in the moment we first breathe air.

From there, our child selves build upon each other like layers of pearl forming over that initial granule of sand, one after the other, eventually becoming adult selves, each containing every one that came before. All of these former selves coexist, even though they’re not necessarily perceptible to those around us, insomuch as they contribute to who our present selves have come to be. Without all of those other selves, our current selves could not be what they are; former selves are essential to the formation of present identities.

This is why face value is sometimes so approximate, why what’s inside a book should never be estimated by its cover. There’s implicit multiplicity within every personality, and the form in which we each walk through this world today is built upon an aggregation of every yesterday. Sometimes I imagine myself as a Matryoshka doll, each layer opened and laid out among the others, all unpacked, each edition of identity twisted at the waist, pulled apart. and set next to the rest. It helps, this image. We are never quantifiable by a singular identifier or a sole role in this life. Sometimes when I imagine my personal past this way, it’s as if so many former versions of myself are all sitting around a table, each carrying its own perspective, together trying to synthesize a deeper understanding of what it means to be this particular person. It’s a fraught conversation at times, but once in a while they agree to borrow parts from each other, try on each other’s bottoms or tops, twist around and see how it feels to live like the other half. And then, afterwards, I imagine them all reassembling, tucking back inside the largest shell, each folded against the contours of both the one that came before it and the one that came to be because of it, the most current self closing the others quietly in.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the reality we see laid out before us isn’t the only point of reference we have. So many moments have paved the way for now, and the paths we have yet to walk await us. I try to keep in mind that when I make my way along those paths, all of my selves are in accompaniment, sometimes offering a reminder or a observation from their perspective. It’s a comfort to know that who I’ll be down the road will be grateful to have the person I am today–with all of my faults and uncertainties and weaknesses and things I have yet to learn–along for the ride. I’ll remind her to never forget that allegorical line that encircles her midriff, an emblem of the Matryoshka doll of selfhood, and to remember that we all are Open People.

Allegory of the warm mango

One day I bought a box of Champagne mangoes at Costco because my daughter was on a mango kick. (Aside: I looked up Champagne mangoes because I felt I needed to understand them better, and whoever wrote the introductory paragraph on Wikipedia describes them as having “a somewhat sigmoid (oblong) shape and a gold-blushed yellow skin” and that “their buttery flesh is not fibrous, and they have a thin pit”. Next time I have a glass of actual champagne, I’m toasting this writer because that’s just a little bit of encylopedic poetry right there.) It was a hot day and I had other errands (this was pre-covid when I did things like errands), so the mangoes sat in the car for a while before I brought them inside. As soon as I did, Summerly (seven years old at the time) asked me to cut one up for her, and upon tasting it, she exclaimed in wonderment, “Wow! It’s so much better when it’s warm! Why does mango taste better warm?”

Of course there may very well be a scientific explanation including enzymes and amino acids and the molecular structure of fructose and taste receptors and how fluids expand in direct proportion to increase in temperature, but I know none of that. What I do know is what the purpose of fruit is, as it pertains to the plant that went through the perspiration of respiration to grow it, and this is to disseminate its seeds and perpetuate itself. I realized the conundrum of the fact that I was looking at my very own child while I was thinking these things in response to her question, and here’s a version of how I answered her (by the way, many of my answers to my kids’ questions begin with these first four words): “I don’t know, but maybe because the fruit of the mango tree contains its pit, and the reason that fruit tastes good is so it can attract animals to it for food. This way the animals will eat the fruit and leave the seed to grow a new tree, and thus the tree that grew the original mango has done its botanically biological job, which is reproduction. And the mango itself, at its pinnacle of deliciousness, is when it’s ripest and fullest and most enticing as a food source, and nothing tastes better than right after it’s picked, so the mango is doing its best job in that moment when the fruit has been given just the right amount of sun and water and balance of nutrients from the soil. At that moment, that tipping point after which the fruit will begin its path to decomposition (the second best route to regermination), when it’s gotten the best angle of sun on that most special of days, in that beatific moment when an animal would approach that particular tree amid a grove of other fruiting trees and select that particular fruit, the mango is warm. Maybe it tastes best to you when it’s warm because you are an animal and the tree knew, in the ways that all plants know, that to attract you was the means to an end with the objective of regrowth.”

And then, as my captive audience hadn’t yet left her seat, I took it one step further to say that maybe each of us is like a piece of fruit hanging on a tree, and if we could have just the right titration of factors to inspire every kind of our personal health, that is when we would be ripest, warmest, happiest. And when one of those factors is out of balance for us (e.g. too many worries or not enough sleep, feeling like the days are too short or wishing we had more time, missing people or wanting to be alone), the perfection of our happiness is compromised. Most of us most of the time are probably feeling more like a mango that’s either overripe or too green or frozen solid, especially these days. But I love the idea, utopian as it may be, that there might be a warm mango moment for each of us, at least once in our lives, when all the aspects of our bodies and minds could attain a nirvana-like balance. Thinking I’d done a bang-up mom job responding to a question that I had no precedent for answering and that was probably subjective anyway, I smiled triumphantly at my daughter, who by this point had moved onto the bowl of blueberries on the kitchen island, and asked her, “What do you think?”

“Mommy,” she said, “Look how many blueberries I can fit in my mouth!”