It was nearly Easter morning and I was preparing for my kids’ very first Easter egg hunt. In the dark of night, giddy with mischief and a slight alcohol buzz, I scampered around the backyard hiding brightly colored Easter eggs. The lawn was illuminated only by the light pouring from the kitchen, and in the dimness, I became the Easter bunny. I stretched and crouched, placing my pastel packages in trees and under bushes. I laughed quietly to myself as I wondered which egg my kids would find first and which would be most challenging. Soon, my kids and I would continue the great tradition and history of the backyard Easter egg hunt, connecting us with the first candy and egg hunters of prehistory. I couldn’t wait. But, I should have.
My boys had reached the ages of 3 and 5 respectively. The eldest had a firm grasp on the secular Easter traditions, having been thoroughly indoctrinated into the cult of the candy-delivering bunny. The 3-year-old, for his part, was still a bit complacent about the spring holiday. Still, he was nimble and dexterous enough to carry a basket and pick up eggs. Also, he was always up for a good time. With all of this in mind, I’d decided it was finally the year for an outdoor backyard egg hunt.
Up to that point, we’d relied on community Easter egg hunts, setting our kids loose with the local rabble to duke it out over bright plastic ovals. Inevitably, there were tears and disappointment. I wanted that hunt to be charming, it was never how I remembered the egg-searches of my childhood: hunting for the eggs as my parents looked on, stoned on joints and Easter wine.
What I regarded on that crisp, clean morning was a pastel massacre. Bright egg shells were scattered across the lawn, from one end to the other.
A week out from Easter Sunday, I explained to my wife and kids that we were hunting our own damn eggs this year. The 3-year-old looked perplexed. The 5-year-old vibrated with excitement. My wife asked if she had to do anything.
“No,” I said.
“Sounds great!” she replied.
On Good Friday, my children and I sat around a table with cups filled with vinegar and fizzing dye. I taught them the finer points of making three-color eggs. They worked impatiently and sloppily, but still yapped with excitement as their eggs took on wild, bright, pastel colors. We buzzed with Easter joy as the eggs dried.
That Saturday, I put them to bed and reminded them of the fun we would soon have. Then I drank a couple tumblers of whiskey and put together Easter baskets while I waited for them to fall soundly asleep. As soon as I felt it was safe, I grabbed the eggs and hopped into the backyard. If I had a cottontail, it would have been wagging.
After hiding the eggs with the aid of the kitchen light, I came inside pleased as I could be. I hugged my wife. And boasted about my egg-hiding skills. I knew I had hit the sweet spot of not too difficult and not too easy. She smiled the way kind people smile at idiots, patted my head, and went to bed. I followed. I slept the restless sleep of anticipation.
The next morning, I woke before my children. I crept downstairs and made a cup of coffee, listening for the patter of little feet. With cup in hand, I walked to the sliding glass doors looking out to the backyard. I looked out and nearly dropped my coffee cup.
What I regarded on that crisp, clean morning was a pastel massacre. Bright egg shells were scattered across the lawn, from one end to the other. Small, ragged patches of blue and pink and purple lay beneath bushes and branches. It was a scene of complete and utter destruction.
I hadn’t considered that a raccoon that had weathered a winter of slim pickings would see my field of eggs as a bright miracle buffet.
In a daze I opened the door and wandered into the chilly yard, clad only in underwear and a T-shirt. I could not feel the cold as I bent over a patch of eggshells. They were my eggs all right. Mine and my boys.
I had hit the sweet spot. I had hidden those eggs so they were neither too easy or too difficult to find and some woodland creature had hunted them in the dark. They had found every single one. Even the one I nestled in the crook of a branch in the Japanese oak.
In my Easter delirium and inebriation, I had forgotten about the hunger of nocturnal animals. I hadn’t considered that a raccoon that had weathered a winter of slim pickings would see my field of eggs as a bright miracle buffet.
I came back inside deflated. My kids would be waking soon expecting a hunt. What would I tell them? I explained to my wife what had happened. She laughed so hard coffee nearly shot out her nose. The noise woke the boys who scampered in to see what the fuss was about. I did my best to explain the hunt wasn’t going to happen. The 3-year-old asked why, while the 5-year-old began to cry.
“The Easter bunny decided that your eggs would be a perfect feast for all the hungry animals in the forest,” my wife explained. “And in appreciation, he left you some wonderful baskets.”
The boys seemed to accept this explanation. They scampered downstairs to tear open their gifts.
I haven’t tried to hide eggs outdoors on Easter ever since that day. Instead, we hide eggs inside. Except for one, which we leave on the lawn for the Easter raccoon, who taught me a very important lesson about the hubris of fatherhood.