I work with small kids, so I get that with every new idea you have that there are some bumps that you have to iron out before it really works great (or you toss it in failure). Unfortunately, X-man and I were at an event on Friday night that sounded much cooler in its description than it turned out being.
The Champaign Park District advertised that they were having a flashlight candy cane hunt for free at Prairie Farm. I thought this sounded awesome. We assumed it would be a kind of scavenger hunt, where the candy canes would be hidden during the daylight and then kids would run around with their flashlights and bags hunting for them that night. Or at least that's what I thought this sounded like...
"Kids, we just found out that Santa hid candy canes all over his
reindeer’s favorite Park District place – Prairie Farm! So bundle up,
grab your flashlights, and come on out to the farm to help us find
them! We even hear that some rare and special candy canes have
been sighted on the farm – and you’ll get prizes if you find them!
Plus you’ll get to meet Santa himself and you’ll stay warm with as
much hot chocolate as you can drink!"
MacTroll even found his uber cool headlight so that we could find each other easily with our red blinky lights, in case we lost each other in the dark.
We arrived at 5:35 p.m., 25 minutes early to get a parking space. We were one of the first to arrive. X-man had bad feelings when he saw their Santa, so he just waved and got some free hot cocoa. Then we went out to wait for the fun to begin. X-man ran around with a neighbor by the duck pond shining his flashlight in the water to find the fish, and I began to wonder how exactly all this was going to work. I mean, what if they started finding candy canes laying about?
Then X-man noticed a bunch of people gathering at by the animal pens, so we wandered over to check out what was going on. They had put signs up on the farm animal pens (that are empty for the winter) having different age levels in different pens.
"Really?" I said. The idea that they were picking up food (even though it was individually wrapped) where pigs poop and pee gave me the willies. There was a streetlight that lit up the area, so flashlights were completely unnecessary (and really using the flashlight to hunt had been the big allure to us). X-man handed his flashlight to me and took his bag into the pen. He followed directions like a champ and, as usual, acted as a verbal enforcer for the park district person in their pen reminding kids to come in, line up around the fence, hold onto the fence and wait for instructions. I ran into two CARE friends and we agreed this was -- not what we'd pictured from the description.
X-man (in the blue coat) was standing behind this sign, which I found humorous...
Then 15 minutes passed by. The organizers noticed they had a lot more 3-5 year olds, so they ran a first "heat" for them, but they made the mistake of not letting the other two (6-7 and 8-10) year olds go at the same time. So the kids had to wait... another 15 minutes. At around 6:27, X-man looked at me alarmed. He knew they were about to start, but he suddenly had to pee really bad (Yes, he did go before we got in the car to head there). I managed to get him to the bathroom (warning the announcer we were going -- but he was waiting for some late comers who were still visiting Santa, so we were safe), and we returned just in time for the start.
Now here's the next problem. 45 kids in a concrete pen charging toward candy on the ground. I warned X-man to watch his hands and his feet so he didn't get hurt or hurt anyone else. He was really pretty considerate as he moved through the kids. But the problem was that all the candy canes got crushed by the stampede. Seriously, ours were in 6-10 pieces in the plastic wrap -- and they were the mini ones.
But X-man came out with six crushed mini candy canes and four Twizzlers for an hour's worth of waiting around. He had been very patient waiting the whole time we were there. He hadn't melted down over the need to pee. He had used his words and communicated wonderfully. Then on the way out of the pen, he noticed a boy crying because he hadn't gotten any candy. X-man reached into his bag, grabbed a piece and walked over and offered it to him. The boy refused it. X-man looked confused. "Why didn't he want my candy?" he asked me. I pointed out that he was probably really disappointed and just didn't process what was going on. Or maybe he was hoping for chocolate or something.
On the way out there was a mother with a smaller child who was crying. X-man did the same thing. This time, the Mom took it from him and said thank you, but the child was beside herself.
On the way to the car, X-man said, "Mom, I don't like to go to events where everyone doesn't find at least one candy cane. Kids hate when they don't get something. It makes them feel sad and like they lost at it." I told him I thought he was right, and that we wouldn't return next year. But at the very least, Santa or an elf could have been at the gate handing out normal-sized candy canes to each kid that came, so that everyone got something for being so patient. We also felt bad for the people who were just arriving at 6:35 p.m. when the whole thing was pretty much over.
For the last several years, a group of friends of mine have been helping me put on an egg hunt during spring in my backyard. We do it, usually, the week after Easter. We divide up the yard into little kid/allergy friendly and "pure sugar." So everyone can have a safe holiday. We get all the stuff during the after-holiday discounts, so things are really, really cheap. And the kids go home with their baskets FULL of goodies. Each family brings 12 eggs filled with whatever side their kid will be on and then we put them out the morning before everyone arrives. We open the gates at 10 a.m. and in 10 minutes everything is found and being sorted out in the yard.
Everyone gets something. It's relatively inexpensive, and it's easy to organize. What the candy cane hunt experience made me want to do was invite two or three families to our house next holiday season (maybe when we're in California) and do an actual scavenger hunt with flashlights with about six kids. Because it was a good idea. But scrapping crappy candy off of a cement pad with legions of pig poop germs really doesn't seem like a very festive occasion. I hope things change for the event next year.