Little Huck Finn was eating a cupcake frosting first last night (as three-year-olds do) when he suddenly stopped and erupted into tears. “My frosting is going away!” he wailed.
I came over to investigate and lend support. “What’s going on, buddy?” I asked.
He looked at me, then the cupcake, and leaned in to take another rather large bite. Again, he pulled away and sobbed, “My frosting! It’s disappearing!”
Sure enough, some of the frosting had indeed disappeared … into his mouth. Of his own accord. As tends to happen when one takes a bite of frosting.
Huck’s observation, besides being heartbreakingly hilarious, was absolutely spot on. The significance of his statement struck me poignantly as I began wiping his tears. He was at once both perpetrator (frosting eater) and the victim (frosting-less cupcake consumer). He was taking what he wanted, and simultaneously mourning its loss.
I do this all the time. I make my frosting disappear all the time, and I lament its loss.
Here’s what I mean.
FRIEND: “Oh, what a cute shirt! I love it!”
ME: “This old thing? I just got it at Goodwill.”
(I put on the frosting, and when someone enjoyed it, I made it disappear.)
Or try this on for size:
ME: “My employee totally botched the entire presentation. Looks like I’m going to be up all night fixing all his mistakes.” … followed the next morning by: “I’m SO TIRED! Today is going to be brutal. I can’t believe I had to stay up all night fixing my employee’s mistake.”
(Um, I didn’t have to. Why couldn’t the employee fix it himself? Why did I make myself a victim here?)
ME: “Sure, I can make individual homemade pizzas cut up in the shapes of dinosaurs with personally crocheted party favors and handmade invitations delivered by carrier pigeon for my two-year-old’s party. Go ahead and sit next to him while he blows out his birthday candles – I’ll be cooking or cleaning or getting drinks for somebody in the kitchen and I’ll look at the pictures later.”
(Making the perfect party for my child, but not enjoying a second of it.)
When, and why, do I steal my own thunder? Take away the rewards of my own hard work? Moan and complain because someone else took something that I actually took from myself? Call myself a victim when I’m the one doing it? Hold myself to an unattainable standard and get upset when I can’t achieve it? Focus on loss, rather than achievement? Hold on to scarcity instead of abundance?
Isn’t it actually a metaphor for perfectionism? We work so hard to bake the perfect cupcake only to get angry when the cupcake is marred. But that’s the whole point. The entire purpose of a perfectly frosted cupcake is to eat it. To enjoy it. To allow it to bring us joy. To try it on for size and see what we like, what we don’t like, and what we want to change. Then, we can make another one.
It’s the process that matters. We can’t keep the cupcake pristine and perfect for long. We are meant to consume it, just like we are meant to live our lives. We aren’t supposed to be a perfect snapshot of personhood. We are living, breathing works in progress. We build, and devour, and rebuild. We create, and consume, and recreate.
I understand why Huck got sad that his frosting was disappearing. He articulated what it feels like in our society of lack, living where nothing lasts forever and the objects of our desire disappear just when we feel like we are grasping them.
I don’t want my son to cry when his frosting disappears. I want him to feel empowered by the abundance that life has to offer. I want him to enjoy the frosting, and know that there’s more out there where that came from. I want him to know that he’ll never be a victim of frosting thievery as long as he knows that he is in control.
I want him to enjoy his cupcake.
I want that for myself, too.