One particularly energetic day last month, I sat down at my computer and sent an email inviting about 45 kids and their harried mothers to an Eastertide ice cream party in three weeks’ time. Not only would we eat ice cream, but we would make the ice cream together first, in an old-fashioned, six-quart hand-crank ice cream machine! What, I thought, could possible be better?

Three weeks later, however, I woke up on the appointed morning with a palpable sense of dread. Today was the day. Today was the date on which I had, in my extreme foolishness, promised 45 sweet, innocent little children that I would haul a hand-crank ice cream machine, a sloshing tupperware filled with milk, cream, and sugar, and 20 pounds of ice in a wagon over to the play area down the street, thereafter to supervise a thirty-minute fight over whose turn it was to crank the ice cream.

A friend recently joked to me that “Extroverted Me often makes decisions that Introverted Me sorely regrets when the time comes to face them.” This was exactly how I felt that morning: a level of regret that bordered on despair. The hours until the 3 p.m. ice cream appointment passed slowly and, it must be said, not at all happily. My kids did everything they could think of to get out of their homeschool work—everything, that is, except their regularly-assigned chores—and were generally miserable little creatures all morning. For my part, I alternated between feeling sorry for myself and sneaking leftover Easter candy from a hidden box in my bedroom, all the while wondering just how disappointed the 45 children would be if I cancelled at the last minute. I definitely did not get anything worthwhile done.

Finally, inexorably, the clocked showed 2:45 p.m. I located the ice cream maker somewhere deep in the belly of the house and began the process of loading up the wagon and slathering on everyone’s sunscreen. Walking over to the play area, my four-year-old insisted on pulling the wagon, which was adorable but also quite slow. Exteriorly, I cheered her on while interiorly I worried that the ice would melt before we even got to the party.

We eventually arrived, and I began to set up the machine and pack it with ice nervously, wondering to myself whether nobody would come (and I would be left with six quarts of ice cream to split among five people) or too many people would come (and we would run out of ice cream before everyone got a taste).

What I did not anticipate was that, as Extroverted Me had in fact sensed when she sent out that email three weeks earlier, the next two hours would turn into one of the most wonderful afternoons of my entire year so far. Indeed, although there was still some whining and roughhousing (for nothing is perfect), on that day we experienced an overflowing abundance of rare and beautiful goods, including:

  • Two hours outside on an especially beautiful spring day, refilling our skin with Vitamin D and our lungs with fresh air
  • A little education in the way that ice cream is made and how it has been made over time
  • Heavy work (turning the crank) to help ground children who had spent many recent days inside in poor weather
  • Each child receiving specific praise by name for their strength as they worked to turn the crank
  • A tangible reward (ice cream!) for hard physical work
  • Each child receiving that reward from an adult who looked them in the eye and said their name while handing them their bowl of ice cream
  • Lessons in patience and generosity as we waited in line for our turns
  • A chance for children to play cooperatively in the sand pit after finishing their ice cream
  • A surge of joy and gratitude among the mothers, who sat in the sun and looked out on the goodness of the gift of these children

Why had I so dreaded this experience that morning? Why on earth would I think of children and ice cream and fall so determinedly into despair?

Looking at this list of goods, I think I see part of the answer. One thing I notice about this list is how rare in our modern experience so many of these goods are. We are not very familiar with them, and so they are far from our minds when we are considering the possibilities. We avoid physical labor, for example, and the rewards of the work we do undertake are often intangible, whether because they are digital or because the tangible product appears somewhere down the line and we never see it. We view a treat like ice cream as something to buy, not make, so we buy it too often for our waistlines, and we enjoy it less than we might had we accepted the natural limits imposed by making ice cream together. We think of a crowd of children as overwhelming, rather than as a group of miraculously made individuals with whom we can relate, whom we may encourage, and in whom we can rejoice.

And we are tired, and things feel dark and dull and out of control around us, and so we are often tempted away from the very things that could lift our despair and towards things like TikTok, fast food, and isolation. And I, for one, give in all too easily much of the time.

In fairness, of course, the ice cream party could have gone wrong; some of the things I had so dolefully dreaded might well have come to pass. What if there had been lots of complaining and fighting and pushing in line? What if there had not been enough ice cream? What if the day had suddenly turned too chilly for a cold treat?

Looking back at our list of goods, I can see that most of them still would have been gained even if such particulars had gone sideways. If things had gone wrong, although we might have enjoyed the ice cream less, we might have learned more about patience and generosity. I know I still would have been grateful for the other mothers and children who had made the effort to fight back against acedia and gather together despite imperfections. Our ice cream efforts still would have been a small but significant step away from our culture’s hard-hearted belief in the preponderance of darkness.

It still would have been better than believing the great and sinister lie that old Screwtape had so frequently repeated to me that morning: that if I took the risk of seeking joy, it would surely end in despair.

As it turns out, I now can see, whether the experience goes beautifully or our best-laid plans go awry, hand cranking ice cream with a few dozen kids is a whole lot more powerful than dithering in paralyzing despair. As always, and as we so often forget, the light wins out. And there’s no greater light than the smiles of children gathering together to eat big scoops of ice cream that they made themselves.

In a world where despair is met by hand-cranked ice cream, the ice cream will always win.

Image credit: Chiot’s Run

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


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