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Lahey: Was THAT So Difficult?

When the Chocolate Shop in Hanover, New Hampshire, closed this year, we lost more than a source for our favorite treats. We lost a family landmark. Where other children find caramels, mint meltaways and Pop Rocks, my son Finn found his courage.  Gregarious in most other contexts, Finnegan would not – could not, he argued – enter stores by himself. No matter how many times I soothed, no matter how many times we rehearsed, his anxiety and fear won out.

That’s when a plan I like to call The Great Chocolate Shop Challenge was born.

One day, after our errands were complete, I offered to take Finn to the Chocolate Shop for a treat. I drove up to the front of the building, pulled a five dollar bill out of my wallet, and held it out to Finn, eager and expectant in the backseat.

“What?” he said, uncomprehending.

“Go on," I said. "Pick out whatever you’d like.”

His eyes moved from me, to the bill, and finally to the entrance of the shop. Long, silent seconds passed.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I put the money into my wallet and drove away.

This scene played out countless times over the next two years, in various emotional shadings. Some in anger, some in tears, but toward the end of the second year, stony, frustrated silence had emerged as Finn's default setting.

Then, one afternoon in May, as I was about to tuck my money back in my wallet and drive away, the bill disappeared from between my fingers. A seatbelt clicked, a door slammed shut, and like that [snap], I was alone in the car.

Ten minutes later, Finn returned, clutching a white paper bag and a handful of change.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Fine,” he said, nibbling on a dark chocolate pecan turtle.

“I’m proud of you,” I said.

Finn said nothing, but I’m pretty sure I saw him smile as he popped a dark chocolate caramel into his mouth, turned back to the window and watched the world race by.

Editor's Note: Once a year we host a brunch at which commentators are invited to present essays on a single theme that we record to sample later on the air. Commentator Jessica Lahey was inspired by this year's topic - 'Was THAT So Difficult?' - to tell how chocolate once triumphed over great adversity. You can find the complete 2016 Brunch audio here.

Jessica Lahey is a teacher, speaker, and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She writes the bi-weekly column The Parent-Teacher Conference at The New York Times and is a contributing writer at the Atlantic. You can find out more about her work at
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