It is a pretty well-worn trope in TV/film/literature where the protagonist is faced with a choice between X and Y. Regardless of which he chooses, his life will be irrevocably changed. His path will be forever altered, and he will always be able to trace it fundamentally back to that decision.
For me, that decision came when I was three or four years old. And it hinged on whether or not I liked those orange crackers with the peanut butter in-between them.
As I said, I was three or four, and I was on the verge of going to school—the lynchpin being that I had a midsummer birthday. At that time, schools wanted to have kids in my situation go to the lower grade so that they would be the oldest in the class, rather than advance them and have them be the youngest.
I was right between preschool and kindergarten. I was a tad precocious for my age, so my parents said, “Well, let’s give him a weeklong trial in preschool and see what happens.” Seems fairly reasonable from my parents’ standpoint, but what they could not have expected was for me to come back after one day in preschool crying about how I hated it and never wanted to go back.
Here is why, and I swear this is all true.
My parents dropped me off at preschool, and everything was going fine. I’m sure I was either rocking a pimpin’ Thomas the Tank Engine sweatshirt or a stellar one involving rocketships and dinosaurs. Either way, I was on top of the world. Class was fine; the teacher was a nice lady; the other kids were friendly; I’m sure we all played with blocks at some point, possibly drew with crayons.
I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but my mom forgot to pack me a snack! All the other kids pulled out their snacks, and there I was, alone in the world, with nothing. Before my sniffles became a full on wailing, the teacher brought me to the school office because the secretaries always had a reserve of snacks for moments just like this. Through teary eyes, I chose the only thing I could see—a packet of those orange crackers with the peanut butter in between.
I trotted back to preschool to rejoin snacktime. I tore open my snack, took a bite…and stopped. I had never tasted something so vile and disgusting. However (again, this is all true), I finished the entire packet, which is six small orange cracker/peanut butter sandwiches, because I had made such a fuss about not having a snack. When I got home later that day, I ran to my mom and begged her to never send me back to preschool. I think I cried and stamped my foot while telling her how much I hated preschool. I begged her so hard because I believed that the only snack that they would ever give me if I went back to preschool would be those terrible orange/peanut butter crackers. And I couldn’t handle that.
So my mom put me in kindergarten, not preschool. And because of that, literally my entire life is different.
Because of that decision, I went into kindergarten when I did. I was a grade ahead instead of a grade behind. I met all of my friends simply because of that. If I had stayed in preschool, I never would have gone to Calvin when I did, and therefore, I would not have met all the amazing people I met there. If I had liked how those dumb orange/peanut butter crackers had tasted, I likely would not be married to the wonderful woman I am now married to.
It wasn’t until many years later that I was talking to my mom and the subject of preschool/kindergarten came up. She said that I came home all in a huff, adamant that I go to kindergarten. In fact, she had never seen me more determined (and she once saw me sit in a chair for two hours refusing to eat peas). When I told her that my only reason had been that I loathed the snack they gave me, all she could do was stare in disbelief and then laugh.