Alfred Eisenstaedt

My greatest failing as a parent can be summed up in three words: Surprise Egg Videos. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you are living your best life…

If you do, then you know that there are hundreds of people who make a crazy amount of money by filling plastic eggs with toys and then making YouTube videos of themselves opening them up. This phenomenon is so, so weird.

The unknown has always been a hot commodity, evidenced throughout history by everything from Pandora’s mythological box to the raison d’être for the gift-wrapping industry. Lately, though, it’s become an epidemic. Remember when a “surprise box” was just opening an old purse you hadn’t used in a while to discover a petrified baby carrot, three dollars in nickels and a pair of mismatched earrings?

Nowadays, there are dozens of subscription services that will mail you a grab bag for a flat fee. The products inside these packages — artisanal pecan honey mustard, a Batman-shaped key chain that doubles as a beer opener, the world’s tiniest tube of BB Cream in juuuuust the wrong shade — would never tempt us on a retail shelf, and probably aren’t even worth the cost of shipping, but it hardly matters. What we pay for is the thrill of discovery.

I wouldn’t be thinking about this trend so much, if not for the fact that it has hooked my four-year-old son, too.

Picture this: In a YouTube video, a bunch of plastic eggs appear on screen against a wall in what is clearly someone’s basement. A pair of disembodied hands enters the frame, and begins cracking open the eggs, one by one, while a disembodied voice narrates the contents — toys, candy, trinkets. These videos are confusing until you see that they have over 10 million views.

The most successful of these entrepreneurs step up their game. They craft eggs the size of port-a-potties in their backyards and let their kids tear them apart with mallets. They fill inflatable pools with cheese balls and bob for toys while dressed as Spider Man or Elsa. My son cannot get enough.

Recently, though, I’ve been steering him clear of YouTube. I mean, isn’t the entire world still a surprise to children? I recently explained to my son that clouds were made of water and his mind was completely blown. Can a SpongeBob figurine tumbling out of a foil packet compete with the enormous surprise box that is the universe?

But while doing errands one recent afternoon we ducked into a neighborhood shop, and just inside the door was a bucket filled with whimsical “surprise balls.” I caved, bought one, and sat outside on a bench while my son slowly, methodically, unfurled ribbons of colorful tissue paper, letting them snake over our knees like pieces of a fallen rainbow. The trinkets inside were insignificant, of course. It was the unwrapping that was the fun part.

Afterward we walked home, discussing such wide-ranging topics as Darth Vader, spaghetti and volcanoes, and I felt a warm rush of happiness and anticipation that can hit me sometimes when I’m actually enjoying the moment. It gave me a hope that around the next corner could be something more wonderful than I could even imagine. Maybe — just maybe — something that didn’t even come in a box.

The video, above, has gotten 307 million views. 307 million.

Una LaMarche is the author of the memoir Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, as well as three novels. You can find her on Instagram, or at unalamarche.com.

P.S. 21 surprising parentings tips.

(Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt)