Last updateMon, 28 Jan 2013 9pm

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Family Life

Jelibeans and Marshmallows (aka neurotypicals!)

Imagine a sweet shop, you know, one of those really old fashioned ones, the ones with a bell that rings as you open the door, the shopkeeper with his white pinny on, standing behind the counter, guarding the array of jars that line the shelves - the smell, colour and variety of those jars, scores of different types. Standing proudly in the centre are two jars, side by side, one full up to the rim of the lid with jelibeans, and the other full of marshmallows. Both jars are appealing and eye-catching for different reasons.



Jelibeans are a rainbow of colours, different sizes and shades, but more importantly very different flavours (pina colada is a personal fave of mine). Jelibeans are renowned for their brittle outside shell, but with that soft melting chewy bit in the centre. They're unpredictable, you never know quite what you have till the flavour has taken over your taste buds, by which time, it's too late, if you find you don't like it and want to spit it out.

Marshmallows, however, all appear similar, pink and white fluffy neat shapes that don't really taste of very much except a comforting sweetness. Marshmallows are enjoyable and they're squishy, popping back into shape easily. Dip your hand in a bag of marshmallows and you're pretty sure of what you're going to get. You can eat them for ever.


Likening people to jelibeans and marshmallows is easy and fun. It takes a very personal issue and makes it impersonal, therefore eliminating any blame, and any of those confusing labels that these experts pin on us and our children. I felt my children were like little jumping jelibeans, colourful, tasty, and different. They each had their shimmering shells, and there were surprisingly jelly-like and uncertain little hearts and minds inside that bright thin shell.

But what about my friends children? They were fluffy, as squishy on the surface as they were inside, they were flexible, adaptable, and never pretended to be anything other than what they really were. I saw them as the same as most people, always managing to stay on the straight and narrow most of the time, never causing many problems. They knew how to march in an unwavering line to the beat of their own rhythmic drum, unlike the jellybeans who just bounced around in and out of the parade, not really knowing where they were or why, or where they were headed for. The Marshmallows played trombones and flutes and tubas and drums and could read and follow the music and the band leader. The Jelibeans played bazookas, those whistles you buy at carnivals, and the odd saucepan and wooden spoon, and came in making a noise at all the wrong times, even when there was just the quiet of marching feet. Marching Marshmallows and Jumping Jelibeans were born.

I figured out that using these characteristics, we could all identify with one or the other. It was possible to liken candy characteristics to personality traits. Try it for yourself if you don’t believe me, you may be surprised at what you find.

How many of you are now are able to identify that actually, Aunt Pauline has been a jelibean all along? Every family should have a jelibean: it makes for some very interesting family occasions. My family was no exception - 'welcome to the mad house' was a familiar saying. Family traditions that we thought normal, were in fact anything but. I'm fast finding out that indeed our little idiosyncrasies occur in many homes throughout the world. Do they occur in yours?

Because I'm a jelibean, I have to be careful not to repeat myself. I should have a PhD in repetition; also I'm not great at understanding other people's rules, especially when they change all the time. Talking of rules, I'm also pretty fantastic at making up my own, because I know I need them, then finding them too difficult, so I end up breaking them anyway. Even simple rules are breakable to a jelibean - ten items in the basket earns you a place in the short queue, brilliant, as I hate queues, for me stretches to twelve, maybe even fifteen, oops, will she notice, do you care? Look dumb, that's the best trick, or even better, if you happen to have designer hand-luggage in the shape of a red jelibean child, blame him! Ringing bells yet?

As a closet jelibean, life is very difficult, after all what is the point of having a bouncy personality if you can't bounce safely? Trouble is that when jelibeans are confined for any length of time, they tend to jump all over the place at the first opportunity, kind of letting the dog out of the door before putting him on the lead. "Coming out" as a jelibean, for me, has been nothing short of exhilarating. I can only imagine what a free fall parachute jump feels like, and I'm very happy to rely on that. Thank you to all those with a plane who would love nothing more than to throw me out, but the freedom that the jumper must surely experience, together with the rush of all those feel-good brain chemicals, is what I'm feeling, the only difference being that actually I now know I am totally safe being myself, and its a feeling that doesn't end, ever.

To anyone now thinking that they indeed are part of the jelibean tribe, please accept it, just sit back and take a deep breath, as I did, and embrace it. Are you a jelibean too? If so then welcome. If you are a kindly marshmallow who is observing our world and perhaps has a jelibean or two in your life, then welcome too. But please note an important fact -jelibeans will never turn magically into marshmallows, and marshmallows will never turn into jelibeans. Different brain wiring and different brain chemistry is just that. It's different. It remains different. What I've observed, though, in myself and in my kids, is that there are some very negative jelibeans and some very negative marshmallows. We're not going to turn into the other kind of sweet, but we can change ourselves from the negative type, which really tastes bad, into the positive type which always gives everyone pleasure.

I really do believe from my own experiences, that the jelibean tribe is far bigger than we could ever have expected. I'm so delighted, for I really believe that the world would be a far less colourful place without us. Lets face it, how many of our best-loved celebrity personalities are jelibeans? Television has become a shop-window for jelibeans. I'm sure you won't have to think too hard about our mad lovable soap characters, our pop stars and comedians, presenters, chat show hosts, actors and actresses, the list goes on and on. Look around your office, your home, your local pub, there will always be a jelibean fairly close.

And most of them are pretty special, aren't we?

But of course, I would say that!