“An eye for an eye and the world is blind” Gandhi
The Picky Foodie started out as a place to share information about food, dietary restrictions, health and other (mostly) plate-related stuff. I've purposely tried to avoid succumbing to the new-mamma blogger trap of focusing too much on parenting. I’m going to stop trying now.
Picky is something I am on the plate. But just like I believe that my relationship to food is a direct reflection of my relationship to life, this blog is about so much more than green smoothies and soaking your pulses. Picky is how I choose to live my life: with a lot of care and (sometimes too much) examination and (self-)reflection. Sometimes life is delicious, sometimes it’s hard to swallow. That’s dinner… that’s life.
It's been a turbulent month. A lot of big decisions, some disappointments, some real questions that have needed to be asked and answered. Vida Lev, of course, feels everything even though she does not yet possess the vocabulary to explain it to us in detail. Instead, she expresses herself in other ways, some painful, some heart-breaking, some beautiful, some funny, some challenging -- all for us adults to listen to and love her for.
Along with her own discoveries, the outside world is filtering in much more. She is aware of her peers and has started to seek them out. Others are treating her differently as well – she is no longer a baby. As her mother, this is exciting and terrifying. It has also brought up a lot of my own past.
The other day, Vida Lev and another child had an altercation. We were with a larger group of people and this child sought Vida Lev out repeatedly and purposely tried to scare her. She went off and did her own thing, and again, was confronted by this child. Then the child pushed her -- grabbed her hands, put their head at her chest and pushed as hard as they could. Of course Vida Lev was terrified and distraught. But the one who lost it was me.
When it happened, I tried to comfort her. The only thing I told the other child -- as calmly as I could – was that what they had done "wasn't nice."
Afterwards, however, I exploded. I ranted to friends about the sorry state of the world and searched the Internet for remote islands that we could move to. In addition, I posted a comment on Facebook calling the other child names.
I was wrong.
As a child, I was called a lot of names: "fat" "stupid" "piece of shit" were recurring themes along with “how did you fuck up this time?” and “what idiotic things did you do to deserve [fill in the blank]?” This wasn’t other kids (though they did their fair share), this was the person who should have been protecting me from them. When I found out I was going to be a parent, I read everything I could to ensure that I would not be that kind of mother.
The other day, however, all the theories, all the knowledge I have garnered from books and conversations, from philosophies and my own decisions, everything went out the window. When I saw my child crying and afraid, I forgot about the person I want to be and went back to being a child myself. I, once again, became the little girl who got bullied both in school and at home, the adolescent who wished she had hit back more, harder, better instead of feeling like maybe the bullies were right.
But that is not my daughter's story, and the three-year old who didn't act nicely is not the girl who pulled up my skirt in the first grade a hundred times. The events of the past, and those in the present were connected only in that I experienced them both. It was in allowing the two to become intertwined that I stopped acting like a parent.
When it comes to my child, walking the walk seems to be my biggest challenge. I talk about non-violence. I lament how other children are raised to become praise junkies and bullies. I judge the decisions and behavior of others mostly though the narrow prism of how they affect my own family. But that is not how I would like others to treat or judge me: for the five minutes I lose it after a tiring day, or the one time I forget to bring a change of clothes, the snack I don’t pack because I changed handbags, or when I raise my voice as an exception rather than a rule.
The tricky part starts now.
How can I impart empathy, listening skills, non-judgment and all of the other characteristics I believe are important for a just world, when I go around calling little people names? How can I demand that people be upfront when I passive-aggressively post on Facebook instead of calling the child’s parent?
Vida is still little, but she's old enough to understand what is going on and pick up on it. We don't use the words "pretty" or "cute" or "princess" to describe her, and yet she knows them all, and uses them in reference to herself.
We tell her not to grab and yet she has learned it -- not only from other children but from the times when I have lost my temper and grabbed whatever it is that I needed to out of her hand.
I was bullied as a child. By my peers. By an adult. When I’m tired or hungry or upset, that part of me sometimes takes over. But the scared child, the child that felt there was no place in the world for her, that everything I did was wrong, that I deserved to be humiliated has no place in the parent I want to be.
Everyone has bad days. And when a child has a bad day or a bad moment, they may not have the tools to express how they feel. So they take it out on others. Vida Lev spent the day after the event throwing her toys around - something she never does.
I can not take back the mistakes I have made in the last few days, but I can take responsibility for them. By writing these words, that is what I am trying to do. When my child is hurt, it is easy to be blind to everything else. But while I can offer love and support to my child in those difficult moments, I also need to be able to offer better solutions than the ones that my gut pointed me to in this case.
The solution isn't to go live on a desert island or yell at the child (or their parent). Power struggles serve no purpose, nor do rants. What I can, and should do, is display the characteristics that I want my child to witness.
My father used to curse a lot. So I started cursing. I remember thinking it was cool, like him. The first time he heard me say “fuck” he smacked me hard in the face. “Don’t fucking curse,” he said. I, for one, don't want to be violent or mean. I don't want to be threatening or passive aggressive or aggressive full stop. And I definitely don’t want Vida Lev to experience those characteristics in me. I want to walk the walk of compassion and patience, of empathy and communication, even though I have to face the fact that that road is not always where I instinctively turn.
I have been thinking about what happened with Vida in the park in the hopes of gaining some insights into how I could have reacted better. If I were to do it over, after my daughter calmed down, I would have sat with both children, and talked about what happened. I would have spoken softly and kindly, both to my child as well as the other. Maybe that child had a stomachache, maybe they too were scared of something, maybe they were sad or maybe they were trying to make friends with Vida and simply didn't know how.
When I was a college student in Jerusalem, a foreign journalist asked me what I thought should happen to the city. It was a time of massive political turmoil (for a change). I replied that, in my opinion, Jerusalem should become an example of peaceful co-habitation, that it should be a place the rest of the world can look to for hope. The man actually laughed out loud. He said he didn't know such naiveté still existed. Back then, I was embarrassed. My opinion hasn't changed. Maybe I am naïve.
Then again, an eye for an eye hasn't exactly worked all that well, has it? And just like I believe every small choice about what I put in my mouth reflects a larger reality, so too I think that small decisions have a ripple effect.
So before I solve the problem of world peace, I would like to take responsibility for my little corner of violent behavior and say I was wrong. My hope is that I will learn and grow from this experience, and that in doing so, I will hopefully help my child do the same.
With love, gratitude and big, fat slice of gluten free, vegan humble pie,