Yo. Guys. Nobody Wants to Be A Health Freak.
Look, I have to say this—nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “You know what, I would like to become completely obsessive about the food that I eat, the drinks I consume, the supplements I take.” No one has ever spontaneously stepped out their door on a sunny Tuesday morning and thought, “Yes, I’d like to become the high maintenance relative at all our gatherings for every holiday for the rest of my life. That sounds real fun.” Nobody has ever thought that. Ever.
And no one has ever said to themselves, “Life without bacon sounds amazing, in fact, it sounds so amazing that I would like to give up a whole bunch of foods that I love, have memories of, enjoy, and crave. I’m just not going to eat those anymore because WHAT A FRIGGIN FANTASTIC TIME that would be.”
That doesn’t happen.
You know what happens? You develop raging eczema all over your body. Or your period gets so bad you’re taking a week off of work every month. Maybe you get migraines and lay in bed countless days instead of being able to play with your children. Or you get real fucking depressed. Maybe you get cancer. Maybe you get diabetes. Maybe you get fat. And then someway, somehow this little precious gem of information falls in your lap—your body can heal. You can heal. The foods you eat can effect your ability to live well every single day of your life.
And you feel empowered. You feel like, how come no doctor ever told me this before? How come I suffered for so long, got lost for so long, missed out on so many precious moments of my fleeting life for so long without realizing that my life was plummeting out of control because of the horrible, shitty, disastrous foods I was putting into my body?
So you stop. You stop eating the shitty food. Because as Will Ferrell said in the film Stranger than Fiction, “Who, in a choice between life and pancakes, would choose pancakes?” But then you begin to see that many people would. Lots of people would choose pancakes. Or maybe not pancakes. Maybe a Big Mac. Maybe hot Cheetos. Maybe Grandma’s coconut cream pie. So many people are choosing so many things that never even would have been considered food 500 years ago. Can you imagine? Gummy worms? Seriously? But people are still choosing them because SOMETIMES PEOPLE CHOOSE PANCAKES. But you can’t do that any more because your body is on strike. So tough luck.
Then you start trying to eat well. Or at least better. More whole things. Less fake things. Less things with parents. More things with leaves. And an amazing thing will happen to you on this journey into food as it was and always has been, you will begin to feel really. friggin. good. It’s crazy. I mean, having been there, I can tell you it is crazy to me that I now have energy to get out of bed every single morning. It’s crazy to me that I no longer battle constant sickness, raging PMS and depression. It is an unbelievable thing to feel like your body is your friend and it’s helping you to live a life that you love.
Then come the holiday dinners, the birthday parties, the celebratory drinks, the barbeques, the brunches, the lunches, the everything in betweens. Where people say things like–
“What does paleo mean?”
“Oh… you’re vegan?”
“What do we make when he comes for dinner?”
“I know you don’t eat this, but don’t judge me!”
“Don’t judge me!”
“Omg. You’re going judge me for this aren’t you?
I just can’t even do it anymore. I’m tired for myself and most of all for my friends. For the people I know who are battling huge health crisis in their own lives. For people who should be saving every spare ounce of energy that they have and using to fill their own lives with as much joy as possible but who are spending an inordinate amount of their precious time DEFENDING THEMSELVES to people who claim to LOVE THEM.
And I know, I know, that it’s not cool to be the person with the food concerns. I get that. Trust me, everyone gets that. And nobody EVER woke up asking to be that person. And nobody is doing it in order to make your life less comfortable for you.
So make polite conversation, while we try to communicate with the waiter.
Ask us to bring something to the dinner that you’re hosting.
Talk to us about how we can make it easier for you to let us be a part of your life.
It’s not hard. People with food ish are usually really good at fending for themselves, at lending hand, at eating simply. We will make it work if you just give us space to do that. But don’t give us shit about it.
Then one day, when your kid has celiac. Or your mom has chron’s. Or your husband has chronic migraines. One day when you too have to take the journey down the path of realizing just how sick and twisted and wrong our culture of food has become, we will be there. Waiting. To take you out for green juice and tell you about cauliflower pizza.
Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The constant needs of a 0, 1, and now 2 year old are overwhelming to the point of absolute exhaustion. I often fight with the desire to get away. I just need a week to myself, I think. Just one full night of sleep. The truth is, I haven’t had a full night of sleep since Mac was born and up till now haven’t been away from her for even a full day. Not that I haven’t wanted to, I have. I do. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I feel that if anyone tries to touch me I’m going to scream. And sometimes, at the end of the day, I feel so alone that I find myself staring into a dark, familiar hole of loneliness and despair. But most of the time, at the end of the day, I am dozing next to a sleepy, milk-drunk toddler with a contented smile on her face and her arms wound around my neck. And I’m so grateful for this unexpected gift of my life- that I am learning surrender.
I don’t think in this day and age that surrender is something easily learned. We don’t really need to surrender often or to anything if we don’t want to. For the most part, we go where we want and do what we want. And when we can’t do that we build pinterest boards of where we want to go and what we want to do, which is it’s own form of possession. But motherhood, at it’s depth, requires surrender. Surrender of where we want to go, surrender of what we want to do, surrender of our time, our body, our heart.
Surrender is not a popular concept in our culture of easy gratification. We’ve adopted the standard of convenience in its place. We’ve managed to make motherhood incredibly convenient. Car seats allow us to take our babies wherever we want to go. Bottles allow us to feed them on the way. Formula allows us to not even breastfeed if we don’t want to. There’s bouncers, and strollers, and swings, and pacifiers, and toys that make noise— a lot of noise. But what we are missing out on in this sea of convenience is the quiet call that beckons us deeper into motherhood. What I’m getting at is this— for every convenient parenting hack that we have created, there also exists an opportunity for surrender. What if, instead of trying to control, fix, change, and pacify our children, we chose to surrender to the exhausting, inconvenient, constant demands of motherhood? What would it mean for us and for our babies?
I’ve been breastfeeding Mac for two years now. For some, that seems like a long time. For others, no time at all. For me, borrowing from Hemingway, it happened gradually and then suddenly. But along the way there have been many, many weeks where all I wanted to do was have my body back to myself. I wanted to sleep through the night, without nursing our hungry milk hog multiple times. That’s what babies want: they want to nurse and be close to mama. All the time. There are a lot of so-called parenting experts giving terrible advice that these little ones need to be put on a schedule, their cries ignored, their needs unmet. Mamas, if your baby is crying from hunger or from fear, sadness, longing, or for any reason at all, I promise you they are not trying to manipulate you. They are crying, as all children have cried throughout history, because they were made to be utterly dependent on their mothers and in constant connection to them. The fact that we have tried to move away from this innate primal connection is hubris at best and incredible selfishness at worst. We force small babies onto feeding schedules thinking that they should be governed by our self-centered addiction to scheduling. I will never forget listening to the small baby of a family member crying relentlessly with hunger while the mother insisted that feeding time wasn’t for another 45 minutes. The cries were stressful for both the parents and the baby, but the dictatorship of the schedule had to be obeyed. How far from our mama intuitions have we gotten when we let the ridiculous parenting advice of a disconnected culture influence our decisions with our own little ones? Mamas, feed your babies! Hold them. Sleep with them. Keep them near you! It’s where they were literally born to be. Not just for 8 weeks or 3 months or even 6 months. In most of the world and for all of history, babies have been with their mamas until 4, 5, 6, even 7 years of age. Sleeping next to them, nursing when desired, enjoying constant secure attachment to the person who gave them life.
But what have we done? We’ve taken away our arms and given motorized swinging chairs. We’ve taken away our breasts and given plastic pacifiers and false nipples. We’ve taken away our warmth in the night and given instead the cold darkness of a solitary crib. We, as mothers, have given away our sacred place in our children’s lives and left them with false substitutions or worse, without substitution at all but with the only recourse being to cry themselves into exhaustion. Is it any wonder that rates of depression, suicide, personality disorders and mass shootings are skyrocketing? When our earliest needs for connection are being ignored?
And it’s not just the cost to our children but also the cost to ourselves that comes to bear. Each time I fight against the desire to run away from the weight of motherhood, I become a deeper, truer version of myself. I’ve been learning how to stay put, how to wait quietly in spite of the inevitable pain, loneliness and exhaustion of motherhood. Sometimes I just want to stick Mac in a crib and have my bed and my husband’s arms back. Sometimes I want to take a weeklong vacation and stop nursing. Sometimes. But the thing that our culture never taught me, the thing that I’m learning, is that it is okay to want those things and not act on them. It is okay to be utterly exhausted but choose not to sleep train. It is okay to feel totally depleted but to keep nursing anyway. It’s okay because my child’s needs are more important than my desire for my own convenience. And man, do I desire convenience. But the journey of motherhood for me has been one of letting the layers drop gradually away until I am totally exposed and raw and undone, until the only reality to me is her heart beating against mine as she burrows her hot, aching head into my chest while teething. Or as she clenches her fist in my hair and falls asleep in my arms.
And I know that something is working. Mac is confident, happy, healthy. She doesn’t cling to her toys, suck on anything relentlessly (except me), or cry hysterically when we leave her with someone else. She is absolutely secure in her world, secure in me. And that is so worth the cost of my time and my plans and my desires. At every inconvenient juncture along the way as a parent, there is a choice. Do we pacify, contain, control, fix our child’s need of us or do we enter it, wait with them, show up for them? This constant surrender is the hardest and most beautiful road available to us in our sacred role as mothers. It has the power to shape our children into secure, peaceful beings who desire connection with others. It has the power to shape us into slower, more generous, wiser versions of the women we were created to be.
It came to my attention this morning and has in various ways in the past, how many moms feel constantly overburdened by guilt about the choices they are making on behalf of their children. The inundation of articles on Facebook and the internet, as well as the half-informed opinions of hundreds of well meaning onlookers to everyone’s private lives. It’s a lot. And one of the biggest sources of this guilt comes from the things that we buy for our children: snacks, toys, shampoos, sunscreens, clothes. There seems to be something to worry about everywhere you turn. And here’s the truth– there is!
There ARE toxic chemicals in most of the packaged snacks that are marketed to our children. There are unnecessary pollutants added to our favorite shampoo and sunscreen brands (I’m looking at you Johnson & Johnsons, Neutrogena). We do have to wash our clothes before wearing them because of formaldehyde. We do have to be vigilant about EVERYTHING. And it’s exhausting. Anyone who tells you it isn’t exhausting is a liar. It’s hard and frustrating and confusing and lonely to be a mom wading through the onslaught of information available to us. Information that is degraded with corporate funded “studies” and paid advertising masquerading as “research”.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t give up the fight. We can’t take our frustration and exhaustion out on the choices we make for our kids. I know it is terrible to have to read product labels. Who has time for that? No one. But we have to make time. We just have to. Don’t do it out of guilt. Don’t ever let another mother, newscaster, blogger, parent, or friend make you feel guilt about not being a good enough mother. You are a good enough mother. You are. Let go of the guilt.
The guilt becomes a stumbling block. The guilt will allow you to make excuses that justify giving up. The guilt will comfort you when you say “Screw it. I can’t win. I’m feeding them the hotdogs.” The guilt will cause you to settle for less than what you KNOW you are capable of.
What we need instead is anger. Not at one another but at the companies and politicians that have paved the way for such CRAPPY, TOXIC products to have literally FLOODED the marketplace. We should be ANGRY about that. Angry in a way that makes us come together as a force, as a powerful force of change for the good of ALL of our families. (I’m using capitalizations a lot right now because this pisses me off.) Why are products acceptable here that aren’t even allowed in Europe? Why is there still MSG is pretty much ALL of our food? Why is the meat and dairy industry FUNDING most of our “health science” research? Why are cancer causing ingredients allowed in shampoo that we use on NEWBORN BABIES? It’s not okay! And mamas, here’s the shitty shitty thing– it isn’t our fault, but it is our problem to deal with. For our generation, this is one of the highest aims that we can hold together as fierce defenders of our families– let’s not settle for this shit.
The truth that any marketing executive can tell you is this– mothers make most of the spending choices for their families. We buy the shampoos. We buy the sunscreens. We buy the hot dogs. The processed cheese. The snack packs. We’re the ones giving these corporations the money that keeps them alive. We have to stop. We have to get angry enough and stay angry enough that it compels us to change.
Guilt never produced any kind of meaningful change in anyone’s life. Stop wasting your time feeling guilty. Stop feeling like other mom’s are judging you, are against you, are waiting for you to fail. There is no time here for anyone’s guilt. If you have been spending time feeling guilt, I’m asking you to let it go. That guilt will only keep you caught in a cycle that isn’t serving anyone. This isn’t your fault. Instead, let’s get angry at the real culprits together. Let’s become determined and fierce on behalf of our children and demand a cleaner future for everyone.
I'm a writer, wife and mama living in a tiny apartment by the sea. I write about belief, beauty, and how we nourish ourselves. This space is an invitation to my table where you will find way too much food, good conversation, and a lot of love. I hope you'll pull up a chair and stay awhile. All are welcome here!
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