“Would you like a soda or some chips?” the flight attendant asks me with a bright smile framed with pink lipstick.
“No, thank you.” I say, proudly displaying my homemade kale salad. What I want to say is, “Oh, I don’t eat that stuff. I haven’t eaten high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil for fifteen years. Not once.”
That was six years ago, before I had any children. Back then, I got to be the center of my universe and dedicate most of my time to self-improvement: therapy, yoga, workshops, cleanses, traveling, self-help books, seminars, and more cleanses. I had the luxury to get to know and examine every part of myself very carefully. I did yoga daily, ate a stellar diet, never drank alcohol, always brought my own bags to the grocery store and only bought products and clothing made sustainably. I secretly judged anyone who ate refined sugar or shopped at the Gap. I felt superior because I was conscious. Every choice I made was made with careful thought about the impact it would have on me, the planet, and future generations.
I was an idealist committed to standing firm in my values. I imagined that when I had a family we would live completely by these ideals. My children would play with simple toys made with reclaimed wood. They would never use plastic, get vaccinations, watch videos, or eat sugar. I was sure that I would never compromise my values and that motherhood would give me a chance to extend my superior way of being to my perfect, naturally born, free-range and organic kids who would never know who Mickey Mouse was.
I did a pretty good job at holding up my ideals for the first few years of my first son’s life. We got solar panels, ate local, organic food, used natural products, took herbs if we were ever sick, which was rare because “I never get sick.” I kept my family in our insulated world where all our friends had the same values (and secretly smirked at all the “regular” people who shopped at Target, drank instant coffee, and took Tylenol).
Then something happened to change it all. My son entered preschool—and thus the realm of the general public. Not the handpicked few that had passed my secret tests—did they drink soda? invest in stocks not vetted by humanitarian and sustainable standards? wear perfume? Of course we go to an alternative, conscious—very expensive—pre-school, but even there, kids had juice boxes for lunch and wore Mickey shirts. Oh, and they have germs—lots of them. The entire family was sick for almost a whole year.
As I was faced with birthday parties with “regular” cake (i.e. the white flour and sugar kind), crying babies with high fevers, and my boys’ insatiable appetite for superheroes and dinosaurs, I had to surrender to the fact that being rigid wouldn’t serve anyone. I noticed that sometimes fighting for my ideals felt unhealthy. It came from my own fear and need to feel in control. The last thing I want to do is dump my fear and neurosis onto my children. I have had to start discerning when I’m clinging to my idea of what’s right simply because I want to feel right (and make others wrong so I feel better about myself). I’m finding a middle ground that feels balanced.
My kids get to have a piece of cake at the party as long as they have a healthy lunch. They got the matching Spider-Man pajamas that are one hundred percent polyester and dipped in flame retardant, and the rest of their pajamas are organic cotton or hand-me-downs. We use herbs and homeopathy—mostly—but if a child is suffering too much, we pull out the Baby Tylenol. (It works!)
I have made some choices that would have turned the old me white with shame: my older son gets to watch videos on the weekend, he has gotten two vaccinations since he turned three, I drink coffee every day, we have plastic legos and dinosaurs all around our house. Oh, and once in a while I will drink a glass of wine and it makes everything better.
I appreciate the years I spent being extreme. They gave me a good foundation of values and ethics. I also see that over time, my ideals started to create separation between myself and much of the world. I was becoming a self-centered snob who thought that my hemp and chia seed smoothie made me better than the next person. I preached about respecting and loving the planet, yet quietly judged people who I thought were failing at that task. I was attached to being right and better than the average person. I wanted to feel special and superior.
I’m more of a “regular” person now, and it makes me happy. I have less to prove, and try to live by ideals that help me feel more connected rather than defiant. Every morning, when the barista at my local coffee shop asks me how I am doing, I say, “Good, now that I have my coffee.” Sure, I had spirulina in the morning and ate oatmeal with greens and free range eggs with my kids. AND I got the coffee…with whole milk…and two sugars (and sometimes even a croissant).
* Featured image above is of the kids and I.