The Strange Art of Trying
I once told a woman I didn't know all that well that I was "trying" to do something. She immediately said, "You're trying, you're lying." And the rhyme was so catchy and she seemed so sure of this truth, that I thought she must be right, even as I hated her for saying it.
But motherhood has changed my sense of "trying," and now I feel sure that this woman was wrong. To me, trying--especially when divorced from concern of outcome--is a noble art. And the most difficult and important one I practice as the mother to Henrietta. For Henrietta and I, it doesn't work to force it, and it doesn't work to give up entirely. It only works to come at it from somewhere in the middle, to approach it as gently as possible, as unemotionally as possible, yet still with a great deal of persistence.
Here's what I mean: Henrietta is not, sadly for me, an eat-everything-on-her-plate kind of girl. She's picky, and it seemed for awhile she was getting pickier, and I was worried we were going to end up with a white diet kid--the kind of kid who only eats cheese, white bread, pasta, etc. I'd offer her a strawberry, and she'd spit. I'd offer her a piece of broccoli, and she'd politely hand it back to me. I knew it would do no good to shove the broccoli down her throat or express how disappointed I was that she wouldn't eat it. I've read enough to know that adding my emotions to what she chooses to eat is a terrible idea. And for awhile, I sort of gave up. I stopped making real meals. I'd throw her a quesadilla or some Mac & Cheese--things I was pretty sure she'd eat--and call it a night. But I could feel that this wasn't the right approach. I had to try, even if she never willingly put broccoli to her lips in her life. I read somewhere that a kid has to be exposed to a food 10 times before she's comfortable with it. So I kept telling myself that--10 times, 10 times. And some days I'd feel more like trying than others. But I tried to share my own food with her, and show her what I was eating and enjoying, and not get upset when she outright refused whatever I had prepared. And last weekend, she grabbed a strawberry from my own bowl of strawberries (though she had her own on her plate) and ate the whole thing, and now she can't get enough of them. Strawberries three times a day! And she's eating peas again, and dipping crackers in peanut butter, and it seems, suddenly, like her food adventurousness is exploding. Cross my fingers, knock on wood.
These babies, they change so quickly. And it's hard to have this job of guiding someone whose tune changes, and who can't yet communicate exactly what she wants or needs. I sometimes want so badly to enforce my sense of what's necessary--to hold her down and brush her teeth as she screams, to give her nothing but celery until she learns to love it, to shout that yesterday she seemed to love eggs, so what's wrong with her today?! But I'm learning that it's no real use, and that it's more useful to save my shouts for when things are really dangerous, like when she's standing on the chair with one leg up on the table, two seconds from cracking her skull on the tile.
This is such a strange art of trying--to try with tenacity, but without a goal, and without a demand, and without a sense what what success might actually look like. To let her guide me, more or less. To follow her lead.
And I'm finding this is--as so much of motherhood is--a larger lesson. I'd do well to be this gentle with myself. To try tenaciously to establish better habits as a human--eating better, exercising more, writing more often, keeping my house cleaner, living a more humble and spiritual life. But doing all I can to divorce those attempts from expectations, or a sense of shame or failure.
I think about that woman sometimes, wishing I could find her and tell her: You are dead wrong. Trying isn't lying. It's the only real truth.