So Much Depends on a Sweet Potato

“This sweet potato is burned!” my daughter said dramatically, holding up the offending bit of brown on her dinner.

“No it’s not, it’s just cooked. It tastes fine.”

“No, mommy, it’s really burned. I just ate some of it and it’s really burned!”

So I took it from her hand, ate a bite, and pretended to gag and fall out of my chair and die. Standard parenting stuff, right? Not tonight. Tonight my daughter decided that I am never to tease her again, about anything, ever. This is a childhood whimsy I’m not prepared to humor, not even for a night to get her to shut up and go to bed.

Tonight we went several rounds with her lashing out at me and then demanding a hug in her angry voice. Telling me that it seems like I don’t care about her and then having a hysterical crying bout in her closet.

“It seems like you might be ready for bed,” I suggested. This was not well received, as you might imagine.

Oh, and did I mention it’s the first night of Hanukkah? Whether or not you have children it’s impossible to miss the dramatic rise in the emotional barometric pressure this time of year. If you do have children, you can enjoy the fun of watching tiny little emotional pressure gauges explode right in front of you.

And who can blame them really? Everything about this time of year is about anticipation, excitement and potential happiness in puppy-sized packages. This is the happiest, happiest, happiest time of year and it’s everywhere! No matter how low key your holidays might be, the world is essentially a giant three year old drinking red bulls and snorting pixie sticks.

I haven’t figured out a way to translate this into language my seven year old will understand, assuming she’ll let me speak to her that is. But I think it’s important to find a way to explain to her that we are all spinning in the holiday maelstrom, at least until January 2nd.

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What are you trying to win?

I recently read the amazingly funny book You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein which led me down a rabbit hole of reading other funny things she produced and wrote. Klein is the head writer on the Amy Schumer show and the writer of this sketch about a group of pregnant women sitting around trying to one up each other about how natural their births are going to be. If you don’t watch it I’ll give you the gist here:

Woman 1: I’m giving birth into a tub of organic quinoa

Woman 2: Oh, yeah, I’m giving birth on top of a high peak in Nepal to get away from western medicine. My doula is a Sherpa.

Woman 3:My doula is a 3 month old baby so she really gets it.

You get the idea. Klein mentions this in light of a friend of hers who asked her once when she was complaining about something child or career related and comparing herself to others -what are you trying to win? I think it’s a good question to ask oneself any time you get overly worked up in comparing yourself to others.

I thought about it a lot this summer when I was on the beach observing teenage girls and young women taking photos of themselves. I work with middle school kids. I’m well aware of the influence of social media and selfie culture. But I was still grossed out by the number of young women I saw spending all their time on the beach getting the perfect shot.

Who am I to judge?

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I included this picture that I’m sure a friend took of me in my bedroom at age 16. The poster, the hair, the come hither expression. I have no doubt that if I were a teenager today I would have posted this. Ugh, it grosses me out to even think about it. But that’s what the kids do. They work hard at posting. The various groups of young women I observed spent almost their entire beach time ¬†working on getting the perfect -casual, sexy, good time image. If I were a kid not included in this outing, I would look at that picture and think, “Everyone is having a good time without me. My life sucks.”

As adults we’re not immune to this either. How many times have you looked at the photos someone else posts on instaface and thought to yourself, “Their vacation is so much better than mine. My life sucks.” A friend of mine recently posted pictures of her camping trip with two young kids. As a caption she added that the pictures did not include her driving home because they forgot the sleeping bags or the time spent chasing their fire-obsessed one year old away from the campfire. I really appreciate these attempts at realism. It made me appreciate and more fully understand her experience.

But why shouldn’t we curate our best lives on social media? No one wants to go to a museum and see all of Picasso’s crappy failure paintings? Right?¬†Maybe not. I was recently given the gift of The Moth -a paperback version of 50 stories from the storytelling podcast. In the introduction I came across this gem, “The number one quality of great storytellers is their willingness to be vulnerable, their ability to tell on themselves.” Maybe it is in fact our rainy days, our toddler meltdowns, our flabby bellies that make the better story and endear us to those we love.

When we curate and photoshop our lives the way advertisers photoshop women’s bodies do we make ourselves as unattainable and unrelatable? Are we losing the present moment because we’re so busy composing the perfect shot? And to what end?

What are we trying to win?

I don’t know. I do know that I spent last weekend away from my family with plenty of time to mull these things over. I went for a walk on Sunday morning down a long scenic country road. At one point a deer walked out right in front of me. So of course, I reached for my phone.

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