Middle Ground

Soon, I was slipping up on a semiregular basis. But the guilt I felt when I "cheated" was different from the kind I used to feel when I went off a diet: Then, the only person I was hurting was myself. Now, the affected person was a helpless infant. Usually, the "compromises" were so minor they had no effect on her. But the few times I went too far—a few spoonfuls of gelato, a fresh mozzarella skewer—the rash that prickled up on her chest made me feel like the worst mother in the world. Even though the gassiness, the sleeplessness, and the nursing problems were gone, and the rash itself didn't seem to bother her, those little red bumps were still a physical manifestation of my negligence and selfishness. As if I were somehow valuing ice cream over my daughter.

But the truth, I began to realize, was that I couldn't be faultless. And when I wasn't perfect, my stress and anxiety about food were unhealthy—for me, and for my baby. "Stop beating yourself up," a friend finally told me, when I cried about having eaten a croissant. "You have a happy, healthy baby. An occasional slip-up isn't going to make a difference long term." I came to accept that perfection—in food, in parenting, in all things in life—is a constantly moving line, one that is impossible to reach. I would try my best but wouldn't flagellate myself if I fell somewhat short. I'd find the place that lies between self-indulgence and self-denial and make it my home. I might not be a perfect parent, but I'd be a good enough parent. In fact, I think I deserve a cookie for that. *

Janelle Brown is a journalist and the author of the new novel This Is Where We Live.

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