Guest Post by: Brooke Ventrua
Brooke Ventura is the associate editor at Modern Reformation magazine. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and daughter.
As a first-time mother, I’d always thought that potty-training was going to be the war-to-end-all-childhood-wars—my own mother loves to tell stories of how she and my father were convinced I’d be going to my high school prom in diapers. Apparently, only the promise of M&Ms or new books was going to get me to change my ways.
Elizabeth may or may not take after me in that respect—at nine months, it’s anyone’s guess. But if the struggle is even moderately like what we went through today, I’m ordering my Ambien now.
According to the books, Elizabeth should have been feeding herself for a few months now. There are reasons why I didn’t attempt it before, but I didn’t think a slight delay would be a problem—she sticks anything and everything in her mouth, so why should chopped up bananas be an issue?
Besides the fact that bananas are starchy and difficult to pick up, even for an adult—especially when you’re eating them off a slick plastic surface that provides no traction for chubby, inexperienced fingers—I think that it was hard because she’d never done it before. The concept of feeding herself—instead of receiving food from me—was confusing and frightening. The act of eating is elemental and intimate. Adults take it for granted that when we eat, we’re nourishing our bodies and giving ourselves the ability to move, think, and work. We forget that the food we eat has a significant impact on whether or not we flourish or falter as human beings. It’s possible that a similar connection may be made between how we receive food as children, and how we relate to others as adults—to give food to another human being is to strengthen and sustain him in a profoundly emotional and physical way. When that ritual is broken, and the one receiving the food is expected to give it to herself, what does it mean?
Whatever it meant to Elizabeth, it wasn’t good—the screams of frustration and the tears that poured over her anguished little cheeks was heartbreaking to see. ‘Why aren’t you helping me? Why can’t we use the spoon? Why won’t you feed me?’ It took her anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes just to get the banana in her hand, and even then, it didn’t always make it in her mouth. At one point, she simply face-planted onto the tray and sucked them up, like a little vacuum. The hardest part was seeing the sense of betrayal and despair in her face. My husband would say that I’m reading way too much into it—and he’d probably be right—but then, he also would have started feeding her himself two minutes after she began crying.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul exhorted the fathers not to provoke their children in anger, but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). As one who has felt provoked by her own father, this is something I take seriously—my daughter isn’t my serf, but a fellow image-bearer and sister in Christ.
Here’s the catch—my daughter didn’t come with an instruction manual. There’s no booklet that says that when I introduce ‘feeding yourself’ at nine months instead of seven, Elizabeth is going to feel like there’s been a capricious change in the program and be provoked to anger. There are no guidelines that give me insight into how God has made her that enable me to be careful and wise in my motherhood. I’m literally making it up as I go along, watching her, learning about her, always praying for her and for myself, banking on the promise of salvation that is for me and for my child, and all who are far off, everyone whom Christ calls to himself (Acts 2:39).
Starting with bananas was a bad idea, but I persisted because I wanted the benefit of her increased development more than I wanted her temporary comfort. There will probably be more scenes like this—where I’m trying to bring her up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, but where she feels like she’s being provoked to anger. In an economy of sinners, the distinguishing line between provovation and instruction is always blurred. I’m never going to bring her up from purely pious motives, and she will feel provoked simply because she’s not getting her own way. When those days come, I will remember that the promise of salvation is not just for me, but for my darling daughter, and that neither my best intentions nor my worst sin can change that.