Every mom has a moment of weakness. A retreat into a corner with some sugary goodness to numb the weary, over-stimulated senses that come with being home all day with toddlers. This is one such tale.
Fingers curled around the cold edge of the kitchen sink; I hold on with the hope that I can outlast the temptation radiating from a flimsy grocery store cookie box. Inside are five, ordinary chocolate chip cookies that look more amazing than the ever-loving galaxy. I imagine my teeth sinking into the dough, dividing it cleanly into morsels of flavor washing over my tongue sending streaks of pleasure up into my brain. The way they kept wafting through my thoughts, God himself could have presented these miniature cakes baked of heady delight, with an oven mitt, apron, and platter. I shake the chocolate chips out of my mind and attempt to center myself in reality by focusing on the sink.
This is a fine porcelain sink.
I wonder how much it weighed with they installed it?
There is a funky smell coming from the drain.
Round, circular, orbital drain…
Remember those cookies?
They don’t stink…
My children are playing in the next room, but I know at any moment they could holler for me. With the sudden devious desperation of an addict looking for their next fix, I trade skittish glances between the cookies and my children, waiting impatiently for the moment to strike and release my grip on obedience.
This sink has never offered me anything other than work.
Sliding the cookie box in front of me, I ease open the plastic clam-shell, which might as well have been fitted with an audible alarm. I realize now why grocery stores pack cookies in these things: clearly to detract hoardery moms. I don’t want to attract the attention of my children. I have no intention of sharing the sweet bliss of being alone with something that is all mine. I tell myself I can have one or two because I’ve earned it, wrangling three kids all day by myself. I hide in the corner of the kitchen and eat my two cookies in secret, exhilarated that at any moment my children might catch me and I am in direct violation of what I “should” be doing.
I inhale the first cookie barely registering it before recklessly popping the indented tabs on the cookie box to grab the second one. After all, the initial goal of this whole operation was to find enjoyment in the flavor of a cookie. With the composure of a respectable woman, I promise to pay attention as I eat the second. The taste is sensational. As each tiny mound of chocolate slips into velvety ribbons in my mouth, I slap the cookie dust from my hands with concussive feigned satisfaction.
Nobody ever died from eating two cookies, and the scale will probably not budge either. Probably.
Prudence says two is plenty, but my mind is held hostage by chocolate confectionery and insatiable desire continues to flood my primal brain. Me want third cookie and me eat it with bulging eyes and the blue fur of a ravenous beast. Again, the taste is sensational, but my reverie is promptly squashed as I discover myself teetering on the edge of I Want To and I Shouldn’t. Fear fills my mind as I glimpse an image of my future self: my abdomen fattened with butter and sugar, a shapeless doughy lump with a chubby head and swollen appendages poking out. I see myself depressed and alone as all hope of being thin and beautiful slides regretfully down my gullet.
Terrified of flying out of control, I decide to beat myself back into submission with my usual tactic. Shame.
Remember your butt? You want that sucker to shrink, don’t you?
Don’t you hate your jiggly belly? These cookies are not going to do you any favors.
Nobody is going to love you if you let your body go to hell.
In a shame-induced haze, the smear of chocolate at the corner of my lips seals my fate; I will never be valuable or beautiful.
With my index finger, I blot cookie crumbs from the counter to eat them, when a spark of daring defiance hits me:
I will never believe I am beautiful, valuable and worthy unless I love myself completely as I am right now.
I want to be secure that my value as a person is not tied up in how I look. I long to trade the stress of trying to be acceptable for an exuberance for life with full permission to enjoy all the chocolate-covered aspects of it. I know this kind of freedom could possibly be found in setting myself free to be the wild, beautiful, cookie-loving creature I am.
I’m a human being, capable of complex thought and emotion.
I have one body and one shot at life.
I’m going to enjoy it, however that looks.
At this moment all of my senses are heightened, and joy blooms in my heart. I snap open the feeble plastic box once again, sniffing the saccharine aroma. I take the fourth cookie into my hands, and it becomes a beaming symbol of freedom. I savor every slow, deliberate bite because, for the first time, I feel my real value, unfettered by the shackles of shame. I eat the fourth cookie because I wanted to, and because it brings me joy.
There is no unpacking a lifetime of self-esteem issues with one cookie-induced epiphany, but, with every bite I take to liberate myself, the pseudo-control of shame crumbles onto the floor.
The fifth cookie, I’ll eat that one to tidy up.
This essay originally appeared 3.30.18 on HerStory.com.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.