You know those ‘flashback’ episodes of TV shows, the ones that are basically all old footage loosely connected with one or two lines of text? They’ve always seemed like a lazy cop-out to me. Maybe the writers weren’t inspired that week. Maybe the network had more important things to figure out. Either way, it’s disappointing.
This week’s portion is also a flashback of sorts. Seeing as it’s Passover, we’re reading the story of the Exodus again. This, despite the fact that we read it just a few weeks ago. When I first opened the Parsha to read, it was a letdown. I look forward to reading new text each week, seeing where the Torah will take us next, so seeing the old verses made me sigh.
That being said, even though this week was a rerun of a previously aired segment, there were still new things to learn. I should have trusted more in the text to provide opportunities for insight.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a good enough mother in recent weeks. The good-enough parent is an idea put forth by Dr. Donald Winnicott, renowned pediatrician and psychoanalyst. The idea is simple enough — by always providing everything for your child, at the expense of your own health and wellbeing, you’re creating unrealistic expectations for your child. Experiencing frustration and disappointment are important parts of the developmental journey. Put another way, making yourself crazy in order to be the ‘perfect’ parent is not only bad for your health, it’s bad for your kids as well.
I first learned about this theory from one of my closest friends, who was trying to appease me in the first few months after my baby was born. I constantly felt inadequate in those months. It seemed impossible to meet all of my baby’s needs and also stay sane. My friend was trying to explain that it seems like it can’t be done because it is impossible. Plus, it’s not great parenting. “I know you’re like me,” she told me, “and you don’t want to hear that you should be just good enough. Just try to be very good enough; adding that word helps.”
It’s gotten easier to strive for very good enough, but the truth is that this hypercriticism isn’t relegated only to my parenting self. I don’t know about you, but I have (at least) two little voices in my head giving me scores on everything I do. It’s like living with those two Muppets up in the balcony, heckling my every move. They always have an opinion on how well I’m doing at adulting, and it’s usually not a good one.
My two personal critics have been looming large in my mind these past weeks as I struggle to allow myself to be a fallible human, which is why I was taken aback by the text I read in Exodus 13 and 14. Not one character in this portion — from the Israelites all the way to God — is perfect. Not one.
The Israelites unite under a banner of kvetching in Exodus 14:11-12, asking Moses “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt [?]” I always hear this verse in a New York Jewish accent, but maybe that’s just me. Later, they kvetch again, when Moses is having trouble finding them water in an endless wilderness. “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” says Exodus 15:24. No compassion for their leader who literally just risked his life to free them from slavery.
The Israelites are hardly saints here. They’re actually kind of annoying.
Moses isn’t a saint either — he gets exasperated and turns to God on both occasions for guidance. “The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” he says in Exodus 14:14. I can almost hear him thinking, “are you kidding me, with this?” as the Israelites explain that he would have been better leaving them in Egypt. Sure, they just exalted the Lord in the famous Song of the Sea, but now they’re hungry and thirsty. If you’ve ever tried to appease a hungry and thirsty toddler, you can probably imagine the strength it took for Moses to be very good enough.
God also gets frustrated, saying to Moses in Exodus 14:15, ”Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” In other words, God already has plenty to take care of, so Moses needs to deal with what’s going on and so do the Israelites. Everyone is feeling a little strained at this moment, even the Almighty Lord.
This passage shed a new light on my efforts to be perfect. According to these sacred words, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. It’s fine to be annoying sometimes, and to get fed up with the amount of responsibility on your plate. Letting off some steam is acceptable, even necessary. This is true for the Israelites, for Moses, and for God. Why wouldn’t it be true for me as well?
My new mantra is that I am doing just fine. I’ve been saying this to myself (sometimes out loud), and it does wonders when it comes to shutting up those inner critics. No, I am not perfect. Not even close. There are dishes in the sink and overdue tasks on my to-do list. That clean laundry has, indeed, been sitting there for many, many days. I don’t know when it will get folded.
I get some things done everyday, though. I laugh with my kiddo and hug my wife. Some days I speak to a dear friend, or to my parents and sisters. Sometimes I write something I’m proud of. Some days I cook something I’ve been wanting to try, or get some exercise. Sometimes I don’t. As it turns out, Dr. Winnicott and the Bible agree — it’s the humanity that makes the story. Perfection would be far more boring, and not very good for anyone involved. It’s better to be good enough.