Not too long ago, I was in a conversation with a few women. And as happens among women who have given birth, we were swapping 'war stories' about our experiences. The amusing part was when we told our various craving stories. Pregnant women are notorious for craving odd things to eat. There didn't seem to be any sort of particular pattern, each of us just wanted to eat some strange things at times before our children were born. None of us were the classic pickles and ice cream cravers. In fact, I was a bit smug that before my second son was born I was strictly scarfing down raw cauliflower. We won't get into my craving for Jack in the Box tacos with the first one.
The conventional wisdom, whether it is supported by science or not I don't know, is that if one is craving something specific then it is something that you need. If you want a banana, maybe you need more potassium in your diet. If you want a dill pickle, perhaps you need sodium. I can't hazard a guess at what I might have needed from those dreadful tacos, but with healthier choices, I imagine that there could be something to the benefits of those cravings. Just so long as a craving doesn't turn itself into an addiction, there doesn't seem to be any problem in responding to it. A scoop of ice cream is fine, a half a gallon is something else entirely.
This led me to think about non-food related cravings and what they might spring from. If we carry the analogy further, surely they also reflect some sort of need that the person has. We all remember (or perhaps were) the kid in grade school who would do anything to try to be accepted by the other kids. Maybe they were a bit socially inept, perhaps they wore the 'wrong' shoes, or they were just not part of the 'in' crowd. For whatever reason, they felt incredibly isolated and generally mocked by others. Pity was the best they could hope for. But what was really going on here? Was it something worthy of pity or contempt? Not really. For whatever reason they craved connection and, some how, others found them to be unworthy of it. As they got older, they most likely just gave up and hid the need deep within themselves. Some might have even taken the 'sour grapes' tactic and decided that they never wanted it in the first place. My question is, inevitably, why? Why were they mocked for what is a natural desire?
If we look at the food cravings, they are usually met with smiles and good humor. Ha ha ha, you wanted pickles and ice cream. But there isn't any contempt as there seems to be with various cravings for human contact. In fact, even expressing them is considered to be unacceptable. Almost as if it is some sort of weakness to have human needs and admit it. And it truly has me befuddled. What is the possible risk or danger here, to either side of the equation? Nope, can't come up with anything.
Many, many years ago, I worked in the hospital wing of a very large convent. One of the sister's minds had slipped well away from the accomplished, intelligent woman that she had been earlier in her life. She spent her days yelling at little boys who weren't there and crying. Her answer, when asked why she was crying, was always the same. "No one loves me." All of her accomplishments in life disappeared in the face of unrelieved loneliness. No doubt, she had felt the loneliness for many years, but given the nature of her commitment, she probably never voiced it. And, while there was no large scale solution to her past, most of the aides could calm her merely by assuring her that they loved her.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I used to have a next door neighbor in her 80s. She was a crusty old bird who always spoke her mind and the devil could take the hindmost. She'd been widowed, one of her sons had died, even her dog had been killed. But there was no lingering sadness or isolation in her daily life. She took to summoning me over and telling me we were going to have tea. And so we did. It never occurred to me to turn her down. She was obviously living her life on her own terms and would not sit around hoping for company, she demanded it. I think, however, that she was more of the exception than the rule.
And I wonder why. It is almost as if we have some sort of shame around asking for what we need from others. Or perhaps it is a loss of face concerning the fact that whatever it is we crave has not been given to us and we suspect that we are, therefore, not worthy of it. Could it be that those childhood traumas still inform our adult needs? Or is there some sort of tacit agreement between everyone that such things can only come as a gift and the request somehow negates that. On yet another hand, perhaps the asking carries an assumption of a demand on someone else. Or.......I don't know exactly what all else.
More importantly, how does one live truly from one's essential self, if an effort has to be maintained to deny parts of that core? How do we respond to people in our lives with cravings that we may or may not be able to answer? How do we understand them? Maybe those with cravings should feel free to ask for what they need. Maybe those hearing the request should wonder how long the person has been hungry and make them a small snack. After all, there is not anything to criticize in the cravings we all have.
Teacher Voices: Stewart Matthews - Here's another post in my continuing series on teacher voices. I'm interviewing some of my former students who have gone on to become teachers. In this po...
5 days ago