Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

August 9, 2016 by

When They Mess Up Your Daughter’s Ice Cream Order

Ice cream photoA friend of mine—let’s call her Naomi––was in the local ice-cream store with her six-year-old daughter—Claire, for the purpose of this narrative. Claire, in her polite six-year-old voice, asked the woman behind the counter for chocolate-chip-cookie-dough topping on her cone.

Here’s what happened next.

The server, hearing “chocolate chip,” proceeded to dole out a generous spoonful of chocolate chips on top of the scoop. Naomi turned to Claire. “You wanted chocolate chip cookie dough, honey, not chocolate chips, right?” Claire: “Yes, but it’s OK. Chocolate chips on top are fine.” The server overheard, smiled, apologized for the error, and said she was happy to remake Claire’s cone. The little girl again said it was OK, it didn’t matter, she was fine with chocolate chips. She insisted on eating the cone as it was.

This isn’t a story about ice cream, of course. It has multiple, knotted threads, which is why Naomi bothered to recount it to me in a worried tone. It’s a story about a girl self-monitoring so as not to inconvenience, embarrass or annoy others. Or…it’s a story about a girl who is content within herself, and who doesn’t get worked up about the small inconveniences of life. And, more complicated, it’s a story about a mother trying to figure out how to teach a daughter to stand up for herself, but also to be grateful, be gracious and not feel entitled; to go through the world at once appreciative of what she has and also able to say what it is that she deserves to have but doesn’t.

Claire is a charming, funny, smart and social kid, with a strong sense of right and wrong (Martin Luther King is her personal hero), parents who have instilled in her, through both words and modeling, the belief that girls can do anything, and, as a middle child, two siblings who keep her on her toes protecting her space.

She is also, importantly, graced by nature to be a child with few wants (she once asked for blueberries and a slice of American cheese for her birthday gift), who seems to draw true happiness from the happiness of others and from spending time with the people she loves. She was likely so delighted to be out spending time with her mother that she truly did not care at all which tasty topping she ended up eating.

So was this six-year-old merely being the laid-back kid she is—was she really completely satisfied with no cookie dough? Or did she not want to make a fuss, inconvenience anyone, embarrass the ice cream server? Did she feel she was not within her rights to ask for what she wanted? Had she already, at her age, despite her parents’ best efforts, absorbed society’s message that a girl’s role is to make everyone around her feel comfortable and happy, even at the expense of her own happiness, fulfillment, or simply getting what she’s paying for?

Her mother, Naomi, is a strong woman, outspoken in her feminism. At the same time, she will be the first to say that she often chooses what seems easiest, the path of least resistance, at the expense of what she really wants, or what she thinks would be best for herself, and sometimes even for her children. Sometimes it’s sheer exhaustion. Who has the ko’ach (energy) to ask for the chips in cookie dough, when there are deadlines to meet, laundry to be done, school uniforms to purchase, meetings to prepare for, doctor appointments to make, bills to pay?

And often, women fear seeming too demanding, bitchy, needy—too female. Of reinforcing a cheap stereotype. And there is also the fear of sounding privileged; if I, as a highly-educated cisgender white person with U.S. citizenship and an expendable income, understand my position of privilege, how can I complain that the wine brought to the table isn’t from the year indicated on the menu? And so, we keep our mouths shut. We allow ourselves to remain misheard, we agree to do things we don’t want to do, we accept less than what we paid for, earned, deserve. We subsume our needs and desires to those of other people. We keep our voices quiet, easy to mishear. The waters stay calm and smooth, and we’ve made everyone around us feel good. And we remain unfulfilled (and exhausted—aren’t we exhausted partially because we don’t want to say we can’t do it all, demand that less fall in our lap, make a fuss?). Our daughters see this. They hear us say, “it’s OK, don’t worry about it,” and they eat their chocolate chips with no cookie dough, accept lower salaries than their male peers, get talked over in meetings, let others claim credit for their ideas. And we weep, for failing our children in ways we didn’t see coming, or that we promised ourselves we never would.

At the same time, we also want to raise daughters to be polite, kind, empathetic and gracious, to be mensches. How do we preserve a relaxed contentment in girls who are lucky enough to have those qualities by nature, or instill a sense of gratitude in girls who don’t, while ensuring they don’t turn into women who too easily sacrifice their needs and wants to the needs and wants of others? Naomi later told Claire that she should never be afraid to ask for what she thought she should get. In doing so, was she turning her into an entitled kid? Or someone who got caught up in trivialities? How do we strike this balance for our children, and for ourselves?

I was raised with the classic aphorism from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers): “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” Perhaps we need to create a Pirkei Imahot, an Ethics of Our Mothers: “Who is rich? One who knows what she wants, and ­­makes sure she gets it, while also remaining thoughtful.”

We have our work cut out for us.


Elizabeth Mandel is the founder and Executive Director of jGirls Magazine, an online magazine and community for self-identifying Jewish teenage girls. She lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters.