It’s New Years Eve and we’re having a small night in. We’ve made it past the Solstice and survived the Mayan Apocalypse without any perceptible shift in consciousness. Hanukkah and Christmas came and went with a minimum of disappointed tantrums -- in fact, I was happily stunned by my children’s gracious "thank yous."
"Mommy, this is the best Christmas ever," beamed Ava after unwrapping her 12 miniature horses in a stable. She opened her gifts patiently, showering gratitude on her relatives. At least I’m doing something right.
Tonight I ask my girls if they’ve made any New Year’s Resolutions.
"What’s a resolution, mommy?" asks Carmen.
"It’s something you want to do or be in the New Year. Something good," I explain.
"I want to eat more ice cream!" says Carmen.
Oh, for the unapologetic greed of a 5-year-old. My round-bellied girl still has the voracious appetite she was born with, devouring seconds on spaghetti at dinner, thirds on bacon at breakfast. She has yet to discover Kate Moss draping her flawless limbs across the pages of Vogue, hasn’t felt accused by Kate’s most famous quote: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
If I recall that line after eating, say, too many buttery Christmas cookies, I tend to get nauseous and depressed. This is one reason my first resolution is to go on a three-day detox/cleanse -- to rest my body after the unabashed indulgences of the holidaze. I start by making a huge steaming pot of Kitchari, an Ayurvedic concoction of mung beans, basmati rice, fresh ginger, cilantro and spices. This dal will supposedly support my system as I purify.
No caffeine. No sugar. No alcohol. No dairy. No meat. No gluten. No processed foods of any kind. Some health-loving folks may eat this way all the time, but for me giving up black tea and dark chocolate is a sacrifice. Yet I want to seek balance. I want to feel clear. I imagine my body as a tuning fork, my mind luminous as a monk meditating on a mountain peak. The question is: How pure do I have to be?
On New Year’s Eve I bring home maple cream ice cream as a last hurrah before the cleanse. Together as a family, we take down the whole pint of sweet cold bliss. I savor each spoonful as if I’m feeding a deity inside me. Then I steel my resolve and get ready for detox.
On Jan. 1, Ava forgets to say "Rabbit Rabbit" for good luck (her one resolution), but she doesn’t fall apart. I sip warm water with lemon, feeling virtuous as I cook cinnamon French toast for the girls. I restrain myself from licking maple syrup off my fingers as usual. It’s not so hard. Maybe this cleanse will kick-start a new enlightened way of eating, sugar- and stimulant-free!
Fast-forward to Day 2 and I’m face-to-face with my cravings. After five meals of Kitchari, I yearn for a single piece of toast with butter and honey. In the grand scheme of nutritional sins, surely this is not so dreadful? How the human mind loves to rationalize! I can automatically indulge my craving, or I can watch my mind as it churns in its endless cycle of desire and suffering, pleasure and pain, trapped in what the Buddha called Samsara.
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it," says Eckhart Tolle. So, the cleanse itself is not the problem, only my relentless thinking and resisting? I make cheddar-cheese nachos for the girls’ snack and scarf down another bowl of Kitchari. The trouble is that it’s 5 degrees outside -- brittle, brutal January -- the kind of deep cold that makes a person want to consume melted cheese. Somehow I survive on mung beans, although I supplement with many cheating spoonfuls of peanut butter. Exhaustion overwhelms like a black fog until I fall asleep at 8 p.m. between Ava and Carmen, drained from the immense effort of sticking to my word.
Two days later I’m savoring a milky mug of Yorkshire Gold tea sweetened with agave syrup, which is not, I’ve recently been informed, a healthy, natural alternative to Domino white. It turns out agave is an evil, highly-processed sugar which is worse, says my friend Matt, than high-fructose corn syrup. Nothing is actually good for you anymore except quinoa and kale. I might be pure if I lived on those two alone, but the sense of deprivation I’d feel would gnaw at me from the inside and eventually erode all joy.
So this first post-cleanse cup of tea seems like Nirvana. Caffeine makes me feel so hopeful! For a few hours, I believe I can accomplish anything: I will write a book in 2013. I will grow my business and travel with my family and make fabulous love somewhere in Europe or Mexico. By noon the bottom’s dropped out of the high and I’m back to the mundane realities of motherhood in winter: wet mittens, itchy socks. I know I’ll keep drinking strong tea, in part because my mother does. I think I’m seeking an even keel, but really I’m a sucker for sensation. There must be a middle path between indulgence and deprivation, but I haven’t found it.
At bedtime my children are "Dragon Sisters," leaping around the room naked. "I’m an ordinary girl who turns into a dragon at sundown," says Ava in a mysterious voice.
"And I’m a dragon who turns into a Pegasus!" shouts Carmen, capering across the unmade bed, belly proudly leading the charge.
Ava takes a running start and soars into the air, landing spread-eagle on the mattress. I remember being 5 and playing Peter Pan, jumping off the blue nubby couch, thinking I might fly.
"I wish people could actually fly," Ava laments, face-down on the sheet.
"So do I, honey," I say. "So do I."
Diana Whitney is a writer, yoga teacher and mother of two in Brattleboro. Next column will be her last Spilt Milk. She’ll continue to blog at www.spiltmilkvt.com while she works on a Spilt Milk book. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.