I'm still not exactly sure what happened. I could have picked stickers. My daughter really likes stickers, but I didn't. I picked chocolate. Chocolate, I love; stickers, not so much.
So here I am… my daughter is potty trained. We're all done. She even uses the potty at Target, no problem. Okay, one problem: I've gained 10 pounds on potty treats.
Let me explain. We don't usually have treats in the house. Well, we have pretzels, ices (made from orange juice), soy chips, lollypops from the health food store (no sugar or food coloring), and fruit of course. My kids ask for applesauce as a snack. For potty training we headed to my parents' house in Florida where the weather and lack of carpeting lends itself to bare bottoms. I sent my mom out to stock up on treats for training without any instructions regarding the nutritional value of the goodies. You get the picture?
I must admit, I was excited, as was my three-year-old, at the haul my mom brought back from the store (cookies, chocolate, ice cream, cupcakes, etc.). The rules were simple: my daughter could pick from any of the goodies after each accomplishment. Each time she got a motivational reward, I helped myself to one as well. Before we blinked, she was trained and I was in need of a new wardrobe one size up.
In my attempts to teach my three-year-old some self-control, I lost mine.
How we fare in the ring when we are fighting our own negative desires is the true measure of our might.
"Who is strong? One who has control over his own inclinations." (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1) The Torah teaches us that self-discipline is the indicator of strength. Being more powerful than a bully, a boss, a wild beast or a force of nature is not a sign of true strength. How we fare in the ring when we are fighting our own negative desires is the true measure of our might. The Torah is telling us that strength is what we exhibit when we do battle with internal drives, not with external forces.
So what does this mean in light of the potty treat incident? Am I a weakling? Should I just give up and open the pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough that's calling me from the freezer right now?
Of course not. Like all character traits, strength is something that needs to be developed, and that takes time. I may have lost a battle, but the war isn't over yet.
So how do we do battle with whatever's calling us from the freezer? Think of the war as a process. Where we are in the process will determine the amount of "force" we'll need to use in order to win the battle. First attempts at squashing a particular negative inclination deserve full armor. In my case, I wasn't ready to face my chocolate desires on the battlefield, and returning home to the land of soy chips was a big help. Not eating dinner out and avoiding Dunkin Doughnuts gave my will to do the right thing an additional power boost. Eventually I felt in control enough to start using the freezer again, even though it still houses my Ben and Jerry's stash.
As we grow stronger in our desire to do the right thing, we gain the strength to do it. Being practical and giving ourselves plenty of easy opportunities to listen to our yetzer tov (good inclination) helps us learn what that voice sounds like (sometimes it sounds a little like my mother). Focusing on how good it feels when we do what we know deep down is the right thing to do, makes it easier to do the right thing the next time we are faced with that choice. Focusing on how short lived the good feelings are when we listen to our yetzer hara (evil inclination) will help us disconnect from our desire to do the wrong thing. Yes, eating chocolate does feel good. But feeling good after doing what we think is wrong for us in the long run is short lived. Those good feelings are quickly replaced with feelings of guilt, regret, sadness or anger.
Winning the war doesn't mean we lose our desire; it means we control it and it doesn't control us. Can you imagine being surrounded by your desires and not giving in? You're in control of yourself. You're strong. You can win the war.
For me, winning the war would mean exhibiting enough control to shed what has become known as the "potty pounds." Now, excuse me as I arm myself; there's a chicken that needs defrosting and it's sitting in the freezer right next to Ben and Jerry's.