|Pencil, watercolour and gouache in a Moleskine sketchbook|
One evening earlier this week I asked Miss P which kind of mini pizzas she wanted for lunch at kinder the next day - chicken or olive.
'Olive,' she said without hesitation.
Both of my kids love olives, all kinds - stuffed, chili, black and green. They'd devour a whole jar if I let them.
'But please don't put black olives on,' she added.
'Why?' I asked.
'Because my friends say mean things. They say they're yucky.'
I was shocked. Both because this kind of thing has never come up before (she's four, for God's sake) and because, well, what's so offensive about olives?
I was also a little heartbroken because I had imagined mini pizzas were a treat. Every time I made them I'd pictured her delight as she opened her lunchbox, oblivious that they were a source of anguish.
'But they're not yucky,' I replied, 'they're yummy!' I explained that just because some kids had said hurtful things, it didn't change the fact she liked them, and that she could go on liking them.
'Just tell them, "I like them! They're yummy. You should try them too!"' As if it were that easy.
But none of this convinced her. She pleaded with me. 'Pleeeeeeease don't put black olives on.'
I couldn't let it go.
'What if I hid them under the cheese?' I resorted, knowing this didn't really address the issue.
She stood firm. She didn't want them on the pizza, hidden or otherwise.
Reluctantly I agreed, and with a heavy heart I dropped green olives onto the little English muffins.
The next evening she said brightly, 'Thanks for not putting black olives on my pizzas. No one said anything!'
'I'm glad you enjoyed them,' I said. But couldn't help reasserting that it was perfectly fine to enjoy any kind of olives she liked, no matter what other people say.
I know this is only the first of many concessions she will make to please others. The small and grand efforts we all go to in order to avoid unpleasant attention.
But oh, how I hope to teach her that it's okay to eat the black olives. To be strong enough within herself to say, 'I like them!'
And, of course, to let others enjoy their olives too.
Once self-consciousness sets in, it can take years to grow the confidence to do as you please. I know that myself, just from being alive.
But if there's one thing I wish for her, it's a lifetime of eating olives. Brazenly. Triumphantly.
I wish it for everyone.
That night, without saying a thing, I gave her a little bowl of black olives. And she ate every last one of them.