Something’s been bothering me lately. Looking back over the past month’s posts on this blog, here’s what I see: an essay about how I stay sane because all my children still nap; a Valentine’s day guest post in which my husband reveals his secret for recapturing married bliss; and a smattering of more spiritual, serious, almost advice-y pieces.
It all comes across as a little too good to be true.
Someone reading this blog over the past month might get the impression that I Have It All Together. That I Have It All Figured Out. That I sit here in my perfect little life in Vermont, enjoying my perfect marriage, dispensing advice while my perfect children nap.
This bothers me, because of course it’s NOT true. It bothers me because, once we get other people believing that we have it all together, 1) we damage our relationships with those people (Who’s going to be honest about the muck in their own lives with someone who’s perfect? Too embarrassing.), and 2) we run the risk of believing our own hype. I’ve lived long enough to know that once WE — by which I mean the average person — start believing that we have it all together, that we’re pretty dang okay, then we’re in BIIIIIG trouble. Life has a way of keeping us in check, keeping our egos in balance, smacking us down to size just when we think we’re at the top of our game.
And it bothers me because it’s completely NOT the point of this blog. Inasmuch as this blog has a point, it’s that somewhere around December 2011, I decided that I was bored with posting happy pictures about superficial events in our family’s life. So I slowly started experimenting with what would happen if I told the truth, if I wrote honestly about what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing at any given moment.
Therefore, in an effort to avoid coming across as Together and thus risking the wrath of the universe, I’m going to lay out some total honesty right now.
1. My Marriage is NOT Perfect. I deeply love and respect Erick, and I’m thankful every day that he’s my partner in this crazy life. We get along pretty well. But we’re real people with real, annoying quirks. As Erick was working on his Valentine’s Day blog post, he talked through some of his ideas with me. One night, he pulled out this line: “One of the biggest ways I show you ‘costly love’ is by listening to you at the end of the day.”
I almost fell off the couch laughing. Because, at that point, I had just spent at least 20 minutes listening to Erick talk about HIS day. He’d been home for three hours; had he asked once about my day? No, he had not.
Erick hit it out of the park this Valentine’s Day, which is usually a pretty minor holiday in our household. In addition to the blog post, he came home with flowers and candy, and surprised me by getting a sitter and taking me out to a nice dinner. All of which, he said, was “to build up credit for the next time I screw up your birthday.”
I’m hardly at my most romantic these days, either. I’m six months pregnant, and I feel about twelve months pregnant. I’m trying to get through this pregnancy without buying any maternity clothes (I gave away all my old ones back in California, because, remember, we were done having children?), which means that I cycle through the same four outfits each week. So, when Erick gets home, he finds a massive wife in the same old yoga pants and oversized sweater, who’s been chasing after three kids and a puppy all day long, and who’s prepared a meal based on the simplest thing that the kids might actually (maybe, just possibly) eat — which means crockpot, mac & cheese, or nachos.
It may be a comedy, but trust me, it ain’t a romantic one.
2. My Kids Are NOT Perfect. My kids are normal, average kids, which means that they’re people-in-training. I’m not going to list all of their individual issues — that’s just not fair to them — but let me assure you that they’re a long way from being presentable to polite society, let alone perfect. About every fourth day, I’m flooded with love and awe and gratitude over these remarkable little creatures who’ve graced our lives. On the days in between, I mostly feel like jabbing an ice pick into my temple.
They squabble with each other all day long. The oldest two want meals made to order, and Georgia demands whatever she sees anybody else having — which sometimes means she wants four meals at once. They aren’t always nice to their friends. They often have to be asked ten times to do something. And, while they really are pretty good nappers, bedtime feels like psychological torture: an hour-long party of screams and thumps, punctuated by at least three call-backs per night. Also, these days, they want to listen to the Annie soundtrack around the clock.
3. I Am NOT Perfect. Want to know what I said to Erick this month? I said, “How many kids do I have to have before people stop asking me to do things?!?” How’s that for kindness and love and repentance and all the other nice things that I write about and try SO HARD to live out?
What I said was awful, with its implication that I really don’t care about others — that my motivation for having kids, in fact, is mostly to put a buffer between myself and the needs of the world — and it’s not even accurate. In many ways, my life now is simpler than it’s ever been: I’m not working outside the home, life in Vermont is slower and less stressful than anywhere else we’ve lived, and people aren’t really asking me to do much at all right now. (Even if they were, we live in a small town, so there are fewer people to do the asking).
What that comment really reveals is my own guilt. People aren’t asking me to do too much; I’m asking too much of myself, and then falling short. I do believe in living out love and kindness, but sometimes I get my motivations and self-expectations all mixed up. I start comparing myself to others, or I start feeling overwhelmed by the needs all around me, and I wonder why I don’t deliver as many meals to the ill or infirm as other people, why I accomplish so much less than mothers who work two jobs, why I don’t feel able to reciprocate the countless acts of kindness that others lavish on our family.
I am selfish, and lazy, and it’s hardest for me to love well the people who are closest to me — the people in my very family.
Remember how Erick surprised me with a babysitter and a dinner out on Valentine’s Day this year? Want to know my reaction when he came home from work and announced that we were going to a nice restaurant in 45 minutes? I thought: You mean I don’t get to have a relaxed pizza dinner with the girls, take a shower, and eat popcorn on the couch in my pajamas? I have to make myself presentable, when the only clean clothes I have are the yoga pants I’m wearing? I have to make this disastrous house and these messy kids presentable for a sitter?
So, no, I Do Not Have It All Together. I am imperfect, a poor source to be dispensing any sort of advice. But in the course of a life spent dealing with my own imperfections and the imperfections of those around me, I have learned a couple things.
I’ve learned that when someone close to me — husband, child, family member, friend — asks me to do something reasonable that gives me a chance to show love, I should always say “Yes,” no matter how I really feel. So I try to always say “Yes” to a husband who wants to take me out, to a daughter who asks to be excused from nap to read together, to a friend who needs me to take her children. When I say “Yes” against my feelings, the feelings will eventually follow.
And I’ve learned that the only way to avoid guilt over my own imperfections and anger over the imperfections of others is to embrace grace. Grace — a word overused so that its meaning gets lost — means “unmerited favor.” I am a bad wife, a bad mother, a bad friend, a bad daughter, and most days I don’t deserve the love of those close to me. But they — husband, children, friends, family — somehow love me anyway. And when they don’t love me perfectly, the way I want — because they, too, are imperfect — that’s when I need to remember that I believe in a God who has the grace thing perfectly covered.
And that’s my Awful Truth.