There was a time when I had hundreds of RSS feeds in my Google Reader. I had a boring and soul-crushing desk job that allowed me the time to sit in my beige office and peek into the lives of people around the nation. My pre-motherhood life afforded me the luxury of big (but ultimately meaningless) dreams for myself, dreams that included the typical stuff we think we want: fashionable clothes, effortless beauty, a house that looks like it came straight from the pages of Domino magazine, a fabulous job. All of these dreams were reflected in the blogs I read – or perhaps the blogs I read shaped my dreams.
My online reading tastes switched naturally to mostly mommy blogs as I had my first baby and then my second. And all of a sudden I found myself peeking into these worlds where not only were women beautiful, fashionable, successful, and doing well financially – they were also wonderful mothers. They took showers every day, made healthy meals every day, put together fabulous outfits every day, had intense sex with their husbands every day, and they did it all with a baby on their hip, or in a sling – well, except for the sex part. That would be weird.
It was a hard – no, IMPOSSIBLE – standard to live up to. So I had to quit the mommy blogs, because as wonderful and beautiful and perfect as these mothers were, no matter how uplifting and empowering they meant to be, I felt so fucking depressed every time I would read a new post about how much they treasured motherhood. I felt like I wasn’t doing motherhood right because I was crushed by isolation, desperation, and anxiety – while at the same time loving my kids so much my heart ached. Now I only read about three blogs regularly, because I simply do not have the time to devote to reading anything more (aside from my beloved books, that is). But today I found myself talking with Roy about a particular mommy blogger, who is, of course, flawlessly beautiful and fashionable, hard-working, and obviously very devoted to her family. I’m no idiot, I realize that she probably doesn’t shave her legs regularly and sometimes has to skip meals, only to end up eating goldfish crackers while writing a blog entry like I do. It’s just that she’s so damn good at selling an image of perfection. And I’m not.
And yet recently I showed a co-worker this picture of me and Roy:
It’s a good picture of us, I’m aware of that. But I was really surprised when she said, “You guys have a storybook life.”
It is 100% true that I married a wonderful man and that our marriage is incredibly strong and that we are insanely devoted to each other and our family.
However, our life is not a storybook. At least not the fairy-tale variety. Life is hard, and we have suffered. We have experienced intense highs and lows in our time together, and there are many more to come, because that is the way life is. We both experience regular bouts of anxiety and depression. We don’t have much money nor do we have nice things. We have made some bad choices and mistakes. But we’ve also made huge sacrifices. We’ve taken big risks. We love fully and deeply and with everything we are. Our children have thrived because of this. And so has our marriage.
Life as a storybook: It’s what’s in between the lines that matters. Behind the scenes. It’s showing up every day even when we’re tired and want to go back to bed. It’s not criticizing when we really want to. It’s letting go of the things that don’t matter, showing support, and accepting the other’s not-so-great self. That picture of us above is a good one, and I actually love it, and we will almost certainly frame it and hang it on our wall, but it is an uncomplicated photo taken by a talented photographer on a day when we made the effort to look good for the camera. And yet it’s a reminder of this time in our lives, just weeks before our third baby is born, and how we managed to push through the muck of marriage and parenthood and day-to-day existence and show up and let our photographer friend show us what she sees when she looks at us.
Perhaps it’s true, that old saying, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe it really is that simple.