Today I swept the house and read Cars Galore out loud thirty-five times. I made meals and cleaned them up off the floor. I walked to the grocery store with my son and bought pasta and cereal; the grizzly busker who sits by the door playing oldies on his guitar recognized us and smiled as we walked past. We took the long way home because the sun was out. I spent nap time reading a big book with little print and no pictures. It was one of those exceptionally unexceptional days, the kind that would not make for a good movie.
I've seen a lot of movies. Not more than the average person, probably, but not less either. I have an Instagram account and a Facebook account and a feed reader full of blogs - both the shiny happy kind and the full-disclosure my-life-is-a-train-wreck-but-here's-what-I'm-learning types. I'm picky about TV shows, but I watch those too, and I really, really love a big book with little print and no pictures.
As though my own story were not enough for me, I spend a crazy amount of time curating other peoples' narratives to keep myself entertained. I'm the sucker whose heart swells with the music at the end of a chick flick as a couple has that kiss we all knew was coming two hours ago (based entirely on how good looking they both are) but which, up to this point, has been hindered by gobs of insurmountable, now negligible, obstacles. I am the invisible third wheel on a friend's date as she overgrams her evening, filtering it through Earlybird and hashtagging the life out of it (#soblessed). I tear up reading about a stranger's labour and delivery on her blog as I scroll through crisp black and white photos and flowery, effusive words.
I have learned, through my years of endless media consumption, that any given life event must be a beautiful experience for it to be worth anything. Life is to be lived in a manner worthy of soundtracks and Earlybird filters and impassioned sentiments and tears. It is not good enough for a man to merely propose marriage; he must rent a hot air balloon and fly his girlfriend over a field of daisies that he has painstakingly modified to spell out The Question. It's not good enough to go for coffee; one must find the kind of little neighbourhood shop that roasts its own beans and plays esoteric records and serves its french press coffee in vintage mugs. And it's not good enough to be a mom; one must plan and savour and enjoy and ponder every second and aspect of being a mom. There must be a plot and funny anecdotes and lessons learned and problems with easy solutions and happy endings and so much meaning and love in every single interaction.
It starts with the clever pregnancy announcement, posted online exactly three months after the well-timed positive pregnancy test. The maternity pictures. The Bump draped neatly in cute empire-waist shirts. The trendy nursery. The first kicks and the ultrasounds and the endless waves of hormones, every bit of it documented publicly. The 38-week belly shot with a caption about being excited and terrified and blessed. The birth plan, complete with a soundtrack of encouraging yet soothing yet invigorating music for your child to hear as he, you know, bursts forth into the world, where he will be dressed up and photographed and celebrated as though he were the king of the planets instead of just another baby. The Magical Experience of Pregnancy. The Beautiful Experience of Childbirth. Check and check. Like every TV show ever.
The pressure mounts. The pressure to experience Breastfeeding and Babywearing and Organic Babyfood Making and Milestone Scrapbooking. The pressure to teach your kid all the stuff he will learn in kindergarten three years before he goes to kindergarten and to turn every outing into a learning experience. To find immense beauty and lasting life lessons in every single day. To cherish and be present.
It doesn't sound particularly harmful.
But I've been thinking about how many times I've heard other women say (how many times I myself have said) some variation of, "I felt like [that experience] was taken from me."
"I felt robbed of the birth experience I'd imagined I would have."
"I wasn't able to breastfeed [as long as I'd thought I would/at all/easily/etc] and I grieved that loss."
"I'm just not enjoying motherhood the way my friends seem to be."
We feel disappointment at best - incapacitating guilt at worst.
I don't think the problem is that we're listening to other peoples' stories - I think the problem is the way we're taking them in. Instead of receiving others' stories as just that - stories - we're receiving them as promises. We spend so much time and effort trying to manipulate our lives into the movie plot that we've scripted in our heads that when life happens to us, whatever that looks like, we feel let down or cheated.
I've been reflecting on my own journey to and through motherhood so far.
There have been things that have gone 'right' and things that have gone 'wrong'. There have been expectations that were not met and ones that were exceeded.
And there have been times when I haven't disliked being a mom, but I haven't felt like it was this great and magical thing either. Where I've just pushed through until bedtime because that was what needed to be done that day. Days that were not stories, or adventures, or experiences, a vacuum of time that just happened, and then disappeared forever. I arrived at the end of the day having simply survived it. Having read Cars Galore thirty-five times and cleaned the same mess up over and over again. Upon crawling into bed those nights, I've wondered if I've missed something. These are the moments I feel a lot of guilt, because surely they indicate that the experience of being a mom has been wasted on me.
This is life though.
This is not a movie, or a TV show, or a song, or a blog post, or a tiny square picture on Instagram, or a Facebook update. I am neither the author nor the director. Motherhood is not this Other State of Being. And it's true, as it always has been, that every moment doesn't have to be exceptional, and some of them can even suck, and that's okay. There will be moments where my heart will be so full I will cry and there will be moments my heart will be so broken I will cry and there will be moments, lots of moments, that won't be memorable at all.
This is life, my life, and the only way I'm going to waste the experience of being a mom is if I spend it paralyzed by the fear that I'm going to waste the experience of being a mom, looking at other mothers and wishing for their stories instead of living my own. Wishing and wanting instead of being and enjoying. I have decided that I don't want to do this that way. I don't want to spend my life like that.
I will, instead, spend some of it on the floor playing cars, and some of it writing, and some of it cooking and cleaning, and some of it out with my friends and some of it in with my husband. I will spend some of it laughing and some of it crying and some of it just pushing through until bedtime because that is all I have in me to do that day.
Shouldn't we all spend our lives living? Taking what comes because that is what we've been given? We can still appreciate other peoples' stories without wishing they were ours. But in the end, we'll each have our own story. It might be hard or beautiful or sad or hopeful, and it almost absolutely won't be the one we would've written for ourselves. And it's probably best that way.