“First, what you call your life is not yours at all—not yours to plan, manipulate, or control, at least not very often. That’s a staggering realization. I was humiliated to see that the maturity and serenity I thought I had achieved was simply the result of having things my way all the time. If life wasn’t mine, what was it?” —Karen Maezen Miller
It is day 50 of my 100 Happy Days and that seemed like a pretty good reason to get back to blogging again. To be honest, this first month of summer has been hard, full of self-inflicted wounds. Even though at age 40 I should (and do) know better, I told myself that this was the summer I was finally going to get my shit together. I was going to clean and organize all the things, meditate every day, exercise, keep the weeds out of the garden, bake cookies, and take my happy and stylishly dressed children to all the right yuppie-mommy activities.
I love this fantasy version of my life, but who am I kidding. It’s a good day if I get a shower by noon and get my daughter to swim class without one or both of us having a major meltdown. I am not one of those highly efficient mommies who get up at 5:00 am to do yoga, meditate, shower, and eat breakfast all before the kids get up. And what I am slowly learning is that those mommies don’t really exist. They are a fantasy too, or more like a nightmare. I forget and think they are real people and that I should be measuring myself by the standard they set. That standard is my self-inflicted wound.
In her book Momma Zen, Karen Maezen Miller describes the bond she develops with another new mother as they admit their fears of inadequacy and their secret hatred of those imagined perfect mothers:
Underlying our friendship was that sense, the certain fear, that all around us were better mothers who were thin and groomed, confident and competent. These mothers had resolved all the questions about feeding and sleeping, poop and potty training, preschool and playmates, teething and talking, paper or plastic, that kept us forever unsteady. They had happy, textbook, gifted babies. These were mothers with a method. They were doing all the right things. They were on all the right waiting lists. They could shower, style their hair, and dress in their cute prepregnancy clothes every day before breakfast. They shaved their legs, and they had sex with their husbands. More than that, they wanted to have sex with their husbands.
They had birthed not just a child but a fully formed ideology of parenthood. It made things look easy, and it made things right.
We imagined legions of these super mothers, and we admired them from a distance. Yet privately we despised them. We had been blindsided by how difficult motherhood was. In our hushed confessions and brutal self-appraisals, we revealed how very different, diminished, and isolated we thought were were. We were the Other Mothers, whose daily blunders and emotional upheavals qualified us for charter admission into the Other Mothers Club.
Of course, we are all Other Mothers. None of us lives up to the rules set by the baby books or the images on the pages of parenting magazines. Those are fantasies of perfection not real-life standards to live up to.
To hell with standards. I don’t need cultural standards. I need understanding. I need to be understanding and gentle with myself.
So, as I look back over the first half of my 100 Happy Days photos, I am choosing to focus on the imperfection, the messiness, that surrounds those little moments of joy because the beauty of life is in the contrasts. I am learning that happiness comes from stopping to notice the fleeting moments in each day when everything comes together and then moving on without judgement when they fall apart again. That is what is powerful about taking these photos every day. I stop, notice the beautiful moment starting me in the face, and then continue on, made stronger by the noticing. I’m not sure why it works, but it does. That brief moment of attention leads to more patience and grace with the messiness of life. It’s helping me see the value in small things like the meditation and prayer space I have in my tiny sun porch. To get to that corner I may have to step over the toys and books my children have strewn around it, and I may not get there every day—certainly not at 5:00 am—but it is there waiting for me, and when I’m there I am the standard.