Sunday, March 24, 2013

More on being joyful....

I've been pondering this topic for probably at least a year now, but I've finally decided to sit down and type out my thoughts tonight.   Why tonight? you might wonder.....well, honestly it was because of this post that a friend shared.     Go ahead and read it..I'll wait.   (Warning:  there is some language, so if you're easily offended by that, just skip it).

Anywho, I noticed that so many comments made on the post itself (and on FB, when I saw it shared over and over again) were things along the line of:

"Yes. This. Weekend updates on Facebook are like bathing in lemon juice after you shave your legs, only much more irritating. It seems we have the same kinds of weekends, and the same kinds of kids. But don't we all? Some of us (coughcoughTHEMcough) need to lay off the BS and let friends know it's been another hard day and please can we get together over cookies and coffee and let the kids watch a DVD in the basement for 5 Godforsaken uninterrupted minutes?"

"Haha, so true!!"

"This.  All of this.  Yes."

You know how that post made me feel?  Nothing like those comments.

It made me sad.  Very, very sad.

I've been pondering this phenomenon ever since I attended my very first playdate as a new mommy with Rascal #1.    Now, there was no Facebook then, so this was all happening "in real life."   Pretty quickly after the playdate started, the gossiping began.  

"Did you hear what so-and-so said?   She thinks she's just soooooooo perfect."

"Did you hear her talking about her husband?  It's like a bad romance novel."

"Can't she just tell the truth?  It's like we're sitting next to Polly-freakin'-anna."

I was shocked.    I still kind of am, to be totally honest.

I noticed the same attitude while listening to moms complain about my son's favourite show, Caillou.  Now, I'll grant you that the voice used for the character of Caillou was a bit annoying....although pretty close to "real life," if you ask me.  I mean, come on, what four year old DOESN'T have a bit of a high-pitched, nasally voice?   But it wasn't the voice that the other moms complained about.  It was the "always happy parents,"  the "lack of 'real life',"   the "annoying perfect" family,  the parents who never yelled.....and so on.   

Then Facebook happened, and it got more and more pronounced.   We now have stuff like this:

you can even buy it on a shirt

I'll admit.  I didn't get it then, and I still don't get it today.   I have a theory as to why we do this, but it's just a theory.  You see, I've written about this before (I'd go find the post for you, but honestly, I'm trying to get this typed out before I have to start the bedtime routine):  we need to stop relying on the "experts" to tell us how to do something... anything, really.   We need to start trusting ourselves.  And I believe that this comes mostly to light when it comes to parenting.  We are so scared of failure and not being perfect that we have stopped, as a nation (In my opinion), listening to our own knowledge and instincts.   I'm not sure exactly why this is - maybe because everything we read has the "quick and easy secret" for success?   And then when the secret doesn't work in our own personal situation.....we feel like a failure, we feel imperfect?   I'm not sure.   All I know is that we are now so conditioned to feel inadequate in all aspects of our life that there seems to be an overwhelming cynicism or bitterness.

This reliance on experts and lack of self-confidance has backfired in the mommy world (and I'm assuming other places, too, but my experience has been in the mommy communities).   We  now don't believe that anything is really "true" when it is presented to us.   We seem to believe that everyone is a failure, deep down inside (because we have accepted it as truth that we are failures ourselves), and that anything that contradicts that is a lie.   

We have chosen to deny the gift of joy.  We have chosen to live without gratitude.  Instead, we have accepted a "gift" of bitterness, cynicism, and honestly, jealousy.

As I said above....this makes me sad.  Very sad.

When I first read the post that I linked to above, I cried.  I cried for all of the women who felt the same way.   I cried for myself, because I was "guilty" of those kinds of posts and it hurt to think of my friends "throwing up in their mouths a little" in response to my "Why I Love my Husband" posts.   But most especially, I cried for our children.

Can you imagine being 13 years old......and seeing your mother post some of those "truths" that the author talks about?   Can you imagine being the child of someone who wrote this (emphasis mine):

"We were on the third cycle of Beauty and the Beast when the internet went out. I started to shake. I couldn’t breathe. My window to the outside world was shuttered and locked.
“What about the internet on your phone?” you ask. Well, let me tell it to you. I live in the middle of nowhere. And my 3G network prefers chillin’ in cafes in Tel Aviv–sure, I understand–I’m the same way. But it still sucks.
Because–guess what? Now I have to actually spend my entire weekend with the kids actually with the kids."

I'm guessing someone out there is going to "throw up in their mouths a little" at this.  Heck, maybe even it will get back to the blog authour.    But I'm going to be completely honest here:   I can't imagine being that child and coming upon something like this written by my mother.   (Not because my mother is perfect, because no one is perfect...and definitely not because my mother is an eternal optimist, because no one in  my family is that much of an optimist).   No, I can't fathom the pain of coming upon something like that, no matter how "true" it may be.
Why?  Because I remember my childhood like an episode of Caillou.   Was it perfect?  No, not by any means.  There were ugly moments.  There were screaming matches.  I was a snotty teenager.  
But I think I could probably remember the details of maybe only a handful of those screaming matches.   Instead, the memories that have stuck with me have been the fun vacations.   The laughter.  The baking cookies with my mom at Christmas.  The traditions.
The things that would have been Facebook posts and pictures....if there was Facebook in the 80s.
My family has chosen to celebrate the joyful moments, and forget about the not-so-pretty ones.   I would guess that the not-so-pretty moments, if added up, would actually be higher in number than the joy-filled ones (isn't that how life actually "works" for most of us?), but the one thing that my parents taught me - even through the job losses, the multiple moves, the health issues, the deaths of family members, the no money times, and so on - was that we always have a choice.   We can choose to celebrate the positive.....or we can choose to wallow in the negative.
I've been told before - recently, actually - that I couldn't possibly understand what it was like for someone else whose life wasn't as "perfect as the life" that Mike and I have.   That comment hurt - it always hurts to be dismissed by someone who you consider to be a friend - but more than anything, it made me realize just how much we, as a society, seem to have forgotten this lesson I learned from my parents.
Joy IS a gift.  But, just like with any other gift we are given....we have to choose to accept it.

Someone would look at our Facebook accounts and probably assume that Mike and I are "fake-booking."   "Filtering" our posts, as the authour puts it, to show that we have our "shit together."   I'm sure there are people out there that do that - edit their posts or pictures to make it look perfect because they want the approval of everyone around them.  Facebook can definitely be an occasion of sin for someone who deals with pride or sensuality.   I completely understand that.

But maybe it's time we stop doubting ourselves.   Maybe it's time that we stop beating ourselves up for not being as "perfect" as the life someone else is presenting to the world.   Maybe it's time for us all to learn the lesson that my family taught me:  to choose to accept joy, as it is given to us.

Are Mike and I perfect?  Not by any means.  Is our life perfect?   Not at all.   I don't think anyone can look at a life filled with deaths, miscarriages, adoption struggles, extreme debt (that's a whole other post), crazy work hours and stressors, and relationship/friendship woes and call it perfect.    We've had our share of struggles (and still do).   Do we want to present it as perfect to the world?   Not at all.   

But we do want to choose joy.

We want to be grateful for the good things, instead of letting the bad things take over our entire lives.   We want to suffer those bad things with joy and love.

And you can't do that unless you choose to focus on the good stuff.

What's that saying?  If you look for the negative, you will find it, or something like that?

I firmly believe that the opposite is completely true.  If you look for the will find joy.   Or in other words:

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

If you go looking for those sun-kissed moments to take a picture of...if you are listening for the funny things your kids say....if you pay attention to the words or actions of love that are coming from your will find more and more of them every day.   

Today, my Facebook page was full of goofy pictures of the kids at a maple sugarhouse.   It was full of words of praise.  I posted pictures and quotes that showed natural beauty (the snow and sunshine), human beauty (my children), and words of laughter.     Today looked pretty darn perfect on Facebook, I'm sure, to anyone who was interested in what we were doing.

Was it perfect?  Not by any means.  Today was also the day that I had to yell at the boys for swordfighting with their blessed palms at Mass (along with every other Catholic mom out there, I'm assuming).  Today was the third day of a four day call stretch for Mike, so it was also the third day of single-parenting.   That yummy breakfast I raved about was only eaten after 30 minutes of standing in line in the cold Maine winter, five hours after our last meal.  The boys were hungry.  And antsy.   Today was also a day of four loads of laundry (my least favourite chore).  Oh, and I'm out of dishwasher detergent, so it was also a day where I've had to wash all of our dishes by hand.

But those aren't the things I want to remember when I'm eighty (God willing, I will live that long). I want to remember the giggles of the boys as they played with the three emergency Hot Wheels cars that I stashed in my purse as a "just in case"....even though they were in the mud and dirt in their only pair of dress pants.   I want to remember the joy on Rascal #3's face when we had our second meal of pancakes today (his favourite) and his excitement that the sugarhouse makes the "same kinds of eggs as you make, Mom!" (scrambled).    I want to remember hearing my favourite song on the drive home.   I want to remember the bliss of receiving communion today at Mass.  I want to remember the smiles from our priest as we left the basilica.   I want to remember the sunshine on my face as we stood in that line for breakfast.   I want to remember the giggles that Mike caused as he competed in a "staring contest" with the goose at the farm.

I want to choose to accept these bits of joy that I've been given today.   I want to be grateful for my blessings........not focused on the suffering.  And so I will choose to memorialize those few perfect moments.....the smiles, the laughter, the sunshine.    Not because I want to show everyone how perfect my life is.....but because I want to remind myself that I am blessed.  

I've already written too much on this topic, but there's one more thing I want to say.   If you're out there reading this and "throwing up in your mouth a little," I want to ask you "Why?"   

Why are you throwing up in your mouth a little?   Why do pictures and posts like mine make you feel sick?   Why do they frustrate (or anger) you?  

"Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose

joy & keep choosing it every day."

 - Henri Nouwen


  1. Have I told you lately that I love you? ...imperfections and all. Your positive outlook is a blessing to your husband and children.

    ...But, for the record, I didn't have to break up any Palm sword fights at Mass today. I felt like the best mom in the universe as I left the church with the three kids I'd taken with me, all of them holding their palms gently folded so they wouldn't touch, poke, tickle, or scratch anyone's face. I passed a little boy who made a cat-o-nine-tails-style whip out of a bunch of palms and used it to swat his brother's face with delight as his horrified dad tried in vain to stop him before impact. I saw kids holding their palms up as far as they could go as irritated adults brushed prickly palm ends away from their noses. But MY kids were PERFECT! Then I got home just in time to see my four year old eating cereal off the floor after my two year old dumped it there moments earlier, and my boys started arguing because - brace yourselves - the younger one had LOOKED at the older one. The baby was crying, my 9yo was pouting, my 6yo was flitting around the house like a little hummingbird, knocking over everything she passed. And the palms, of course, became jousting sticks, once we were out of public view. :) Good or bad, this is what I will remember. When I had to have surgery and the kids were out of the house for a few days, the quiet was eerie and sad. I would rather have the arguments and fighting than silence any day and while I don't encourage that sort of behavior, I want my kids to know that I accept them when they do it.


  2. I don't often comment, but I LOVE this post. You are right on. Being "real" doesn't have to mean being jaded.