Mediocrity At Its Finest

I met someone new yesterday. Another mom of young children. I can’t remember her name but she told me a little about her life, complete with photos.

Every picture she had looked like it was taken by a professional. Every photo of any scene in her house could be on Pinterest. Every day she and her kids make a craft, a snack, and a costume that coordinate with the unit theme they’re currently studying in homeschool. Every toy they have is educational and handcrafted from all-natural sustainable materials. Every meal she makes is gourmet, healthy and frugal. Every outfit her kids wear is hand-sewn and made out of awesome, trendy fabrics that were hand dyed from the juice of the heirloom berries organically grown in the back garden.

You may know her. If you read any “super-mommy-blogs”, you have met her, too. If you don’t, take my word for it. The above description is only a slight exaggeration. (Of course, had I actually met her in person, I may have come away with a totally different impression.)

But I have to admit, I was possibly a very light shade of green after reading her blog. Just a little envious of how she is able to make her life so beautiful. So perfect. So magazine-like.

In fact, the effect it created in me was very similar to what magazines and other media tend to do. Only worse. Because it is easy to dismiss impeccability in a celebrity. I know the images displayed of them aren’t completely genuine anyway. I’m not compelled to keep up or compete.

But a plain ‘ol mom like myself?

Totally different story.

That’s the funny thing about the blogging world, and the whole social media universe in general. It can make people feel bad. About themselves. About their lives. And it does this, not because it is inherently evil, but because it easily lends itself to the aiding and abetting of producing false and often unachievable appearances. And because we are insecure enough to buy into it.

But the truth is, when I clearly think through it, I know that the pictures, the moments, the achievements displayed on these blogs are handpicked from the many moments of normal, possibly even mediocre life. And really I don’t blame them. Their readers are there to learn, to get ideas, recipes, crafting tips. Who is searching the web for “unhealthy recipes that taste bad”? Or “DIY projects that look like crap”? Um, nobody.

We want to see these Martha Stewart moments. But what we often receive along with them is the idea that some people indeed live a perfect life.

And the crazy thing is that I can play that game as well as any super-mommy blogger. Only I don’t really focus on impressing the virtual world but my real friends and acquaintances instead. And this is possibly a whole lot worse.

Don’t we all, to a degree, try to put our best foot forward? (Ok, maybe not the lady I saw in Walmart the other night in her Tweety Bird pajamas, bathrobe and slippers.) But we can easily get trapped in an endless cycle of being afraid to reveal our own imperfections to those who seem not to have any themselves, who in turn don’t see our’s, so they have to keep up the charade, and so on.

I think we all probably have our different things that are important to us. Different areas where we feel the need to keep up appearances. I have to admit that I really like to have things organized and tidy around me. I feel more at ease in such an environment. Sometimes I have a hard time not getting caught up in it. (Although, if you could see the inside of my minivan at this moment you would seriously doubt that.)

However, I also have enough of a natural inclination to laziness (not to mention 4 small, messy people) to keep me from actually achieving the perfection I sometimes think I want.

I’ve gotten a lot better about this (I don’t start painting bathrooms at midnight anymore when guests are coming the next morning), but I still kind of freak out a little bit if I think someone may come over and see things in disarray. Partly because the untidiness is really bothering me, but mostly it’s because I don’t want them to think I’m untidy. To see my untidiness and know I’m mediocre. (Because, you know, they might not know that already.)

That’s why when a friend is over in not-so-perfect conditions I have to apologize and give excuses like, “Sorry it’s such a mess in here, I’ve had a crazy morning.” (Because waking up and eating breakfast and getting dressed are craaazzy.) Or maybe, “I know it’s such a disaster around here” when I really should say, “You would not believe how much better it looks in here than it did 10 minutes ago when I got your message that you were stopping by. I cleaned like a mad ninja.”

Why do I do this though? To myself and to others? How many times have I missed out on being friendly and inviting a neighbor in because there were trains all over the floor in the entryway and Cheddar Bunnies spilled on the dining chairs and my kids were still in their pajamas at noon?

How many times have I acted like my normal, little messes are apology-worthy, thereby making others feel inferior if they know they have normal giant messes at their house?

And what about the other areas where I attempt to hide all imperfections and portray an unrealistic image to others? The bigger, more important things in life like my marriage, my parenting, my family relationships, my spiritual life?

It all comes down to humility, or lack of, in my case.

In the book of Philippians it says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. In humility, value others above yourself. Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3&4, NIV)

It comes down to choosing to do things based not on how it will make me look, but on how it will make others feel.

And that sometimes means letting my mediocrity shine for all to see.

Once, a close friend of mine (who happens to value organization like I do, and who also has more young children than I do) dropped me off at my house after a shopping trip together. She was helping me carry my grocery bags inside my unusually (to her) messy house. (If I recall correctly, it was pretty bad.) I can distinctly remember her beaming smile as she said,

“It makes me so happy to see this!”

Just as keeping up appearances can make others feel substandard, being transparent can bring them freedom. It can release them from striving for unrealistic achievements. And it was no big deal for me to let my friend see my reality that day, but only because she had been gracious enough to let me see her’s in the past.

I’m sure we all have the friend or family member, who really does always have a perfectly kept house, or a faultless marriage, or perfectly shining career, or flawless appearance at 5 am. But I’m willing to bet they don’t have all of them all the time. And if they do, man, they must be tired.

Of course, I’m not discounting the importance of good role models. We need people to be examples of the good things in life worth striving for. And there are areas of life that are too important to settle for mediocrity. We all need someone to inspire us to better things.

But only when I am truly motivated by my love for others, rather than my own selfish ambition, will I inspire others to healthy achievements, to Godly aspirations.

So does this mean I will not clean my house next time we have visitors coming over?

Well, I’m sure I will still be sweeping the cracker crumbs off the chairs so no one has to have a crunchy seat. Or digging out the half-eaten apples that some small person named “Not Me”, who is not even allowed to be eating in the living room, has shoved behind the throw pillows on the couch. I will definitely clean the bathrooms (no descriptions needed).

But hopefully, it will be motivated by my desire to make people feel comfortable than by my vain conceit.

So, in the best interest of others, (and possibly as a protest of sorts) I’ve decided to post some of my own hand-picked photos (of unprofessional quality).

So this is really no biggie but this breakfast mess was captured at noon when I had no choice but to clear it away to make room for lunch. The guilt all rests on that powerful, time wasting duo sitting there: Laptop and Coffee Mug.

I'm actually quite proud of this little scene. See that clean laundry crammed on that shelf? It is sloppily folded instead of in a giant mountain on the floor waiting to be folded while getting too wrinkled to wear. So what if I haven't actually put it away or matched that bucket of socks in over a week.? It is clean. And folded. Success.

I'm glad I have photographic evidence of this crime scene to help me figure out what actually took place and when it happened. There was even toothpaste dripping off the top of the mirror. It is still unclear who won this battle, but it is evident that the toothpaste is indeed a wild beast that must be struggled with and forced into submission. Clearly, I am going to have to start buying a more compliant brand.

Long story short, I spent all morning cleaning out the inside of the dryer to ensure there were no baby mice inside awaiting an untimely death with the next load. Instead of mice, I found this mess of lint. It's only had seven years to build up in there, so I'm thankful it hasn't caused a fire.

So I also had a photo that would secure my nomination for the Parent of the Year Award. It was of my 2 year old jumping on the trampoline. Outside. In February. With only a t-shirt on. And I mean only a t-shirt (which is why I didn’t publish it.) I’m sure she went out in more clothing, but I’m not sure why she took them off. Anyway, I don’t know if I got her back in before my elderly neighbors saw her, but I’m just hoping.

So there you have it. Honestly, on another, crazier day, I could have produced some more revealing photos. These were the best I had to give today. (Anyway, this is about mediocrity, not the best and also not the worst.)

But even so, I’m resisting the urge (ok, the strong, overwhelming need) to post a picture of something beautiful, or cool, or at least organized.

But I will stay strong and accept that those of you who don’t know me, may well think that this is an accurate representation of every day of my life. (Just like I tend to believe about the super mom bloggers.) That’s ok. It’ll do me good.

So I’m sorry you had to see the evidence of my real life mediocrity.

And by “I’m sorry”, I mean

“You’re welcome.”


Once Upon a Time, There Were Four Little Monkeys Who Went Shopping with a A Great Big Ogre…

The other day I went shopping with all four of my children.

If you have any children, or have ever been around any children, or have ever seen any children from afar, you already know that this is probably not a happy ending story. You are not expecting me to follow that statement with, “We had such a lovely time.” If you had been around when I embarked on such a journey, you might have joined my husband in saying, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

Of course it wasn’t a good idea.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I go out with all of my kids alone all the time. We go to the park, friends’ houses, the movie theater, the children’s museum, even four hour long road trips for the weekend. But there is just something…special...about shopping with them. Somehow, walking through the doors of Target, or the grocery store, or any place you buy things, transforms them into unmanageable miscreants and me into…The Ogre Mom.

Maybe it’s that I have an objective other than “have fun.” Maybe it’s that I’m trying to pay more attention to the coupons and the shopping list than the kids. Maybe it’s just a conspiracy. But it’s usually something that we all come back from looking like we’ve crossed a desert, fought a small war, and endured a siege. We come back as survivors, not victors.

I know all of this, but that still didn’t stop me.  I had a few errands to run, some things to buy that actually required a couple of the kids to be with me (shoes, pants) and with my husband working on the weekend anyway, I decided we were going.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Nobody wet their pants. Nobody laid on the floor and screamed like a banshee because they had to ride in a regular shopping cart instead of the race car cart. Nobody made loud, rude observations about fellow shoppers. Nobody choked on and then threw up cheese samples onto the floor. These have all happened on other trips, but not this time.

But it wasn’t lovely.

Here’s a condensed review of what did happen:

Kid 1 hates shopping and reminded me of that fact every two and a half minutes. Kid 2 constantly pestered me to ride in the back of the cart even though she weighs half a ton and kids 3 and 4 were already in it. Kid 4 didn’t want to ride in the cart and kept trying to climb out. Kid 3 kept poking kid 4 to elicit laughs but got high-pitched “stop it!”s instead. Kid 2 joined in until the two were laughing like hyenas and the one was screeching like some rare tropical bird. Kids 2, 3 and 4 all started making primate noises when I told them to stop acting like monkeys escaped from the zoo.

Then, Kid 2, who needed shoes, couldn’t decide what she liked. Kid 3, who didn’t need shoes, kept finding the “most prettiest, sparkliest, perfectest, beautifulest” pairs for herself and pouting when I told her no. Kid 4, on being let out of the cart, promptly took off her shoes to try on a pair that would fit a 6 month old, and decided to put her own pair of shoes behind the shelf where they fell down between the racks and were only found by me getting on my hands and knees and looking under all the shelves. Kid 1 protested and argued about trying on pants because he doesn’t think it matters if you have outgrown your jeans and they don’t come down past your ankles.

By that point, I agreed.

That was just the first stop. There were three more to go with pretty much the same results. In the end, we mostly got what we needed, I only heard two “You sure have your hands full” comments, and I made it back with the four kids I left home with and all in their original clothing.

Sadly, though, I was annoyed and frustrated with them almost the whole time.

For some reason, I want them to behave like miniature adults in those situations and when they don’t, I start to feel like I’m not doing a good job parenting. I feel like people observing us must think they are not trained to properly behave.

But wait, that last part is true.

They are still in training. I’m not done yet. When I am done, they’ll be adults, buying their own clothing, pushing their own carts instead of swinging precariously off the end of mine. So it’s way too early in the game to declare myself a parenting failure. Because most of the annoying or embarrassing things they do, aren’t even bad things. They are just kid things. They don’t have the same control over volume,  movement or emotions as we adults. They certainly don’t have the reasoning ability we have. (“Hey, it seems like a good idea to throw the old shoes behind the shelf because I’m planning on going home in these tiny new ones that I can’t even fit half my foot into.”)

And the behaviors that are “bad”? Aren’t they really just an outward display of the contents of the heart? Selfishness. Anger. Impatience. Lack of consideration. The pouting (or screaming, or complaining) isn’t really the problem (though Lord knows I want it to stop!); but the selfishness is.

And that’s when I see that I have exactly the same issues as my kids. The only difference is in how I display them.

As adults (most of us anyway), we’ve learned which behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not.

Tantrums in the floor? Not ok.

Giving my husband the silent treatment because I’m angry with him? Well, he earned it.

Throwing toys and screaming at an annoying person? Wrong.

Speaking sharply to my kids because they are driving me absolutely crazy? If necessary.

So even though I’ve learned to adjust my behavior, I’ve not completely gotten rid of the “bad” stuff. I’ve just figured out that if I don’t display my selfishness using childish antics, it’s a lot easier to rationalize. Since I don’t stomp my feet and shout, “I want you to do it my way!”, I can convince myself and others that it’s ok to be rude to my husband (as long as it is done in an adult-like, dignified manner and for a good reason.)

But in the end, rudeness is rudeness. And maybe trying to cover it up and make it look like something else, something justifiable, is even worse than shouting it out at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear.

So I guess I’m still in training, too. I’m still relying on my Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit, to guide me to better things.  And while I want my actions, and those of my kids, to be seen as kind, loving and respectful, I want it to be because we have kindness, love and respect in our hearts. Because we’re daily being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t think the need for that is something I’ll ever outgrow.

And just as I need His grace for my own shortcomings, I want to pass that gift on to my children as well. To daily remind them that they are incredible people. People who may need a little more training before I want to take them out again for an all day shopping expedition. But incredible, cherished people nonetheless.

And hey, who wouldn’t put up with some obnoxious noises and boisterous running in exchange for the spontaneous hugs, unearned smiles, and unconditional forgiveness that kids so readily give. Because, thankfully, they haven’t learned to keep those expressions of emotion under control yet either.

So the next time I’m brave enough to darken the doors of Target with my miscreants, maybe, just maybe, I can avoid awakening the ogre within. Or at least keep her more in check.

And if you happen to see me out with a bunch of rowdy monkeys that vaguely resemble children, don’t tell me I’ve got my hands full. I know. Ogres are hard to manage. Just smile and say something nice like,

“How lovely.”

A Reluctant Blogging Venture

This being  my very first blog post on my very first blog, I thought it would be wise to start out this new relationship with complete honesty.  So here is my confession: I used to think blogging was ridiculous. Absolutely. Ridiculous.

Now that that is out in the open, let me give some disclaimers. Firstly, it has been a few years since I moved beyond that opinion (or at least warmed to the idea somewhat). Secondly, to all my friends and family whose blogs I’ve been reading in the past year or so: I’ve really enjoyed them and it is partly due to your creative efforts that I’ve decided to venture into this ridiculous, er formerly ridiculous world of blogging.

Ok, so why such an aversion to blogging in the past? Well, part of it is that new things just take a while to grow on me sometimes. I’d like to think i’ts more that I enjoy each season to its fullest before I’m ready to move on to the next. Take the literal seasons for example. I absolutely love the Fall but even in late September, I’m still hoping to go swimming one last time. I want to squeeze as much fun out of every drop of sunshine before I’ m ready to say good-bye. And I get super annoyed when I go into a clothing store in January to see Spring clothing on the racks and not a snow glove to be found anywhere. I know that is the way retail works, always moving ahead, enabling the consumer to be prepared for what is coming. But I don’t want to buy warm weather clothing  when it is snowing outside. I’m not in the mood. And what about if you lose a glove on the ski slopes? I guess you have to wait until next September to buy new ones.

Now, I know that blogging isn’t new anymore. According to LISNews, Blogger and WordPress have been around for 12 and 8 years, respectively. And it’s probably been 5 or 6 years that people I personally know have been blogging. So now we come to the crux of the issue. It just seemed silly. And maybe arrogant.  I mean, real writers write articles that are published by people with authority to say, “Yes, this should be published for the world to read. We give our approval and endorsement.” Oh, and they’re paid for their writing. Non-real writers, on the other hand, write down their thoughts and daily happenings for themselves to read. It’s called a journal. Or if you’re a girl under the age of 17  it’s a diary. And nobody wants to read someone else’s diary. Unless they are looking for juicy information for the purpose of humiliating or blackmailing the writer; and this demographic is usually limited to younger siblings. So to sum up, my general attitude was, “How important do you think you are to assume the whole world cares what you had for breakfast?” (This could also be applied to Facebook, Twitter, etc. , but I got over that hang up a while ago.)

However, slowly, gradually, I became enlightened (or perhaps it got far enough into winter that I knew I would have no hope of finding those perfect snow boots; they’d all been sold at the end of season clearance sale in December to make room for spring sandals.)   Or perhaps it’s really that as I read my friends blogs I enjoy keeping up with those who live far away, I enjoy hearing the thoughts and perspectives of those I see regularly but don’t always get to have in-depth conversations with, and I appreciate the creative ideas, humorous stories, and heartfelt wisdom from people I don’t know and who didn’t even get paid for their labors. As it turns out, not-real writers can be pretty good writers.

And so I decided to dip my toes in and give it a go myself. I don’t know if this will become a committed long-term relationship or just a fling. (I definitely don’t have hours upon hours of free time, that’s for sure.) I guess we’ll see where my meanderings lead me. But for now, I’ll take it slow, and even though it’s a chilly 40 degrees outside, maybe I should go swimsuit shopping.

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