the ugly side of pretty

I hate “life is perfect” blogs.  Frequent blog readers know the kind of mommy blog I’m talking about – the kind that is all rainbows and unicorns and sunshine and “I am blessed; Thank You God!” and perfectly composed pictures of adorable, well-dressed children.  The kind that say things like “Oh, my life isn’t totally perfect!  I haven’t dusted in 2 whole weeks, but I just decided to leave that dust bunny under the bed so that we could go outside and dance in the rain!” Y’all know that my household is less tiny-dust-bunny and more gigantic clutter elephant.  It’s less dancing in the rain and more slogging through mud puddles, then wiping muddy feet on the couch, the carpet, and the comforter.  I try to be honest about my life’s messes, both literal and figurative, because I very much want this blog to be genuine and authentic.  I want to accurately portray real life, in all its mix of beauty and ugly.

And yet.

I also want my life to look pretty and perfect and polished.  I want to come across to the world as someone who’s got her shit together.  I don’t, of course, but we all want to look that way, right?  I want clothes that make me look skinny, even if that requires heavy duty Spanx.  I want to dress my kids in adorable matching outfits.  I want everyone to hold hands and behave in public, even when we are occasionally tearing each other’s hair out behind closed doors.  I want just ONE photo where everyone looks at the camera, smiles, and no one has visible bodily fluid on their clothing.  Appearances matter.  They shouldn’t, of course, but we all know that they do.  And now and again, I want to appear like I am doing something right.

Welcome to Mother’s Day 2014, where I display to the world just how not together my shit is.

Since my mom died, Mother’s Day has been really hard for me.  I want to hide under the covers and avoid people, and then I’m pissed when I don’t get treated like a queen.  I get annoyed at the stream of “My mom is the bestest in the world!” on facebook.  I get angry when I see the pictures of 4 generations together.  I want that for my family.  I want this for my kids:

Me, my mom, Appie, and Mama Mildred.
Don’t those outfits just scream “Late 70’s?”
So in an effort to seek out joy and turn Mother’s Day back into a day of celebration, I decided to have Meg’s baby dedication on Mother’s Day.  Sounds lovely – present her to God surrounded by our family and church community on a day designed to celebrate the love of mothers.  Lots of bad ideas sound lovely in theory, don’t they?  Here’s a tip – never put more pressure on a day that has more than enough already.  (Seriously, read that link.  Beth W. nails it.)
It started out okay.  The boys treated me like royalty, fixing a lovely breakfast and giving me flowers from the yard (even if I had to hint on the flowers!).  I got a beautiful necklace with all three kids’ names engraved on it.  It was just what I wanted (I had given a hint in the past, but that just means he payed attention!).  Everyone got dressed and we made it to church only 15 minutes late.  For half a second I thought we were going to pull off a miracle – that we could make it all go smoothly.  I had this brief vision that Mother’s Day could be redeemed.
Enter TheGirlWhoWillNotNap.  She didn’t take a nap in Sunday School, but we still had plenty of time to rest before going into the worship service.  We fed her.  She pooped, but kept it in the diaper.  We got her dressed in her beautiful gown.  She spit up, but it wasn’t too obvious.  We waited patiently outside in the hallway, where she and her brother were, if not complete angels, at least presentable.

And then.  Then.  It was time for us to walk into the sanctuary.

And the little miss began to let out an ear-splitting wail that could be heard throughout the entire city.  And she sustained said wail for, oh, approximately the remainder of the service.  Oh yes. I have seen a lot of baby dedications, but I have never seen one where the kid screams the entire time.  It was relentless.  When the minister went to hold her, it was as if she intentionally turned and screeched into the mic.  People cringed.

And it wasn’t just her performing for the crowd.  The boys danced around like it was a stage.  Luke attempted the same forward-roll-down-the-aisle maneuver that his brother had attempted 4 years earlier at his dedication.  Jay wouldn’t stop pulling on Meg’s dress, wrapping it around himself like a scarf.  They did anything and everything they could to call some attention to themselves – which would have actually been nice if it had helped the congregation attend to something other than the Tiny Screaming One.  It didn’t work.  Everyone who was willing to make eye contact gave us a look of such pity.  And the only thing that went through my mind was “No!  This is not how I wanted it to go!  This was not how I planned it!  I want a DO OVER!”

I know.  I KNOW.  I heard it all afterwards.  “It doesn’t matter, really.”  “She was just auditioning for the choir!” “You wanted to raise a daughter who isn’t afraid to voice her opinions in church, and she sure can speak her mind.”  “People love to see babies in church, even when they cry.”  “She was just making a joyful noise.”  (Actually, it wasn’t at all joyful, for her or any of us.)  I heard all of those things after the service, and I tried to laugh.  I even said some of them myself to make it seem like I wasn’t so disappointed.  People tried to joke with me about it.  I smiled.  We took pictures.  I fake smiled some more.

But if I’m really honest, I am so sad.  The only thing that anyone has said to me about it since had to do with her screaming.  No one mentioned her beautiful dress or what a special thing it was to dedicate her on Mother’s Day.  No one gave me the pleasantries about what a nice service it was.  No one even gave me the sympathetic “Wish your mom could have been here for this beautiful occasion.”  No one noticed anything about the service except her powerful set of lungs.  Afterwards, I asked my 4 year old friend what she thought.  Her response?

“Well, it was pretty much a disaster.”

My thoughts, exactly, kiddo.  Unfortunately, those were my thoughts exactly.  (Direct quote, y’all.  I couldn’t make this stuff up.)  She did give me an extra long hug, though.  My fake smiles couldn’t trick a perceptive little girl who somehow knew I was nursing a bruised ego and slightly broken heart.

I know that there are real problems in the world, and if a baby who cries in church (even one who cries so loudly and so screechingly that she ruins her own special day!) is my biggest problem, well then I’m pretty whiny.  If two rambunctious boys is the worst part of my Mother’s Day church experience, I’ve got it pretty good. But still, I’m gonna whine. I had envisioned it as a special day, and it won’t be remembered that way, either for me or for anyone else who saw it.  And I’m not going to pretend I’m okay with that because I am not. I am disappointed. I am sad and disappointed.

And then, after a teary-eyed email to my wonderful angel of a friend where I finally admitted how bummed I was, I got this reply:

People will remember the real baby with the real family who made themselves vulnerable enough to stand before their church family and pledge to point this precious baby girl toward the goodness of God in a world where few things go the way we plan.

Yes.  That.  She may be the only one who actually remembers it that way.  But I’m going to pretend that’s the case for everyone who was in the pews yesterday morning.  I’m going to look again at the family picture I posted at the top.

I’m going to ignore the fact that Jay appears to be wearing Meg’s dress, and Luke seems to be flossing.  My smile is fake, but it’s a smile, and we are all, in fact, looking in the general vicinity of the camera.  Maybe the chaos and the perfection are just two sides of the same coin.

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