Receiving comments and emails from people who read my words here is among my very favorite things in the world. Once in a while, however, the contents of those messages can make me uneasy. Sometimes people comment that it seems I have a “perfect” life. Other times I get adulation about my “perfect” children. And, lest you think everything I hear is nice, sometimes I get slapped down for being unaware of how good I have it.
The truth is my life is very far from perfect. My children are far from perfect. Nothing here is perfect, and I know also that nothing anywhere is perfect.
It’s not all shiny here. It’s not all wonder and noticing the streak of an airplane across the evening sky and reading poetry aloud. Those things exist, absolutely: usually every single day. But there is also shouting, and impatience, and tears. Years ago I remember someone telling me in a disgruntled tone that they couldn’t possibly be “present” for every moment of their life. They had a job to do, and dishes to wash, and on and on and on.
I was taken aback by that, and realized I was not communicating what I meant by “being present” clearly enough. I meant, and mean, it quite literally: being awake, being aware, paying attention. That does not mean loving everything. There is plenty that I don’t like in this life of mine. There is no question that the rooms of my days and of my heart contain mold and dust and there are regrets piling up in the corner.
But there is also so much good. And I sincerely hope that one thing I am is aware of and grateful for my good fortune. I don’t enumerate my blessings because I suspect that would be boring, and because it feels like gloating. But I am incredibly, intensely conscious of how fortunate and privileged I am.
This awareness often adds to my guilt about the melancholy that hovers over me much of the time. How can I possibly feel sorrow, and these prickly emotions, when I have so very much to be thankful for? But I do. And even in the wake of my oft-churning sadness comes a reminder of all the blessings that surround me. At my saddest and bleakest I still can’t forget all that is beautiful about this life. In fact I suspect it is precisely my sorrow – which comes directly from my awareness of how fast this life passes – that makes me so aware of loveliness and joy. They come from the same source, and perhaps are even just sides of a single coin. This experience, this life: sadness and joy, light and dark, beginnings and ends. It’s all one.
But back to my point. And I do have one: my messy, noisy, imperfect life.
Years, ago, I remember Katrina Kenison joking that her husband would “love to be married to the woman who writes the books.” How this resonated with me, then and still now. Sometimes when I am rushing everyone out the door in the morning, asserting that we are going to be late, late late!!! (despite the fact that I have literally almost never been late), Matt will turn to me and say: remember, Linds, live every moment.
Bedtime is a good example. I know how sacred bedtime is, how much I love these moments, how desperately I wish I had back all the bedtimes I wished away over the years. And yet, still, sometimes I trip up and snap at a child who is dallying before bed. Always, almost immediately, I am overcome with guilt. I wasted this bedtime, I think.
Daily, I demonstrate in myriad ways my distraction, aggravation, irritation, impatience. All of those emotions throb through my life, and I know I’m far from alone. In fact my friend Aidan wrote about this very topic recently. I know this frustration, this sense of falling down over and over and over again, is human. I also know others who feel misunderstood, though I’m not familiar with many who have been directly accused of misrepresenting themselves (as I have). I don’t, and I am not. This is my life. It is imperfect, and it is chaotic, and it is full of disappointments and regrets and mistakes, of raised voices and hurt feelings and tears. It is also full of brilliance and beauty and joy. I just choose to write about the latter more than the former. But I assure you: it’s all there.
Have you ever stumbled in the perilous gulf between perception and reality? Have others ever made assumptions about your life that don’t feel right? Do you get aggravated, short-tempered, and irritated?
31 thoughts on “It’s not all shiny”
Lindsey – I love this post! If I snap at my children or lose my patience, I tend to think, “Oh god, did the neighbors hear that lady blogging about mindful parenting yell at her kids??” No one is perfect, parenting is a practice, and you’ve nailed it here! I especially like your comments about how being present to your life doesn’t mean enjoying every aspect of it…it’s about the non-judgmental awareness. We don’t love doing the dishes, but we just focus on the task at hand.
And thanks for sharing the Kenison quote. I am finding that blogging about these topics does call me to mindfulness more often ~ am I following my own advice??
Such an insightful post. As I see it, our blogs are filters of our lives, and *we choose* how to filter what we report. You’ve got optimistic, positive filters (which is one of the reasons I read you regularly) and in my opinion, blog readers should be able to recognize this. Personally, I really enjoy the tone and style that you take in your blog. If others don’t, then it’s simply not the place for them. Can’t win ’em all; where would you put them?
(There’s so much I’d like to say about this post, but it’d get waaaay too long to type here. But quickly: blogs are like movies in the sense that we see the highlights of the protagonists’ days. Rick Blaine probably took a massive dump the morning that he sent Ilsa Lund away on the plane from Casablanca. But how disruptive to the tone of the film would *that* scene be, right?)
For sure, blogging has helped me follow my own advice! I love that aspect of it … could never have imagined how blogging would change the way I interact with the world, with the way I live my life. What a wonderful surprise that has been. xox
I am laughing out loud at the image of Rick Blaine on the toilet … 🙂
If you wrote about all the chaos of life and complained about it no one would really want to read your blog because it would mirror what they already have in their own lives! It’s a pleasure reading your honest and thoughtful observations.
Everyday! But we keep on bumping our shins into the furniture and lurching towards the future and that counts for something! Just getting through counts for something, doesn’t it?
At this time in my life I am intensely aware of how I am straddling the light and dark, often from moment to moment, hour to hour. And as cliche as it sounds, that dark is helping me to see the light better than ever.
Yes. Yes. And yes.
To all three.
And then I begin again, and again and again.
I spend a lot of time with my hand on my heart, saying “forgiven, forgiven”.
And I laugh at it all, as much as possible.
You are living it, Lindsey, and that’s all you need to do.
PS. I have even been known to use construction site words and gestures, when in traffic. A fact that my clients find fascinating.
i’m constantly tripping up and wishing that reality were more like the light i try to capture in my writing and journaling. i could write about the yelling and the the laundry not being put away but truth is, i’d rather focus on the good and the love i feel for these fabulously messy creatures.
I’ve always felt that you did a great job balancing the light and the dark and I never felt that you had a “perfect” life. I have gotten so many wonderful ideas from you and I appreciate that you share the good moments with us.
As a military wife I am misrepresented all the time. So many people just assume that I am a pro life, pro war, born again Christian. Which would be fine but it’s not me. I think we tend to make assumptions about people to simplify or validate our world view. It isn’t based in reality.
To quote the beginning of “All That Is” (THANK YOU by the way): There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.
And YES I get irritated all the time. With my kids, I try to stop myself and I’m getting much better at it. Not so good when it comes to my husband who is incredibly patient with me.
Such a thoughtful and important post. Living our lives online is a tricky thing to do because we have choices about what to convey and in the making of these choices there is always room for misinterpretation. Indeed it is a risk we take when we decide to plunge into this odd ether. As you know well, you are far from alone. Thanks, as ever, for the link love.
I have not left a comment in a long time but your post today moved me. I think it’s honest and real. Sometimes people get an image of who they think you are by reading your blog and they don’t realize that they don’t really know you. You are human and not a saint so it’s very natural to be all that you express here. I think it’s naive of people to assume your life is perfect. We all have our struggles and we are all imperfect. You show courage in writing this post. Thank you for sharing .
Hi Leah – thanks for all of your help.
A hugely humbling and eye-opening thing for me was talking with a woman I first knew from a church, then later knew in a 12-step meeting. She told me how she once thought my family was perfect; that, in fact, the pastor had held us up to her as an example of a great family. We were not a great family. On the surface, yes, I can see that we appeared to be one. Underneath, there was no foundation, and our family collapsed. To see the difference between her perception and my reality stunned me. Now, whenever I find myself thinking that someone else’s life seems perfect in some way, I remember that I can never really know someone else’s reality.
I love what you said about the awareness of privilege intensifying the feelings of guilt and melancholy- I, too, experience this often. And to all of your questions, the answer is yes!
Yes to all 3 questions. I think when I am most prone to imagine that another person’s life is “perfect” is when I am hurting about an aspect of my own life that they appear to have together. Some bloggers focus on the deeply personal sorts of traumas and major struggles that make obvious that their lives don’t meet a conventional definition of perfection. I love the topics you choose to write about. I also admire that you write about your family in ways that seem truly respectful and with healthy boundaries.
you put into words how many of us feel. and that is why i continue to visit. and yes, sometimes, i have felt that you are more “privileged” than many. i know, however, that i am one of othe lucky ones, too, and i “count my blessings” and “stop and smell the roses”, when i am not griping about some petty annoyance….as we all do. but i am determined to be more grateful and sunny than disgruntled and cloudy.
It only matters if you believe your life is perfection…. others can’t know the All! They can only see through their experience or lack of…
Yes My daughters were exemplary to some…. but mostly demanding to me and not necessarily forgiving of me….. but the key I think is the word…. for… giving…. we have to process that we can’t know ahead of time… we have to give ourselves the benefit…. and then give up the judgement… for after the fact it is really only a learning tool
I was reminded this weekend, when I saw a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, one whom I mostly “know” online these days (via email and Facebook), that things are never, ever what they seem. This is a silly, small example but she has three toddlers – and a fourth kid on the way! – and I just always think as I see FB posts of her pregnant and running half-marathons (with three kids cheering her on) that she’s superhuman. Talking to her this weekend, I realized that she’s not superhuman, she’s just organized and committed. And she’s probably blessed with the right temperament to be a mom to four kids (she’s a teacher, after all). But she’s not *that* different from me. xox
I have so many different selves which often contradict each other. I often think of a post you wrote a while ago about you going to a conference and people thought you were stand offish or something and your point was that you have always screamed the fact the you were an introvert, written about it often. So why were they expecting something else?
Also, remember Dani’s words, memoir (substitute blogging) is NOT the whole story, it is merely the part you are choosing to tell or focus on at this time.
I love this post and the overall message that it is sending. Our lives are all inevitably filled with good and bad. And sometimes the bad outweighs the good. And other times, the good triumphs. Either way, as a writer, we make a conscious choice about which one we will write about. In spite of the fact that we are imperfect beings, bloggers always make a choice. They can choose to focus on the positive and try to find simple pleasures in the midst of even the worst days or we can focus in on all the horrible dangers that surround us. But those choices inevitably color our perspectives and seep into who we are as people and how we treat those around us. None of us are perfect. And none of us live perfect lives. Some of us might be more fortunate than others, but that is mostly based on circumstance. No matter what our circumstances, I do truly believe that we can learn from one another if we keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open. Thank you for sharing your life lessons.
Loved this so much. Yes, yes, and yes. Loving all the comments too.
Thank you! xox
I find your outlook on life refreshing, and I applaud your attitude.
I think it is unfortunate that you have any sense of guilt about “privilege.”
I imagine many of the people who comment on their misperceived perfection are just envious.
Our world would be better off with more people like you.
Yes, but all the comforts you enjoy are shiny, very shiny. I read your blog and tweets, I confess, because I am fascinated by the lives of the wealthy. It does not surprise me that your life contains arguments, bad moods and hectic days. It does fascinate me that minor problems seem to be a huge cause for concern and reflection (Tears at Hockey). I understand that wealthy people, just like the rest of us, reflect on being “present” enough. It’s just that the context of your situation might lead one to find this reflection a bit dramatic. I truly wish a day of feeling rushed was one of my top concerns. (Whereas, I would love to not have to worry about money, or whether my kid can even get to practice because of a work conflict). Enjoy your yearly Legoland, tennis camp, and other luxuries (my kids will never see Legoland, and that’s okay), but can you and your daughter REALLY say that you believe “all you need is love”?
That is an awfully nice thing to say. Thank you, thank you. xox
You’re absolutely right that a certain level of comfort allows concerns that may seem minor to others to take on more importance and weight. That is true. And of course we need food and shelter and all kinds of practical things other than love to make a life. I do have the concern about making it to practice because of a work conflict – almost every day. My husband and I work full-time, both of us, and that creates pressures that I know many people know. And of course there are myriad concerns that have nothing to do with money, mostly around serious health issues of family members. I think everybody shares those. I appreciate your comment. xox
I love you and your writing, exactly as they are — full of complexity, wonder, grief, amazement, beauty, sorrow, life. Don’t change.
Thank you, Lisa. Thank you. So much. xo
Well I’m full of admiration Lyndsey for your writing and for your bravery at putting yourself out there. I would not cope with misinterpretations and judgements so I really applaud the absence of defensiveness in your writing and comments. I also have never felt you pass any judgements on how to parent or live your life so feel it’s harsh to be judged on this. Anyway from an old school friend who reads your blog and a mum who also rushes through bedtime too often, just sending you lots of love and Christmas wishes to your lovely family x
Ps I love your reading lists – after 2 years of studying to be a
Prenatal teacher and reading only birth and parenting books I’ve read 5 books you recommended (or your friends I can’t remember) my favourite the American wife, followed very surprisingly by the hunger games trilogy which I would never have picked up! So thank you!
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