I like to think I’ve been honest in my blog posts, albeit occasionally exaggerating anecdotes for humorous effect (what good story teller doesn’t?). But a recent conversation with a friend reminded me that despite my best intentions, I too can fall into the trap of only showing the good side of the story to others.
During the first lockdown I set up a private Instagram account for family and friends to keep them up to date with what my children were getting up to. It became a kind of family scrapbook of our time together, minus the annoyance of printing out pictures.
At this point in time, I rarely used Facebook (with the exception of Halloween, when I took great pleasure in posting pictures of a life sized skeleton we named Marvin in various funny poses – once again, it’s the little things).
I barely used my personal Instagram account, and an additional account which I set up for our puppy was my first committed foray into the world of social media (my dog still has more followers than I do).
The necessity of trying to get my writing ‘out there’ has meant that I’ve been using social media more, and on accounts like my family account, where I don’t post that often, it’s easy to look through the images and see a story of blissful family life. But that’s only one side of the story.
I’ve been feeling some disconnection from the kids since they started back at school. My husband is also effectively working two jobs, his day job and our house renovation project in the evenings, so family time has been scarce.
I have a strong desire for a happy, connected family life and I often feel like I’m failing in my primary role if we go too long without some quality family time. I forget that for most families, this does not exist on a day-to-day basis, outside of the movies or a curated Instagram feed. Relationships are hard, especially relationships with small people.
Everyone is already at a major disadvantage because the adults can’t remember what it’s like being a kid and the kids don’t even want to entertain the idea of what it might be like to be an adult, so mustering empathy for each other’s differing needs and perspectives is bloody hard work. The worst part? It’s bloody hard work every day.
I recently posted pictures on my family Instagram account of a ‘Yo Sushi’ meal I’d done for the kids. I’d been missing them while they were at school and after finally clearing the kitchen island of tools and junk, I decided to put in a little extra effort for dinner and set up an homage to Yo Sushi, the restaurant we’ve all been missing most. I drew a Yo! Sign on a piece of paper, found a squeaky toy the kids could use as the button you push for service and began to prepare a sushi banquet, including a new sticky mince dish I hoped I could persuade the kids to try.
In my head, this is how it was going to go: kids get in from school, see Yo Sushi and get excited. Together, we prepare the rest of the meal, Dad gets home, we sit down together to eat and catch up about our day. We rekindle our connection, one serving of happy family with a side of sushi please.
From the Instagram pictures I put up it would be easy to assume that this is how it went.
This was the reality: the kids got home from school ravenous, clocked the Yo Sushi sign, were a little excited but too hungry to really focus on anything other than demands for sushi now, as they went about their own business, with instructions I should call them when it’s ready (and some shouted complaints to ask what was taking so long when I failed to deliver within their desired time frame). I then realised I only had one portion sticky rice left (we normally have loads) and having to share led to more whining. I managed to snap a couple of photos for Instagram as they all sat down to eat. The food was demolished in minutes, amidst refusals to try any of the new food I’d prepared or the enticingly laid out vegetables, then one by one everybody left to do their own thing, whilst I finished my dinner alone (I like to pace myself but everyone else eats like a pack of starving hyenas).
THIS is the story of family life. High hopes of imagined family bliss, consistently dashed by these small people (and one fully grown one) who so often refuse to cooperate with my family perfection fantasies. The problem, yet again, is all in my head: in the expectations of a desired reality, instead of acceptance of the lived reality.
Expectations have a lot to answer for. I’m blessed (cursed) with the imagination of an idealistic dreamer, but translating this into real life isn’t easy when doing so requires the participation of others, who clearly didn’t get the memo about how to live up to the fantasy in my head.
Back in the real world, we all got fed, sushi was enjoyed. I learned an important lesson about checking the rice situation before making promises I can’t deliver and who knows, maybe it even went down in the kids memory as fun. This often happens. Have you ever taken the kids for a fun day out where they moan so consistently you want to stuff you ears with cotton wool, yet weeks later they’re regaling their friends with stories of the cool place they visited?
Yet moments of family bliss do happen. They’re often just shorter and more spaced out than in the movies. And that, I’m afraid, is life. Mostly messy, often chaotic and at times quite disappointing, (especially when compared to the fantasy in your head or an Instagram feed), yet with the ability to throw you a curve ball of joy when you least expect it: a hand taken, a hug given freely, an ‘I love you’ when you least expect it but need it the most.
The trick, as with most things, is to notice these small moments when they happen, to be in them, to savour them, commit them to memory and not get disheartened by all the other stuff that comes in between, because that stuff is just life. We all live it.
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