A fantastic meme floated across my screen this week. “Don’t compare yourself to other moms. We are all losing our shit. Some just hide it better than others.” Everything about it was perfect except for the bit about hiding. That part did not sit well with me. Here’s why.
So the kids and I are regular fixtures in our neighbourhood bookshop. Keeping a low profile while browsing with two energetic toddlers is impossible. Close quarters amplify the sound of little feet. Between the store’s towering inventory, crackling fire, and multiple ladders, I sometimes wonder why we bother. It sounds like an accident waiting to happen because it is.
But once we pass the threshold, the calming music pacifies my maternal anxiety and the beauty of the place grips me. The stress of our chaotic morning dissolves. Isaac and Lucy gallop off to the children’s section and nine times out of ten, before I can even join them, a sweet soul tosses me a smile and offers me a coffee. Because we’re in the store nearly three times a week, some staff know us by name. The coffee-book-sanity combination is a triple threat on a hard day with the kids, hence why we visit so frequently. If it weren’t for our student budget, I’d be in trouble.
I need that space because it helps me keep my composure when it feels like the weight of the day is slowly rising toward the fan. I look forward to being there. It’s become a local sanctuary. When I sit on that distressed leather sofa surrounded by candy-coloured board books and paperbacks, a little piece of my world comes together.
I learned recently that a woman who saw me reading with the kids in my happy place pegged me as a mom who had it all together. I only know about the stanger’s assessment because she mentioned it to a friend on staff. When I heard about their conversation, I laughed harder than I have in weeks. If I hadn’t waited all day for the wine I was enjoying at the time, I would have spit it across the room. I so do not have it together.
The day after hearing the story, I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was annoyed and angry. Not at the woman who made the assessment but at comparison culture among mothers in general. My temporary composure in the bookshop was an illusion that perpetuated a lie that people, specifically mothers, can have it all together. I can’t speak for the woman but I’m sure comparison struck that day and likely robbed her of her joy.
Motherhood is joyful but overtired mothers raising young children don’t have a lot of joy to spare. We certainly have better things to do with our time. I despise how much energy is wasted on comparison. It’s the devil’s idea of a good time. It’s a black hole. If we’re not on guard, that stuff can creep in and distract us from the task at hand – loving our kids, embracing our imperfections and demonstrating our need for grace. Comparison kills joy. No one thrives. Everyone loses.
I’m learning that comparison does more than steal joy. It errodes honest community or prevents it from forming in the first place. Ironically, the thing mothers need desperately to have almost anything together is a community, a village. We need people to talk us off the ledge and offer perspective. We need people to pray with. We need the wisdom of older generations. We need someone to pour us a drink when we can’t get off the couch. We need folks to drop off meals and offer childcare and lend us clothes when things don’t fit. We need to be these people for each other. Community is pivotal and until we swallow pride and kill comparison, no one can experience it to its fullest.
I’m all for goals and striving to excel – motherhood is no exception. There is no greater project I will undertake so I want to do it with my all. But let’s be real. Striving to have it all together and packaged perfectly serves no one. We each do our best with what we are given but it’s not possible to have it together until we pool our resources. We can’t pool resources until we are a team working together toward a common goal, in this case, collective sanity. It’s a lofty goal but it’s attainable.
Good teammates know their own strengths and weaknesses and look out for blind spots within the team. If we can’t approach one another honestly as teammates, bellies out and needs exposed, how can we sub each other out so we don’t all injure ourselves? How can generosity abound if we don’t know what we need from each other? We need to be on the same team. We were designed to be in community.
I am on a mission to see mothers on the same team. These kinds of big goals characterise me. It’s no simple task and there are so many factors at play but I believe we’re all a part of the solution. The first step is to come out from hiding.
So to that terrific mother who pegged me as the mythical woman with her entire act together, I’m sorry. Not because I did anything wrong. It’s mostly my Canadian DNA speaking but still, I’m sorry you couldn’t see beyond the smoke and mirrors of appearances that day. I absolutely do not have it together but thankfully I’m blessed by many people who fill in my gaps.
I can’t remember the day we were in the shop together because since becoming pregnant six years ago my memory has flatlined. Sometimes I walk all the way to town before I realize I forgot to put a bra on. I’m really classy.
If you spotted me from afar and I was wearing a lot of black, know this. Black is no longer the definition of chic. Black is necessary. Black means I pulled clothes from the laundry hamper and removed stains with baby wipes or I haven’t showered and changed since my morning workout. If you smelled perfume I was really desperate.
Was I wearing a beret? Beware. That means I definitely didn’t get a shower because I was racing after my kids all morning, possibly removing crayon from the wall or wiping up the puddle beside the toilet. Either that or I locked myself in the bathroom for some desperate moments of solitude. Consequently, I lost track of time, forfeiting my shower. Again.
If I looked like I had a good sleep, all praise goes to Laura Mercier. She’s a magician.
If I was wearing red lipstick, it wasn’t a vanity thing. Lipstick is my pep talk in the mirror. Lipstick kicks my weary self out the door. Lipstick picks up the slack in the winter when I don’t want to get out of my pyjamas. Between the calf-length coat and knee-high wellies, what’s the point in getting dressed? Exactly. Red lipstick.
If my kids were sitting still on the sofa, that was lucky. They were probably just waiting for me to unwrap their biscuits. If they were putting books away, there were very likely six on the floor for every one they returned to the shelf. Obviously I’m attempting to teach them these courtesies but it is a fight. Like everyone, I lose my temper and things get ugly. I have to ask my children for forgiveness regularly.
So if miraculously you’re reading this and if you see me and the kids in the bookshop again, please come introduce yourself. We can put the little ones in the corner to read. Instead of hiding our shit, we can laugh and cry about losing it on a daily basis. We can toast to the reality of motherhood and praise God for lipstick. Maybe lipstick can be our team uniform.
If I’m wearing my beret though, you might want to keep your distance. I won’t be offended. There’s always next time.