"Your post last week was reeeeally beautiful," my friend confides over coffee. Her emphasis on the E in really conveys the seriousness of her confession. "I was just so... real."
I thank her for the compliment and listen as she talks about the struggles in her marriage. We are confidants now. Our coffee turns cold and we add more from the pot to keep our mugs warm. We are alone in the house but our voices are soft as we confess the secrets of our marriages. Of course only her words are secrets. Mine are published on the internet for anyone to read.
But what sticks with me is her description of last week's post as real. The word rattles around in my head as we talk about fighting, making-up, frustration, and love. I wonder if perhaps what she means by real is vulnerable. Last week I wrote about our choice to stop at one child. We made that choice because postpartum depression was a nightmare. It nearly killed me and my marriage. And those are two things I'm not willing to risk. It's not the first time I've mentioned how PPD has changed my marriage. My wife and I, neither of us are perfect. But we are doing our best. In the world of Facebook and Twitter where our lives and our families are presented as a series of carefully screened photographs and 140 character summaries of our thoughts we can sometimes forget that we don't always see the full picture. So when somebody tells that part of the story - the less shiny part - it can make us uncomfortable. Or it can make us relate. Really? Your marriage isn't perfect? Mine either! We should form a club! Except that we forget that we are already in that club. And it's called humanity. None of us are perfect people. We try and we succeed. We try and we fail. We love and we fight. And sometimes we just plain fuck it all up.
But reality is complicated. It's filled with moments that are both perfect and entirely not perfect. But it's important to remember that the good and the bad are equally real. When I write about postpartum depression, or struggles in my marriage, those posts are entirely real. But when I write about the humble gratitude I felt for my son's cries when he got his first tooth, or the wonder of a baby who curls her legs into her body because she doesn't yet understand the vastness of post-womb space, or the joy of watching my son understand that his dad is actually his dad, those things really happened too. They are pretty and shiny and testements to the happy moments of parenthood and family life. They are real.
And I think that's why you are here reading this with me. We are here to commiserate on the bad parts and revel in the good parts. And none of our lives exist entirely in either end of that spectrum. But believing that they do exist only in the negative or should exist only in the positive is where we screw ourselves over. It's not a competition. This whole parenthood thing. You don't have to find it rewarding and exhilarating every moment of the day. None of us do. Even those of us who blog about the moments of pure perfection on a weekly basis. But don't forget to notice those moments in time that take your breath away either. The sweet smell of a newborn's head, holding your toddler close for a slow dance, the warm feel of your partner's hand on your shoulder when you think you are out of strength for the day. Those are all real too.
I can't invite you all over for coffee. But you can pour a cup where you are and we can chat nonetheless. So, what you are your real stories?