Seven and a half years ago, Mike and I were married under the shade of an old maple tree in his parent’s backyard. During the ceremony, my younger brother read an excerpt from the beloved children’s bookThe Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.”Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Seven and a half years later, this passage is just as relevant to our lives as parents. When I was pregnant with Lilah, I imagined that I would be a perfect mother with picture-perfect children. I would be equal parts Tiger Mom and Earth Mama. My children would never eat packaged snacks or play with Barbies. They would be polite and respectful at all times and I would always be pleasant and well rested. I would be like Julie Andrews as either Mary or Maria right down to the song and dance routine.
Now six years later and a mother of three, I look back to my newly pregnant self and I have to laugh because motherhood is like nothing I had imagined. Real life is messy and imperfect. I make mistakes every day. So far, I have not raised my children flawlessly, but I have spent every day loving them and I have to remind myself that this is enough. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I have become real and I prefer real over perfect any day.
I read voraciously to my children and hope this is enough to foster a love of learning. We spend lazy afternoons making daisy chains and mud-painting outdoors. I try my best to cook healthy, wholesome meals, but let me kids snack on goldfish crackers. Each of my girls has a beautiful, hand-made Waldorf doll, but we also have a basket of Barbies. For the most part my children are polite and respectful, but they also forget their manners and throw tantrums of epic proportions. I have occasionally lost my temper, but I am learning self-discipline right along with my children. We may not be the Von Trapps, but there is always singing and dancing.
A few months ago, Arielle and Blake welcomed me into their home to photograph their new son, Bodhi. I first photographed this family when they were pregnant with their three year old daughter, Molly. As I took photos of Arielle cradling her tiny son, we talked about the adjustment from one child to two and about how each time we have expanded our families, we’ve had to adjusted our expectations of ourselves. We’ve had to let go of things we once found important and adjust to the new rhythms of our homes and our lives.
Arielle was meant to be a mother. I can tell by the way she loves on those two babies of hers. But even though we love our children with every fiber of our being, being a mother is still challenging and messy and sometimes overwhelming. Every day we strive to nurture these tiny hearts and minds and bodies. Some days are easier than others. It’s on the days that are not so easy that we need to take the time to look for the beauty in ordinary moments. We need to hold these moments, like a breath of air in the lungs, and allow them to fill us, bless us, and remind us again that we are enough – that we are the mothers our children need.
When we take the time to acknowledge these moments, there is a shift in perspective. Instead of a massive pile of laundry, we see the children folding together. We see chubby fingers matching tiny pairs of socks. We see the baby playing peek-a-boo under the towels in the laundry basket.
Instead of another time-out for a cranky toddler, we see an opportunity to teach. We see a space carved out in our day for repentance and forgiveness. We see a chance for reconciliation. For hugs. For practicing peace.
Instead of mess of linens strewn about the living room, we see a fort, and listen for high-pitched voices immersed in a game of make believe. We see tiny piggies with chipped pink nail polish sticking out from under blankets and sheets.
Instead of windows to be washed, we see tiny nose and hand prints. We realize that there will be a time for clean windows, but it is not now. Now we see the late afternoon light streaming through the glass. Now we feel its warmth.
When I focus, hundreds of things speak to me. The weight of a sleeping child against my chest. The smell of coffee in the French Press. Thick cosy socks and an oversized sweater. The concealed giggles of a pair of mischievous sisters. My childhood tap shoes worn by my three year old on the wrong feet. The Annie soundtrack. Little hands kneading bread dough, the smell of yeast rising from the bowl. Bedtime stories. Picture books. A clean baby wrapped in a towel. Pink rubber boots lined up in a row. Tiny knitted mittens drip drying on the heat vent. A stolen moment of absolute stillness while we watch a fox stroll across our yard. A tea party with mismatched cups and saucers. Real sugar cubes. An unexpected nap in the middle of the afternoon. Eyelashes resting on full moon cheeks. Snow angels. Paper dolls. “I love you, Mommy” printed in crayon at the bottom of my grocery list. Tutus. Ponytails. Movie night with giant bowls of popcorn. Hands joined around the dinner table in prayer. The things and routines and traditions that are unique to our home.
It’s the ordinary moments of motherhood that are the most rewarding. Never before have I walked a road so difficult or humbling while simultaneously experiencing such joy – a life I couldn’t love more. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, my fur has been rubbed off, my heart has stretched and expanded. I have let go of my early parenting ideals and have become a better, softer, more grounded version of myself. By letting go of ideals of perfection, and instead choosing to be present for my ordinary life, I have become real.