Friday, September 18, 2009

I could have done a much better job on this, but that might be beside the point...

Image. It is all about image.

Fashion. Magazines. Television. Blogs. Even religion can fall into the trap of image. Is this bad? I am not certain, because the thing is, image works. People with more pleasing imagery attract more admirers. But does the person with the most admirers win? He does in business, as admiration usually means increased sales and profits. He does in school, as admiration usually means inclusion into some group, being part of something (The "Popular" crowd, the athletic crowd, the brainy crowd, even the stoner crowd). And in blogging, it means more readers, links, followers and comments.

It is definitely true in mothering. Image. How does your house look? Your garden? Your dinner? What kind of kitchen ware do you have? Your children, are they cute, have matching clothes and are they well mannered? And you, have you gotten your shape back after having your kids? And your clothing: are you dressed modestly, yet attractively, showing off your good figure, but not emphasizing it? Are you at peace? Do you have a good haircut, good hygiene, jewelry that enhances, but does not overpower? Do you wear make up that is subtle, natural, barely noticeable, really, but you shouldn't go with out it. And your marriage, is your husband your rock, your hero, your soul-mate? Are you appropriately balanced between submission and partnership, enough to consider yourself a Godly woman and wife? And can you pull all these things off effortlessly, allowing your true self to show through?

Then there is religion. Do you have a good, solid prayer routine, one that starts your day, guides your life, and gives you balance on a rough and winding road? But is it more that a routine, is it your life blood, your fuel. Are you able to gather your family every day, and pray, meaningfully and sincerely, and do your kids buy into it all?

Of course, then there are things like home schooling, gardening, decorating, and on and on and on.

What is my point of this rather acerbic rant?

I can not keep up. I fall short everywhere. I am truly fatigued from comparing my insides with everyone else's outsides. I am tired of fighting the temptation to covet everyone else's lives. I have come to the conclusion (a gift of grace, I am certain), that I am coveting an image, not a reality. And what a stinking waste of a sin. Coveting something that isn't even real, for heaven's sake. I try to be "real". As a matter of fact, I get feedback about my life from others, saying they really like how "real" my blog is. I like that too, but since I have tried to be more real and shed the image I was trying to sell, my readership has shrunk to a fourth of its old size. Image sells! I am pretty boring with out all the wrapping paper!

What on earth brought all this on? Well, I was putting together the 7 Quick Takes Friday post, and it made me want to throw up. I had one about a turtle we found in our driveway, and how I made it into a school unit study. Blech. I had one about a meal I made that was beautiful and delicious, and I even took pictures of it to post. Blech. I had one about the bird house my son and I built together yesterday, and how we researched blue birds so we could put it in the correct spot for optimal nesting in the spring. Blech. And so on. Yes, I did all these things. But I had put it all out there neatly wrapped up in "Aren't I amazing" paper like I can't believe.

The truth? I had been wanting to do a reptile unit with my middle kids for THREE years. But I never did. Then one day, I almost ran over a turtle in our driveway, and they begged to keep it, and I let them for 2 days. They had to read all about turtles to build it a good temporary home (and so did I), what to feed it, and they wanted to know if it was a girl or a boy, and how old it was. So we Googled it. NOW, I could call that a unit study, or I could just say I took full advantage of an opportunity and my kids curiosity. It all depends upon how I package it.

The truth? One night, at 5:00 pm, I needed a dinner. I scrounged around and came up with beef and veggies, marinated them in salad dressings, and put it on the grill. (If I recall, it was some feast day, so I wanted the dinner to be good, but hadn't really planned anything yet). It turned out wonderfully, and I took photos to show just how together I have everything. Never posted that, though, because really, I was winging it. Again, it all depends upon the image I am trying to give.

The truth about the bird house. My middle son has been asking to build something, anything, for half his life. I stumbled across a blue bird house kit (pre-cut, pre-drilled, nails included. Bluebird fact sheet included) at the thrift store. We had it finished in 20 minutes. Satisfying? Yes. Something to photograph and make into an intentional project? No. Again, flying by the seat of my pants here.

And so on.

The truth about me? I am disorganized. I procrastinate. My house is cleaned by my children once a week, and good enough is good enough for me (check out the background in Melanie's 6 month photos. My room is a mess). My garden is too full of weeds and I let my tomatoes rot, and there are too many decorations in it (I could take some lovely photos, though. I take a few snapshots of my last flowering plants, and cut out the dead ones I didn't water since July). I am fat, and apparently not particularly motivated to do something about it. I have too much stuff, and why? I am confused about what image I want to give: Artsy or crafty? Clever or thrifty? Creative or kitschy? I don't buy or grow organic food, unless it is on sale and I happen to be at the store where it is sold reasonably. My children are extremely average, well rounded, but average. I haven't sent out Christmas cards and letters for 3 years, because I couldn't really spin things properly, and the image was either going to be one of worried distraction and concern, or a big fat lie. I have watched T.V. every day since Melanie was born, and often watch the news while nursing her. I don't pray well or often (formally, that is. I pray that I won't screw up my kids every 5 minutes or so). I have a good solid marriage that is a so much work I can not believe it. I struggle with anxiety and depression, though not lately, and while putting on a brave face gets me through, it feels fake. Thankfully for well over a year now I haven't had to deal with that, and I feel authentic. Authentically flawed. I am sensitive, jealous, and a worry wart. I like clutter, and hate it. I feel passionately about controversial issues I don't blog about because I do not want to alienate people I care about. Is that authentic or a cop-out?

(Gratuitous baby picture of a last minute table center piece I put out on the Nativity of the Theotokos. I got the idea from a different blog, and followed suit.)

Any way, there you are. Baring my soul and the constant struggle for me to keep up with my obligations, and yet remain real. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than having to call B.S. on myself. ( And on that point I want to be clear. I am calling B.S. on MYSELF and MYSELF alone. No one should see this as a commentary on their life or their blog. Please. Really. )


Blogger Unknown said...

me too

September 18, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well. I bet you feel better now that that's off your chest! But let me tell you what image I see when I look at you - someone who is amazing, competent in many things, generous, has the gift of hospitality not only in her home, but in her church, where she makes everyone feel welcome; someone who has so many important responsibilities to juggle that she needs to develop the skill of "going with the flow," which she has mastered wonderfully; someone who is so generous in welcoming her large family that God has blessed her with that she should know He understands that she doesn't have much time for a formal structured prayer life, and He appreciates that she lives her faith with every breath she takes for all the world to see; someone who has wonderful, beautiful, smart, creative children who are living examples of what a great job she's doing raising and teaching them. So there! God bless you all.


September 18, 2009  
Blogger Amy said...

Love the baby centerpiece. ;-)

I could have written 99.5% of this post, except not as well as you. :)

I'm so tired of it all, but I keep coming back because on top of being tired, I'm also L.O.N.E.L.Y.

Here's a big hug for a great post. :)

September 18, 2009  
Blogger Jennifer in TX said...

OK, Renee...I love you...your post could have been written by me, too. Perhaps, you, Amy and me could meet for a drink sometime? ;)
Hugs and prayers for a good and relaxing week-end!

September 18, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drink, hell. I'll come too and have several.
Loved the raw honesty. I know I sound like a minabird - but I feel much the same way many times...


September 18, 2009  
Blogger Melanie Bettinelli said...

You know the funny thing is that I am positive I like this version better that the prettified original. It's more real and more YOU. And frankly more inspiring that the perfected cleaned up imaginary you.

For example, I know I can't possibly aspire to be one of those wholly together homeschoolers with the perfect lesson plans planned out years in advance. But I'm pretty sure I could improvise something fun and educational out of a happenstance like your almost-squished turtle. To me that's a much more exciting story. And I'm willing to bet your kids got more out of that ad hoc lesson than they would have if you'd been able to pull off the original picture-perfect reptile lesson plans.

Same thing with the dinner I love reading stories about cooks winging it and whipping up something spectacular. Because I love it when that happens to me. Some of my favorite meals are the ones that just come together like that.

Long story short, I'm inspired by all these stories of the authentic you. And it reminds me of a story told by the poet Seamus Heaney about writing one of those what I did on my summer vacation assignments when he was in school and making up this picture perfect beach day with his mother and siblings. The real story was it was a gray Irish day and it started to rain and the beach toys his mother got were not his idealized plastic pail and shovel but real metal implements that could be later used on the farm because they didn't have the money to buy frivolous toys. I love that story-- how the imaginary story that he thought was better was so cookie cutter and banal and the real one told you so much more about him and his family and was also much closer to genuine poetry.

Be you, be authentic, be messy, be inspired and improvisational. That's the mom your kids love and that's the one I think I really like to know anyway.

September 19, 2009  
Blogger Elise said...

Dear Aunt,
you need to remember something...we all love you so much! Especially just how you are!
Your god-daughter,

September 19, 2009  
Anonymous heidi said...

Renee, you are a great mom, wife, sister, daughter, SIL, daughter-in-law and friend. Your whole life is a prayer because you are doing what God wants you to do. You are praying every time you sit down to teach, to nurse the baby, put in a load of laundry, whip up one of your fab dinners, etc. You put up with my brother which is HUGE!! Your kids are happy, healthy, intelligent, kind, funny and loving. I am inspired by you. To me, it's amazing you get done what you do get done! Life is always a learning experience even if it is not a formal lesson, so the turtle lesson was perfect! God sends you what you need, when you need it. Like a turtle!! I'm sure you feel better getting that out in the open but don't be too hard on yourself. Love you lots!!

September 20, 2009  
Blogger Rocky said...

You have a great sister in law too, Renee.

September 20, 2009  
Blogger Hope said...

The more honest you get, the more readable you are.

I struggled with this image thing the whole time my kids were growing up. Then 3 out of 3 of them lived with their partners and that burst my fake little bubble. One married his partner, one brought up with his partner and one is still living with her partner.

September 20, 2009  
Blogger Hope said...

That should read: one broke up with his partner. Good thing my bubble was already burst. :)

September 20, 2009  
Blogger Mimi said...

I see myself in these same struggles. Lord have Mercy.

But, the last photo is where it's all at, you know?

September 22, 2009  
Blogger Mother Mayhem said...

I love you. B.S. and all. :o)

September 29, 2009  
Blogger Kelli said...

Wow, great post so glad I'm not the only one guilty of these things. I often wonder as I walk through my house if I am the only one with a mess to hide. With schooling that seems more inspired than preplanned. I pray everyday that I am not screwing up my kids and a little afraid of what the future brings. I keep reminding myself that as long as I keep my eyes on God he will help me and walk me through this life. mess and all. Sometimes the raw truth is good to throw out there so the rest of us know we are not alone.

October 03, 2009  
Blogger Kitchen Madonna said...

Thank you Renee for sharing with us. I read these responses and say amen to each and every one.

I hope I get to meet you one day.

Love always,

October 16, 2009  
Blogger Melissa said...

I can relate to this! I also have to much stuff, and marriage is ALOT of work. I haven't sent out Christmas cards in 3 years because we are already the black sheep of the family and I don't want to make it any worse! I stuggle with anxiety and depression too, and I am still waiting on a real-life friend who loves and accepts me the way I am. You know, the kind I don't have to clean my house for.

August 13, 2010  

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