It’s 11:00 AM, and I hear the doorbell ring. In a moment of sheer terror, I try to decide if the person ringing the bell has already seen me through the window, or if I could possibly get away with not answering, pretending like I’m not at home. A lump in my throat arises as I see my friend, Alex, waving at me through the window.
“This is a nightmare. She knows I’m here,” I think to myself.
I approach the front door, still in my pajamas, thinking, “will she believe that I’ve actually been busy since the moment a crying baby woke me up this morning? Just because I’m still in my fuzzy pink PJ pants doesn’t mean that I’ve been online shopping or checking Facebook.”
As I approach the door, I catch a glimpse of my unkempt hair in the hall mirror. I slept on my hair while it was wet because I didn’t get a chance to take a shower until 10:00 PM last night, and Lord knows I didn’t have time to dry it before my twins were hungry, and then I collapsed into bed. So my hair is now about the size of San Francisco, and just as wild.
My four-year-old and two-year-old boys are sitting on the couch, glued to cartoons on TV. Cooper only has a shirt and diaper on (in the 40 degree weather) and Hudson’s hair-do looks like a cross between Elvis and a Dr. Suess character. My twins are lying on the sullied carpet floor, right next to several dirty diapers that I failed to throw away after their last diaper change, because I had to stop everything to reassemble the fichus tree that Cooper knocked over and managed to de-leaf.
“Hi, Alex,” I say with a fake smile as I open the door and greet her.
Entering my house, she steps over the three baskets of dirty laundry that I left there two hours ago. I got distracted on my way to the washing machine by a crying baby who needed to be diapered, and then my 4-year-old who had an accident on his way to the bathroom. She walks to the kitchen, where cheerios have been dumped on the floor. I was trying to sweep those up as I heard the doorbell ring. I see her eyes glance at a Tupperware container with soiled pants and underwear soaking in it (after Hudson’s early morning accident) and then at last night’s dirty dishes, which are still in the sink.
She was in the neighborhood and just wanted to say hello, she says.
Thanks a lot, Alex. So glad you did. (Next time, call first, why don’t ya?)
After the most awkward, briefest, most embarrassing visit known to man, I shuttered as I closed the door behind her. She just saw me at my absolute worst, I thought. Then, for the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling of mortification. I was exposed. She saw the truth about the way that mornings often go in my house these days. I didn’t have time to make myself look good before she showed up. She saw the real-deal; the down-and-dirty me.
I flashed back to the 4-years-ago me. The pre-kid me. The girl with a cute, clean house with nice, non-stained furniture. The 15-pound-lighter version of me without post-baby tummy-flab, who could afford cute clothes because she wasn’t paying $6 a day to diaper twins. The girl who seemed somewhat successful; who had a good job, a master’s degree, a clean car, and a social life.
This morning, that girl and the frizzy-haired girl I saw in the mirror seemed to be two completely different people.
It used to be so much easier to look good when I didn’t have kids. But, once I become a mom, I was just bumbling and fumbling my way through motherhood, learning as I went, making mistakes, losing it sometimes with my kids, getting behind on laundry, running through the drive-through because I didn’t have time to make a healthy dinner, and I felt fruitless and flawed. It doesn’t matter that I was once successful in many ways. So, I spent a lot of energy trying to look good in other’s eyes, so that, deep down, I would feel successful.
Even when I only had two kids, I could still manage to fake like I was actually on top of things. But last spring, I got pregnant with twins, was very ill, and was put on bed rest at 21 weeks. Suddenly, I was unable to do the things that made me feel more successful. Bending down to pick up toys, sweeping, vacuuming, cooking, or cleaning could actually prove fatal to the babies I was carrying in utero. And, to make matters worse, sweet friends and family came to my house every day to help with my kids (I couldn’t have done it without you all!), so many people were daily seeing me at my worst. I struggled with feeling embarrassed, exposed, like people must think less of me because my house wasn’t in order and my kids looked slightly homeless…but there was literally nothing I could do about it!
It was during this several-month period that I learned something. First, none of us were meant to carry the burden of being perfect. Perfectionism is a trap. It’s like the time I dreamt that I desperately wanted to walk across town to a friend’s house, but after I’d walked for miles and miles and hours and hours, I realized that I was walking on a treadmill, and was no where closer to my desired destination than I was when I started. It’s one of the most beautiful privileges in life to learn and grow, to sharpen our character by learning from our mistakes. It’s a beautiful thing to learn to be content with who we are—not continually striving to reach some pinnacle of perfection—not continually trying to look good in front of others. Perfectionism takes me away from my kids and makes me “me-focused”—worried about what others think about ME, wanting to be the perfect ME. ME, ME, ME! I will never be a successful mother when I only think about me.
And most importantly, I learned the power of vulnerability. While I am still working on totally understanding this, there’s something so liberating when you expose your inner-self to others—because then there’s nothing to hide! When my friends would come over, and dishes were in the sink, laundry was strewn throughout the house, etc., I would think to myself, “well, here I am. This is the real me. I am a work in progress. Love me or leave me.” When I adopted that attitude, I found that life was much easier to live! I didn’t need to rush around every time I knew a friend was coming over, trying to look good in front of her. Oh, what a joy it is to drop the perfectionistic persona I’d tried so hard to be –and just be me! Flawed, but growing, little me.
Recently, a friend came clean about a particularly ugly aspect of her past. She was impressively open and vulnerable about it, and when she was finished, I was aware of one fact—she, though imperfect, was the most beautiful person in the room. She had exposed her ugliest self to me, and all I could see was beauty. I was so proud of the person she had become, and the picturesque life she’s managed to form out of malice.
As social-worker and Ph.D., Brene’ Brown, says “what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”
I want to live out loud, warts and all, and not fear what others might think about me, or what might happen if they find out that I am….shocker…not perfect after all! I don’t want to waste time trying to look good when I could be spending time with my kids or doing something of eternal significance. Now, that is a beautiful life.
So, thanks, Alex, for this reminder that I am more beautiful today—with my dirty laundry hanging out for all to see (literally)—than I would’ve been had I cleaned everything up and tried to be picture-perfect.
Being vulnerable makes you beautiful. And you can’t have “beautiful” without the words “be you.”