The pressure to have a perfect house, perfect garden and perfect children used to arrive only once a month with the latest home/lifestyle magazine. The beauty of these old-style guilt trips was that they were eminently ignorable and small-scale. Only a few “perfect” families, houses or gardens were on display each month. And when you tossed the magazine, you were done with them.
But not today. With the perpetual availability of millions of perfect Instagram photos, as well as all your bazillion Facebook “friends” highlighting their perfect lives, today’s pressure for excellence is unrelenting.
I wouldn’t have done well had social media been invented when I was raising children. The constant comparison between my reality and apparently everyone else’s would have been brutal. At least I knew better than to take photos around the house. With two small children trailing after me, undoing everything I had just done, I recognized futility when I saw it. Besides, grocery shopping, cooking, school activities, laundry, and, oh yes, my job, took up the first 28 hours of every day. I didn’t have time to waste on staging photos.
Thirty-year-old entries from my journal testify to my stunning lack of perfection.
– Can never quite make up my mind how to handle all the interminable and deadly chores of housekeeping: ignore them and let them go until cleaning/straightening the kitchen/living room/bath is a major undertaking, or just do a little every day and try to keep up with it. The trouble with the latter method is that it feels as if all you do is chores and your mind goes dead and your spirit revolts. The trouble with the slacksadaisical method is that everything is overwhelming when you finally do start. I would love a calm, clean, organized house, and while theoretically possible, realistically I don’t see it happening any time soon. In fact, not until the kids have moved out and I have a cleaning lady.
– Went to the hardware store to buy a sponge mop to replace the one that disintegrated as I tried to wash the floor. Now that I have the mop, my mood has disintegrated and so will probably not tackle the floor for at least another six weeks.
– Mary Poppins would call my house a ghastly mess and she wouldn’t come close to doing it justice. Am always afraid that someone will drop in, see the squalor that we live in and call social services to remove my children from the imminent danger of infection. The state of the bathrooms alone probably mean that we all shall shortly come down with both typhoid and yellow fever.
Even gardening, which I was passionate about, was something I could never quite fit in the way I wanted. Nor were my activities Instagrammable. More journal passages, which begin one summer in early June and end in late August, testify both to my vision of a perfect English cottage garden and the reality of my less than perfect existence:
– Had several yards of loam dumped on the driveway. The original plan was only for enough to improve the new section of garden by the woods. However, in the fear of running short, I seem to have ordered half a large dump truck’s worth. I doubt I will ever run short of dirt again in my whole life. I can only hope I am able to back the car around this new feature in the landscape, as it may prove permanent. I wonder just how long it is going to take me to move what looks like a small mountain, and wonder even more where I will put it all.
– Carted 21 loads of dirt to various gardens and the pile looks as big as ever.
– The dirt pile continues to languish. I have managed a few cartfuls in the past few days, but the pile never seems to diminish much. (Maybe elves replenish it at night?)
– The dirt pile has been sitting so long that it is now growing grass. As I don’t need one more place to weed, I shall have to move a little faster on this project.
– Spent a good part of the day dumping dirt in spots for future gardens. Pile remains impressive.
– My mother announces she means to come over tomorrow and help move the rest of the dirt. I am aghast as the weather is very hot and humid and I am sure the exertion will cause a stroke. She feels, and probably rightly, that the remainder of the dirt is in danger of becoming a permanent feature of driveway, and points out, again rightly, the difficulty it will cause in plowing the driveway during the coming winter. As the temperature is over 90 degrees, I feel winter is in the very distant future and need not be considered at the moment. However, I know for a certainty that I have lost all interest in what happens to the remaining dirt or where it goes and would be only too happy to leave it right where it is. Besides, I’ve gotten quite skilled at backing the car around it, and can do it without even looking. But, as I’m also quite attached to my mother and count on her for child care, I get up and out early, and attack the rest of the dirt pile with quite unprecedented enthusiasm, and I just manage to have the last load emptied when she arrives. At this point, as I am in danger of having stroke myself, I graciously allow her to sweep the remaining traces of dirt off the driveway. Spend the rest of the day drinking iced tea and lying on the sofa and hoping the children are not coming up with any really shocking surprises.
There are two possible ends to this post. Might as well include them both
1. I don’t think young mothers have changed all that much over the years. They always have been and always will be perpetually short on time and energy. It seems so unfair that technology has done the dirty on them by showcasing everyone else’s perfect, peaceful lives. No wonder the whole world is depressed.
2. I find it odd that today’s perfect Instagram posts also have a thing about “authenticity.” Let me tell you, “authentic” is a gardener in old and muddy clothes, red-faced and sweaty, trying to recover in front of a small oscillating fan. It is not an image of a carefree, lovely young thing pouring herbed iced tea in a weed-free garden. That would be marketing.
*Jane Austen in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight.