I thought family life would be different.
I thought it would be like the Facebook photos, all smiles and poses and filters.
I thought it would be like the movies, satisfying story arcs and happily ever afters.
I thought it would be like my memories, golden-syrup coated, sweet and yellow.
I thought it would be family dinners round the dining table, and hilarious board games, and tickle fights, and long weekend walks in the country, and camping, and sunshine, and hide and seek, and baking, and sprinklers in the garden, and chatting, and laughter, and perfect.
I thought it would be…
I thought there would be more summer.
I thought I would be better at it.
Instead, there is shouting, and rain, and she said and she hit me and she hit me first, and crying, and attitude, and slamming, and stomping, and constant injuries and arguments and forms and logistics, and not being able to please anyone, and I’m cold and I want to get out, and I don’t want to play, and she’s not coming to my party, and I hate you you’re the worst mummy EVER.
My worst moments are still when everyone is crying at once and I can’t help them and there are no good choices and no options and there is no one to help and I’m not enough and they KNOW.
It is overwhelming, and ordinary, and monotonous, and thankless, and hard in so many new, unusual and depressingly usual ways.
I didn’t know.
I didn’t know tiredness like this existed. Or boredom.
I didn’t know conflict, internal or external.
I didn’t know I had this capacity for anger.
I didn’t know the weight of doubt and indecision and responsibility.
I didn’t know fear.
I didn’t know loneliness.
I didn’t know frustration.
I didn’t know love could have all these debilitating side effects. I didn’t know myself, or what I was capable of…
But that cuts both ways.
I didn’t know, either, that my heart could fly.
I didn’t know my whole body could live love, that it would leak from from my breasts as milk, tingle in my palms as touch-in-waiting, pour from my eyes, change how I hear – the tiniest noise through the loudest exhaustion – change my borders, how I occupy space and my place in the world – and how I see it.
I didn’t know peace.
I didn’t know how to breathe, because I didn’t know what it was like to stop breathing.
I didn’t know that dancing in the living room and being a horsey, or doing all the voices for the toys could be so BRILLIANT.
I didn’t know that through the tiresome, monotonous bits, the screaming and bickering bits, the ugly and emptying bits, there would be bubbles of indescribable reprieve, bursting in unprecedented pops of joy.
I didn’t know happiness, like this, existed.
There IS beauty, in ordinary. In everyday. In reality. However messy or ugly it can be.
You just have to look for it. To wait for it. To notice.
You have to celebrate the moments when they arrive, and make space for them when you can – even when they’re not part of your schedule or routine. Even when you’re on a deadline to get out of the house. Even when they don’t look like you thought they would.
The road to my own personal hell isn’t paved with good intentions – it’s paved with expectations. Grey slabs with hard edges.
But I am trying not to walk that path.
I’m trying to let myself wander off onto the grass…
Letting go of my expectations is good practice. Because so much of this is parenting lark is about letting go. You are not the parent you thought. They are not the child you thought. Life is not the story you told in your head. You are worse and better and they are worse and better and life is worse and better. You have to let go of your expectations just like you have to let go of them, bit by bit, day by day, as you realise they are not yours and you can’t control any of it anyway.
Real life is untidy, and gross, and loud, and imperfect, and relentless, and it doesn’t care about aesthetics, or scripts, or plans, or YOU.
It can also be wonderful. But seldom for the cameras.
Facebook, you see, isn’t real.
The movies aren’t real.
What IS real, though, are those memories I have of my childhood – my story of real, anyway.
And I suppose that’s what I have to cling to. I have to think that when my kids look back they will see what I see from my own past.
I have to hope that they forget when I shouted or cried, that they forget it wasn’t all pretty and perfect. That their story ends up golden, too.
If that’s what I’ve taken into adulthood, maybe that’s what they’ll take – the moments. The unexpected, surprising, popping bubbles of syrup.
And maybe it’s those that, in the end, stick harder and longer than all of the rest of it.
It may not be at all what I thought it would be. But I hope it will be what they remember.