Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little mental exercise I like to call “what if there’s a nanny cam?” Now, being the queen of my domicile and the only avid Amazon clicker in the house, I can be reasonably confident this is only a mental exercise. However, it has borne some fruit when I play it out in my imagination to the logical conclusion and pretend there are tapes that we’re going to be playing back later tonight, after business hours, assessing my performance.
Did she keep her cool? Did she raise her voice? Did everyone feel seen and heard and cherished? Did someone learn a new curse word today?
Another less fanciful game we play, my inner monologue and I, is “what do the neighbors think?” — less fanciful because we are hemmed in on three sides by other suburban homes with human dwellers, most of whom are quietly retired and whose tranquility has been routinely shattered since August last when our noisy infantry rolled into the subdivision.
This morning I tossed the crushed wrapper of a pack of Marlboro Reds into the recycling bin. Yesterday it was lying in the middle of the street as the late afternoon rain poured down. Today it was lying 10 feet into my front yard, helpfully tossed there by a passing pedestrian who figured we were the hot mess it belonged to.
Fair enough, passing pedestrian. Fair enough.
I play this game at a higher level in the grocery store and the post office and oh my gosh do I play it on those rare and furtive visits to Whole Foods to retrieve 12-pack cases of LaCroix, marked down 60% thanks to their unholy alliance with Amazon. Keeping my eyes fixed on my offspring, we sweep quietly through the exterior of the store to toss magically-priced organic raspberries ($.99 cents a pint!) and sparkling water into the tiny cart already crammed with human cargo; I know that this of all places is where I can still reliably count on the questions and commentary.
Eyes down, children accounted for, clothes neat and applied correctly to body parts. That’s the best I can hope for.
I feel the weight of the entire reputation of my subversive cultural group on my tired, baby-wrenched shoulders during these errands. All the digital ink spilled on electronic page can’t undo a single poor impression made by an actual family in actual public, or so I tell myself.
Do I care less about appearances than I did when we first started our family? Yes, and no.
I have less time to worry about what random strangers think, but more time to worry about the impressions we’re making on our real neighbors, the barista at my local Starbucks, the teller at our bank. When we’re a recurrent fixture in their lives and they see it all, day after day, the solitary impressions adding up to a lifetime of reputation, what must they think?
Does she love them? Does she like being a mom? Gosh, she must have wanted a ton of kids. Are they all getting enough attention? Gosh, those two siblings seem spaced really close together. I wouldn’t want a life like that. Seems chaotic. I wonder if she’ll ever lose that baby weight. She’s really letting herself go…
And on and on it goes, the internal commentary viciously dissecting and passing judgement on my performance as a wife and mother and human being and all without anyone having to utter a single word!
I am my own worst enemy when it comes to embracing and living what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and children and motherhood. I spend too much time in my head critiquing and not enough time on my knees begging for the strength to actually carry on.
I worry about what my thin dual income/two-kids neighbors think of our hot mess and my large thighs, trying to present an attractive enough image to justify this way of life, even presenting it as a viable option that really anyone could do! (insert strained and vaguely insincere smile.)
I let myself believe the lie that this could possibly compete with what the world has to offer.
That living this way, apart from Christ, could have any real merit compared to financial stability and a healthy weight and an annual tropical vacation.
None of this makes sense apart from the Cross. But I never want to show the cross in public – gore is so off-putting.
Why not lead with what’s attractive? A subtle interior voice whispers. You don’t want to make this look too difficult. It wouldn’t be right to show someone you’re struggling. Best they only see the highlight reel. Smile! Or else you could be the reason somebody decides to never have kids one day….
It is so obvious that the voice whispering so urgently in my ear for much of the day isn’t God’s.
But I almost always fail to identify it as satan’s until he has done his dirty work, the sneaky bastard.
I let myself carry on, believing it is my own perfectionism whispering criticism in my ear all day long, not recognizing that the enemy of my soul has an axe to grind and a perfect opportunity to hit me where it hurts.
I long to do the good, and so he holds up an apparent good – impossible standards and all – and dangles it over my head, promising that if only I try hard enough, I can achieve perfection.
It’s pride mingled with a dangerous self reliance, all cloaked in a sticky sweet coating of good intentions and the desire for control.
My entire struggle with NFP can be summed up thusly: she wanted to be in control.
I don’t struggle with the theology of it. I appreciate the science behind it. I acknowledge the inherent dignity in it. And still, I wrestle.
If there is one thing I continue to ram up against, almost a decade into marriage as a practicing Catholic, it is the contradictory belief that I can both move peacefully and unobtrusively through this world and also fully embrace and strive to follow the teachings of Christ.
Silly me, I thought I’d get to choose my cross.
Being open to life is beautiful. But it’s not like, Instagram beautiful. There isn’t a filter strong enough for reality.