To Believe in Love. Or Not.

ImageOn a recent snow day my girls and I had settled in to watch Yours, Mine and Ours–a favorite movie from a few years back.  The storyline gets laid out pretty quickly: Widow meets widower, they fall in love, get married, and proceed to merge 18 kids into one very messy blended family. And as the new family bickered and snickered and generally acted ugly toward each other, Emery (age 11), looked at me with mock horror. “Don’t ever do that to us! I don’t want to share a room and do all that!” She was kidding, but not really. And so I laughed and reassured her. “Don’t worry Em. I won’t.” And then, before I could back the truck up, this is what flew out of my mouth:

“I don’t think I ever want to get married again, anyway.” And in witty Emery fashion, she gave me a knowing look and asked, “Too much disappointment?”

I nearly spit out my drink. She knew she was being snarky with her little assessment of my unfortunate marital history (widowed and divorced)– and so I laughed and smiled back.

“Yes. Yes that’s exactly it.”

And that was that. We ate our popcorn and scoffed and marveled at the comical antics of this crazy blended family. (IF ONLY, people! If ONLY blended families were THAT much FUN.)

But that little dialogue stuck with me. Partly because of Emery’s very insightful question that seemed well above her age and maturity level.  But MAINLY because of my quick answer and the very clear message I was sending my daughters in that moment:I don’t believe in lasting love. I don’t believe in marriage. I don’t believe in happily ever after. And I certainly don’t want to take THAT risk again. Big. Heavy. Sigh. Oops. (But let’s be honest- married 3 times?? No offense…but no thanks. And I’m not quite sure my mother could survive another marriage with me anyhow. Thanks, Mom. I owe you. Like, in such a big, big way.)

And yet here’s the tricky part. I do believe in those things. Well…I sort of do. Well, I sort of do for other people but just not for me. (Clearly, I’m still working this out) In just about every other area of my life, I am the eternal optimist. I am a glass half-full kinda girl. I believe in silver linings. I look for the bright side. I believe in the sweetness of life and that it somehow eases the bitter. When life throws me a plot twist I’m usually pretty quick to find the positive. I believe that things have a way of working out. Blah, blah, blah. But love…ughhh. Love is a whole different beast.  Love has been…hard.

So. I need to do better.

Because it’s not okay with me if my girls think this way.

It’s not okay if I’ve somehow made them afraid of love or relationships or marriage.

It’s not okay if I’ve unintentionally sent the message that love will disappoint you. It will not win. It will not work out. It’s not okay to steal their girlhood dreams of Happily Ever After and Prince Charming and the Knight on the White Horse. I don’t want to tell them to be realistic. I don’t want to tell them there’s no such thing as true and lasting love. And I don’t want them believing it’s not possible for them. And in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to believe it’s not possible for me, either. So. Yeah. There’s that.

‘I asked her if she believed in love, and she smiled and said it was her most elaborate form of self-harm.’ ~Benedict Smith

Real Life. It’s Messy.

I like my house the way I like my life. Neat. Tidy. Picked up. No loose ends. All my ducks in a row. I can even tolerate a little dirt here and there as long as it LOOKS and feels like it’s all put together. When things start to pile up and kids start leaving stuff around and everything feels a little too helter skelter, I can feel my skin start to crawl. I have even been guilty of being a bit of a kill joy if I come home to a messy house. The atmosphere suddenly shifts because I want order. No matter what else is going on or supposed to be happening, I suddenly have one main focus: clean up the house. Regroup.

But lately, I’ve tried to be better about all this because here’s the truth: Real life is messy. Real, true, passionately lived life is a mess. It’s not neat. It’s not tidy. And it will probably never look like the magazines that showcase my home front dreams. (Which, by the way, where’s their stuff? When you look at those pictures, you know, where’s their STUFF??) I want to learn to be okay with all this because I’ve come to realize that that’s when my family and I are truly living. Muddy jeans and wet socks for the umpteenth time last week meant that kids were playing in the creek trying to catch fish and frogs instead of playing video games or watching T.V. The Barbie mecca, complete with in ground pool, that was constructed in the living room and left for several days was like a field of dreams for a little girl. Size 13 sneakers by the door, empty milk cartons and cereal boxes left on the counter, the T.V. stuck on Sports Center means our son is home from college. Last weekend, stuff was everywhere. Dirty dog prints on the hard wood floor. Dishes. Papers. Clothes. We were too busy to bother though–we were out and about DOING and LIVING. Would I really want it any other way? Just so it all looks and feels perfect? I want people to matter first. The house to matter second well, wherever it lands on the list.

But I’m not just talking about the house, really. I’m talking about life and relationships. Like most people, I’ve always wanted those to be neat and tidy too. But that’s just not realistic. Real life is messy. As people, we are constantly trying to battle for our identity; to be true to ourselves while trying to be true to the people we love. Sometimes we get it right, but lots of times we don’t. We hurt each other. Kids growing into their own have jagged and uneven edges. A marriage that is committed to last  no matter what, no matter how, is not always pretty. Raising a family will definitely stain your carpet with blood, sweat and tears and Lord knows what else. That’s another blog: the beauty of leather furniture–it’s washable.

While having this epiphany recently (I’m sure I was drinking a perfect cup of coffee from my Keurig–see! I think it even helps me think better!) my mental train of thought ended up comparing it all to child-birth.  Because really, childbirth is the literal analogy of bringing forth life. Talk about a mess. Holy Smokes. Talk about “stuff” being everywhere. (Sorry, guys, for that mental image– if you need a little brain bleach, the Mets are 22 and 25 right now.) Talk about the pain of battling it out–during the birth of my last child, as I neared the end of labor,  tears leaked from the corner of my eyes and I whispered to my husband, “I’m not gonna make it.”

But you know what? I did. And that’s life for you. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s rarely perfect even when it looks like it is. But it’s washable. And fixable. And even when we think we’re not gonna make it, that we might not survive the mess, we do. And just like that baby, we wouldn’t give it back for the world.