I once had someone tell me: “You live such a charmed life.”
I don’t remember the context of the conversation or why she rolled her eyes when she said it, but the comment has stuck with me for years. I’ve been indignant (As if! I work my tail off, thank you very much.), dismissive (She has no idea what she’s talking about.), hurt (Stop minimizing me!), and finally, blessedly, filled with understanding. I get it. I really do.
You see, I do live a charmed life. I have a handsome, incredibly talented husband, five gorgeous, fascinating children, a lovely home, a job I adore, a measure of professional success… On top of that I’m healthy and happy, optimistic and outgoing. I love people, I love to laugh, I love life. Charmed indeed.
But I think the thing about her comment that irritated me was the fact that she was responding to a very two-dimensional version of me. The “Me I Want to Be.” The “Me I Show the World.” When she called my life charmed, I had gone through three miscarriages and was a physical, emotional, and spiritual wreck. My family was in the process of adopting (a wonderful, life-changing experience that made me the mom of the most precious Ethiopian prince in the world), but I was still healing from my wounds–and further exhausted by the stress of my “paper pregnancy.” I was also living with an abuser, someone who was supposed to love me but was vicious and cruel. My attacker? Myself. I expected nothing short of perfection in every area of my life, and if I failed in the tiniest of ways I would beat myself up verbally and emotionally. The things I thought about and said to myself still make me blush. I would never be so harsh with anyone else–in fact, I’d stand up to the bully if I overheard such savagery. But my own hurting heart was fair game. And in addition to the pain of loss and my own punishing perfectionism, I was struggling with friendships and insecurity, balance and work woes.
My life didn’t feel so charming.
But from the outside looking in? I had it all together. And I worked hard to sell my version of happily-ever-after down to the smallest detail: lipstick, hair done, Pinterest-worthy outfit. Check.
It wasn’t me. It never has been.
I’m learning to let go of the fairytale lie–something I’ve always been able to do in my writing, but struggle to do in my real life. We’re messy, friends. Messy and messed up and imperfect. Life is hard and living it will kill you, guaranteed. We don’t do ourselves, or anyone else, any favors by pretending otherwise.
What happens when we stop faking it? When we give up the fantasy of a charmed life? The beauty in our everyday shines through. Don’t believe me? A few summers ago my family spent a week and a half in Colorado. For five days we used Breckenridge as our basecamp, going on hikes and day trips and then returning every evening. Breckenridge is gorgeous. Well kept and lovely with overflowing flowerpots and hanging baskets so lush they nearly touched the ground in places. Undeniably breathtaking. But I was only ever moved to take a picture of one flower…
One afternoon we hiked up to a waterfall in Arapahoe National Forest. My husband was dealing with a bit of altitude sickness, my baby had an ear infection (unbeknownst to us) and it was raining lightly. The kids were starting to whine, but I really wanted to see the falls… So hubby and babe made a little camp beside the trail and I journeyed on with the three big kids. It was a rough climb. We fell and skinned knees. We got wet. They complained. Finally, after over an hour, we came around a corner and the vista spread out before us. Summit and falls, towering cliffs and the sound of rushing water so deafening we didn’t talk. We were all pretty proud of ourselves and hammed it up for a bunch of pictures. Then we found a place to sit and be quiet, to enjoy the view. And there, right next to my foot, was a little cluster of flowers growing out of the rock. Beauty in a place so harsh and unforgiving it was a wonder to behold. Real life beauty, honest about where it came from and tenacious about where it chose to grow. Wild instead of tended. Broken and beautiful at once.
I still know I lead a charmed life. And I love it. But I’m more honest now about who I am and how I feel. About the ways that I’m broken and hurting and lost. I think people are hungry for truth, for the opportunity to admit failure and fear and hurt. As we write and create and live, I hope we strive for authenticity. Because I think concrete daisies are more beautiful than a hundred greenhouse roses.
I hope this #MuseMonday you can let the mask slip just a little. The world is longing for a glimpse of the real you.
Nicole Baart is the mother of five children from four different countries. The cofounder of a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, she lives in a small town in Iowa. She is the author of seven novels, including, most recently, Little Broken Things.