Beauty and the Mess

This article originally appeared on Flo’s blog, Tales of a Music Mama.

Recently a dear friend (who is also a fellow mama) rode in my car, but not without my sincerest apologies for the state of the car, which looked something like this:

The coffee cup in the back seat contains a banana peel. I discovered this when taking the photo. It's still in the car.

It's not like I thought she'd be offended, but I still felt compelled to hide the mess as I tossed trash and coffee cups into the back seat. She insisted it was fine and, in fact, said something surprising. She told me it made her feel better. She had so far only seen the inside of my house, which is kept, or appears to be kept, in perfect order. One of my closest friends had never really seen my mess. This got me to thinking . . . about mom blogs.

Every mom I know, including myself, reads mom blogs.

There are even celebrity mom bloggers. They write eloquently, post exquisite photographs, journal their Food Network-worthy dishes, knit, crotchet, sew, and paint — all while teaching their dozens of whimsical children at home.

It is lovely. It really, really is. I don't mean to satirize mom blogs. As an artist, I live to create beauty and to breathe it in, and I am often inspired by these creative mamas. Neither do I condemn the blogging mamas themselves. After all, I am one of them. I'm no celebrity, but I have definitely projected — through my blog and through my posts — a picture of a beautiful life. I am only suggesting that we think twice about the standard we create when we post only the good stuff.

For example, a friend of mine posed a question about one mom blogger in particular, asking, "How do you think she does all that and still has time for homeschooling?" My current season is full — with writing and music and school and a family — and several friends have asked me the same question: "How do you do it all?"

I can promise you this:

She doesn't.
I don't.

That "it all" you're so surprised we can do, is not the "it all" you imagine or that is displayed through a few well-cropped photos and highlights from the week. We look with fascination at the mom who has it all together. She documents the meals she crafts, but not the dirt beneath the oven. She features the serene, but never the chaos.

In turn, other mothers — regular mothers, tired mothers, new mothers, mothers with sick kids or stressful jobs, mothers like me who have a very, very low capacity for stress — are left discontent, disheartened, wondering what mistake we must have made that keeps our cups from overflowing with these lovely moments. What my cup overflows with is coffee . . . that I've stuck in the microwave 3,786,493 times because I keep forgetting that it's in there.

But none of that is the fault of mom blogs. Like I said, this is not a campaign against mom blogs, and it’s especially not a campaign against presenting lovely and beautiful things to the world. I'm a fan of loveliness: creativity, wooden toys, eyelet dresses, picnics in the sun, handmade goodness. It's valuable to open our eyes to beauty.

But it's also valuable to open our eyes to the mess — to acknowledge the mess, embrace the mess, and even blog the mess. Messy Mondays anyone? I will go first:

Here are 10 examples of blog life vs. real life. Of course, the "mess" here isn't even close to the messiness that exists in my life, but it’s what has been caught on camera. May both the beauty and the mess inspire you.

#1 — My Beautiful Home

Pristine, no? Well, this was taken when no kids were home.

Would you like to see my front porch?


In case you were wondering, that is a rug from inside, a rained-on sock, and some pumpkins from October. I have no idea how long the rug or the sock have been there, but I'm sure my neighbors do. Obviously the pumpkins are from, well, October . . . and they are moldy.

#2 — Homeschooling

This is a picture from that one year I homeschooled.


This is a picture of the girls at their public school. After homeschool burnout.

#3 — Wooden Toys

Wooden abacus, wooden puzzle. The toys I long for my children to play with.


Plastic VW Bug from Goodwill and a Barbie from Walmart. The toys my kids actually play with.

#4 — Food 

One morning, I made a fritatta and posted a picture of it.


Every Saturday Sometimes, when I sleep until 9:30 in a little, the girls come into my room and ask for breakfast. Drool still fresh on the pillow and without opening my eyes, I manage to mumble, "Go ahead and get a snack out of the fridge . . . like a piece of bread." And they do.

Sometimes they add jelly. Not jelly I made myself. Not even organic. Straight up grape jelly.

#5 — Costumes 

One year for Halloween, I stayed up until 2:00 am crafting this very sweet blog-inspired owl costume . . . that my daughter wore one time.


The next year, I bought a cheaply made, yet overpriced and slightly scandalous Wonder Woman outfit, and my daughter wore it 6 days in a row

#6 — Enriching Activities 

One day I made paint. It was cute, and my kids had so much fun!


On another day, I stared at Facebook for hours . . . as evidenced by this picture, which I found recently. Apparently, my bored-out-of-her-mind child was playing with my camera, and I hadn’t even realized it. This happens more than finger-painting with cornstarch.

#7 — Homemade Clothing 

One Easter, I made this dress out of old sheets. How very mom blogger of me! I probably hand-make all of my children's clothes!


I didn't make this shirt. Or the bed, obviously. 

#8 — Family Photo 

This was one of our Christmas photos. I'm such a serene mother goddess in my flowing skirt and side bun.


This was me on Christmas. And most of the time, really. I’m not going to say anything else about having posted this, other than yes, I realize it was a bold move.

#9 — Happy Children 

Look at my kids during this forced impromptu moment! They are like this all of the time!


No, this is what they're like most of the time.

I could go on, with pictures for every situation.


For example, we have a refrigerator full of healthy/organic/allergen-free food that is also very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that we have to cut costs elsewhere . . . and replace our broken refrigerator door pieces with duct tape.

#10 — The Garden

The vegetable garden. It is peaceful and lovely, satisfying and nourishing, blooming and plentiful. It is a summer garden.

Other times, it looks like this:


Not so beautiful. It looks like this most of the year.


And this is the lesson. Most of our lives are not finger paint and fritatta. Most of the time, our lives are rained-on socks and old banana peels, tears and defeat, life held together with the duct tape of glory, and beauty sprinkled here and there. So I am thankful for beauty. But I am also thankful for the mess. For the moments not captured in a blog.

I'm thankful for the time my daughter told me she wished I wasn't her mom, because despite the hurt, I was able to hold her and let her cry it out and model unconditional love and forgiveness.

And I’m thankful for the time I said something equally ridiculous ("You better clean your room with a cheerful spirit!") and could model humility and repentance when my 5-year-old heard "I'm sorry" straight from her mother's lips.

I'm thankful for this mess. For the "winter garden" when the ground seems hard and cold, but important things are happening just beneath the surface. And for the "summer garden" when we bloom and laugh and when our cup overflows.


At the end of the day, by the grace of God, there is love despite the beauty or the mess. And for this I am grateful.


Oh, and for this too.

All photos by Flo Paris Oakes.

Flo Paris Oakes is a singer/songwriter, novice gardener, and backyard chicken farmer. A California native, she now lives in East Nashville, TN, with her husband and two daughters.

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