My oldest turned 6 last week. I like to think I've got birthdays figured out by now. We did one BIG party when this guy turned 3 and admittedly it was a lot of fun. I like throwing parties and making the details special. But since then I've realized that those types of parties are mostly for me. For my kids, when they say they want an "Elsa" party, they mean they want to see Elsa on their cake and there should be snowflakes somewhere. So birthdays around here are decidedly simple.
Our whole family came over and we ate hamburgers and opened gifts, we sang Happy Birthday and ate cake. There were no goodie bags and no special decorations beyond a few balloons and a homemade banner we re-use for every birthday, every year.
My brother-in-law captured a shot of the kiddo's requested Wolverine cake. And I posted it on Instagram because I wanted you to know E had a birthday and it's pretty and people like to look at things that make them feel happy. But I need you to know the story behind the picture. Because life is beautiful, but people are broken. And Instagram is not real.
Last Friday morning I found myself in the kitchen with the kids, baking a simple yellow cake from a box and whipping up the store-bought chocolate frosting to smear on top of it. The birthday boy had requested an X-Men party, so my grand plan was to cut some claws out of cardboard and wrap them in aluminum foil. #thankspinterest Put those in the cake and add a Wolverine figurine on top and voila! X-Men party done.
Just as I dipped my spatula in to start frosting the cake, I heard the baby start to stir from his nap.
No big deal, I thought, this is two-minute process, I'll get this done quickly and then go get him.
As I plopped the first blob of icing down on the bottom cake layer my middle munchkins decided they needed a closer view of the action and pulled stools up on both sides of me.
I hate it when they crowd me like this.
Me: Guys, scooch over and give me a little space please.
Spread spread spread. Mmmmm this smells good.
Elijah: But I can't see now! And it's MY cake.
Why is there ALWAYS an argument? And Jude is really fussing now, I need to get going on this.
Me: (calmly...I'm oh so calm) Ben, make room for Elijah please.
Oh shoot! I forgot to level these cake layers first. How is Wolverine going to stand on top of a domed cake? OK, I'll scrape off the icing, level them off and start over.
Ben: No! I was here first.
Ugh. I can't scrape the icing off without getting it full of crumbs. I'm going to have to keep it like this.
Eli: But you said I could help Mom...
This cake looks ridiculous. How many times have you made a layer cake before Katie?
Eli: Britain move over, I'm coming up.
Jude is screaming. I should probably stop this now and go get him.
All the children: jockeying for position
This is the ugliest cake I have ever made! I'm going to have to fill in that gap with something...more frosting? Just go buy a cake at the store!? Of course I'm sweating now.
Britain "falls" dramatically to the floor.
Me: (angrily) Y'all are driving me nuts! All of you get down and go sit at the table!
All of the children in unison: wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Flailing on the floor.
Me: (legitimately bellowing) ALL OF YOU! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! EVERYONE! GET. OUT. OF THE KITCHEN!
Inside myself a part of me saw the screaming mother and told her to chill out and take deep breaths. Another part of me cheered her on as she ranted and raved at those ridiculous interruptions otherwise known as children.
I suppose that was the larger part of me because I raged until they were in tears.
I responded to my children's childish behavior with a temper tantrum that vastly eclipsed theirs and left them in tears. Not tears that were the product of an infantile outburst, but legitimate tears shed because their mom was screaming at them.
I thought I had birthdays all figured out. I thought I kept things low-key in order to not stress myself out. And I still freaked out at my kids in the process of making that pretty little mess of a birthday cake. I owned my childishness. I apologized to each of them. But there's no picture documenting the moment when Mom went lost her ever-loving mind over the cake. There is a pretty little picture of a cake and a cute birthday boy for all the world to see.
I wanted to remind you (and myself) today that Instagram is not real. The people you know and those you watch from afar who look pulled together and who post gorgeous pictures day after day - they are just like you and me. Heck, they ARE you and me. Normal people with insecurities and ugly moments. And (understandably) no one wants to look at a feed full of ugly moments.
It's a good reminder to me that I need to have real relationships in this world, not just cyber images of relationships. I need to hear from other mothers that what happened in the kitchen that day was normal. Not good certainly, but normal. And talking about it actually decreases the odds that it will be a pattern that continues in my life.
Are you surrounding yourself with real relationships that encourage you and hold you accountable or are you buying into the idea that everyone's life (except yours) is perfect? What can you bring into the light today in your life?