It seems like that really ought to be a given, but the lovingly curated play rooms of Pinterest, with their mint chevron accents, and the merry, candid family photographs complete with color-coordinated sibling ensembles insist otherwise. Just Google “nursery” and prepare to experience the parenting fail. You know the sorts of images I mean. While they can be really quite fun to deconstruct, they also dominate the cultural picture of contemporary childhood. With these pristine images in mind, it can be hard to reconcile oneself to the cat hair stuck to the baby’s watermelon dribbled chin, her romper dingy from scooting around on a floor you can’t remember mopping this month.
I try to be realistic about my mothering, but I’m also seriously enamored of the lovely, playful, ever-elusive aesthetic that seems like it should be attainable – admittedly with an unlimited budget and very few children around to muck it up. It’s just pretty. I arrange wooden toys for my girls to knock down. My husband and I built an a-frame tent that regularly collapses from too much rough play. Miss E could find a way to messily consume a bowl of dry cereal, let alone the ears to toes festival that is spaghetti and meatballs. I’m lucky if I brush her long hair in the morning, let alone sweep it artfully up with a bow that matches her dress… and her sister’s, too.
I have to learn not only to give in to the mess, but the kitsch, the chaos, the ugly stuff of childhood. Miss E dresses herself and is every bit the ragamuffin I was as a girl; a thin layer of grime persists on her hands, face, and clothes no matter how frequently I wipe her down. Some days she prefers a BPA-laden plastic trinket from the dollar store to her Waldorf-aspiring doll collection. Little Sister pukes her way through three outfits a day and is still inexplicably damp when we’re about to show ourselves in public. No amount of vacuuming – let alone what I’m willing to do – can keep their bedroom rugs from boasting glitter, lint, and icky tangles of shed hair.
I’m challenging myself to love these images of childhood, too, because they’re not an ideal. They’re real. They bear the indelible marks of play, of zeal, of little lives lived fully.
Besides, I’ll take a (chocolate) mint chevron smeared on a chubby, flushed cheek any day.