Friday, February 12, 2010

What Appearances Hide

It's so easy, sometimes, to make assumptions about other people based solely on what we see. Often, there is much more going on beneath the "public eye," things which might completely alter our perceptions if we knew the whole story.

For example, LilBro brought 30 homemade valentines to share with his preschool class on Friday morning. Wow. Impressive, right? Of course, I am a stay-at-home mom, so I have time to make 30 homemade valentines, instead of just picking up a box at the store.

Here's what really happened: 7:10 am the day of the preschool Valentine's party, I open LilBro's school bag to fix a snack and see the note from the teacher, requesting Valentines. Guilt fills every cell in my body. Where can I get 30 valentines in the next 20 minutes? I walk into the school room, open a package of construction paper and dig out 5 sheets of red paper. I grab a handful of stickers and some markers, head into the kitchen to find the heart-shaped cookie cutters, and quickly trace 6 hearts on the top sheet in the stack. I cut out the hearts and sit down at the dining room table. I start writing "Happy Valentine's Day! Love, LilBro" on each one and then I hand them to LilBro (who is eating cereal), and tell him to put stickers on the cards between spoonfuls.

Not quite as impressive when you know the backstory, huh?

Lately, I feel like there have been more than a few times when my public self has appeared much more organized, creative, and applause-worthy than I really have been. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. How many other moms have been in the middle of yelling at their kids when the phone rings? Deep breath and pleasant voice mask the anger of the moment.

The real problem comes when we judge ourselves (and others) by these public personas. If I hear that Jen sent homemade valentines in to the preschool class, and then assume that I am not as good a mother as Jen, I am doing us all a huge disservice.

Last week, I created a board game to guide the 4th grade Girl Scouts in earning a Footsteps of American Saints patch. The game turned out well, and the girls had a great time playing it. I was pleased. The girls earned a patch, had fun, and learned something all at the same time.

But, there was another mom at the meeting. She spent a lot of time comparing herself to me. "You made this?" "I could never do that." "Wow. Where did you ever get the time to do this?"

And therein lies the problem.

When we start comparing ourselves to other moms, we are going to lose (at least some of the time).

I like doing stuff like this. It's a big part of why I love homeschooling. I love any opportunity I can find to put a creative spin on something. And I had a month to plan.

What she doesn't see, what isn't apparent in this neat board game are my messy floors. She doesn't see the pile of laundry yet to be folded. She didn't hear me snap at my children three times that morning, as I pulled together the final bits and pieces. She doesn't realize that we are eating leftovers that night, because there was no time for me to cook dinner and run this Girl Scout meeting.

We all do this in one way or another. We all have our public personas, in which we put a reasonable effort into appearing our best. My public persona is very reliable, pulled-together, social, and positive. I try hard to maintain an image of a calm, creative, organized mom.

But behind every homemade Valentine and every neat Scout activity is a woman who is just as fault-ridden, just as prone to selfish and self-serving behaviors, and just as forgetful and human as the rest of us.

Perhaps if we all remembered that the public persona was just that... a persona, we might learn to judge ourselves (and others) less harshly.

At least in public.

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