It's silly but true...one of my life's passions is our state fair. The fairgrounds closed not even two months ago and already, I'm itching for August. I can't get enough of the sticky, greasy, sugary, spicy, frosty, salty foods. I love the rickety, loosely bolted rides. I savor the wide variety of smells - from fresh hay in the cattle barns to corn dogs and ketchup on the midway. But most of all, I love that feeling of togetherness...the fact that our whole state seems to come together for ten days just to celebrate the end of summer and have fun. The people-watching from afar is great, but in recent years, I have loved striking up conversations with strangers at the fair. Whether I'm asking what they think of the walleye taco they're sampling or inquiring as to where they're from, when I'm at the fair, everybody's a friend.
So this past August, on my fourth and final fair day, I was sitting on a dusty curb and feeding Gus a bottle when another couple rolled their stroller up next to me and sat down. The dad took a fresh mini donut out of the white paper bag and tossed it from palm to palm while blowing on it. Then he passed it to his wife who seemed excited to give their one-year-old son his first taste of this state fair delicacy. The little boy devoured it...obviously. The parents smiled to each other and just as I was opening my mouth to comment about how much he was loving it, the mom said, "I wish I was wearing a t-shirt that said - we usually feed him kale."
I closed my mouth.
I had thought she'd be relatable. You know, we were both feeding babies. We were both wearing Keens. But her comment was such a turn-off for me. It came off as so snobby and I had zero interest in playing the mom olympics with her. My kids don't eat kale. I don't even eat kale. Kale is a hassle. So I turned back to Gus and the bottle, feeling very proud of having liberated myself from such heavy societal pressures.
And then a gentle voice from heaven reminded me what I'd been thinking not even five minutes earlier...
I wish people knew that I usually nurse him and that this is a bottle of breast milk.
Boom. Just like that, Mrs. Kale and I were one and the same. I had been wishing an imaginary t-shirt on myself the same way she had, a declaration to the world that "I'm a better mother than I seem to be at this particular moment in time because I...fill in the blank." She and I were both making the same assumptions...that feeding our kids certain things a certain way is what makes us good or not-so-good moms. And that the world cares. Both are false.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've worn many, many imaginary t-shirts since becoming a mom.
There's the "I have a masters degree!" t-shirt that I've worn in my mind when interacting with smart, professional women who are getting solid sleep at night and don't struggle to come up with basic words like "tooth" or "television" in conversation.
When Harriet had an absolute meltdown at Target and I had to literally carry her out of the store upside-down, I wished I was wearing a t-shirt that said, "This is the first time she's ever done this...no, seriously, it is."
And then there are the really yucky t-shirts...the ones I wish on my kids. Dumb things, like when I am out with one of the boys, I feel compelled to tell people who comment about him or interact with us that he's a twin. It's like I'm wishing he had a t-shirt that says "I'm a twin" on the front and "I have a two-year-old sister" on the back. Heck, might as well throw in a little baseball cap that says "My mom sure is impressive, huh?"
I wish that last paragraph was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Please like me anyway." Or, "I know this is messed up, but I'm working on it."
When I take my daughter to a playdate or ECFE, I find myself wishing that she was wearing a t-shirt that says, "My parents are doing their darndest to teach me to share." Or, "I'm 98% potty trained." It's like I want to throw a precursor out there in case anything goes wrong...in case kid stuff happens. What's with that? Like I expect people to expect her to be perfect? Plus, let's be real. We're all only about 98% potty trained, right?
Some imaginary t-shirts are less self-involved and more about just trying to survive.
After we lost Ethan, I imagined myself into a t-shirt that said, "I'm a mama."
When I was pregnant with Harriet, I wished I had a maternity shirt with "No, this isn't my first" on it.
And even after Harriet was born, I had an imaginary t-shirt for her that said "I'm an IVF baby" to give other infertile families hope.
I know that lots of you are wearing imaginary t-shirts right now. Some of them say "this isn't a baby bump, it's fertility drugs" or "please stop asking me when we're going to have kids." Others say "I could really use a friend" or "Sometimes I feel like my worst case scenario is starting to play out." Some pretend t-shirts say "I'm not dumb/mean/bitter, I'm just so tired." Those aren't the ones I'm talking about today. Those are really legit. Keep wearing them if you need to, and I really hope that if I see you around, I'll really see you and the words on your imaginary t-shirt.
I've worn lots of those t-shirts. And I've unfortunately also worn a lot of the self-involved ones, too. I have to admit that it matters so much to me what people think. I thought I'd outgrow it but I never did. And I think it got worse after having children. That's the thing about kids - they put all of our garbage out there for the world to see and they don't care one bit, which leaves us with a very important choice...Do we double down and care enough for ourselves and our kids combined? Or do we follow their example, strip off that pretend t-shirt and just dance around in our imaginary nakedness?
I hope that I can learn to choose the latter. Because, as a good friend has been reminding me...I have an audience of One. And He is far less concerned with the meals I'm feeding my kids than with the truths I'm feeding them. He's not worried about the cleanliness of my house but rather the purity of my heart. In fact, I think He cares less about my role as a mother than He does about my role as His daughter.
An audience of One. The kind of audience that gives a standing ovation and throws roses even when I've forgotten my lines, split my costume or straight-up fallen off that stage. Why? Because of that whole daughter thing. Imaginary t-shirt or not, He sees straight through to my heart.
So...what does your imaginary t-shirt say today? And what would it feel like, just this once, to leave it at home?