Tuesday, October 21, 2014

that imaginary t-shirt

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?


  1. Once again, another excellent and thought provoking post! I'm one of those that have said I love how "real" you are, and now it makes me stop to think if maybe that puts a lot of pressure on you. If it did, it was unintentional for sure. Maybe a better description would be you are human, and you have been willing to share your flaws with the rest of us, which makes US feel more normal. Wearing an imaginary t-shirt is a great analogy for all those thoughts that run through our heads. I am guilty of a lot of the same ones you are. I love the thought of their being an audience of just ONE. It is so true. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. When pregnant I often wanted a t-shirt that read, "This didn't come easy for me." Now I also find myself wanting the shirt that says, "This bottle is breast milk" or "I bottle feed because my baby has medical issues." Why do I care what people think about how she eats? It's the least important thing in the world right now, and no one would judge if they only knew. Sometimes I think it's my own hang-ups and not other people's that really bother me. Because most of the time I doubt anyone would even notice my t-shirt at all.

  3. Today mine would be a PSA and say "please don't comment on my belly. My body aches terribly today"
    My daughter's would say "It's not my mom's fault that I refuse to eat anything and everything"

  4. So, so good, Em! What an absolutely beautiful post! LOVE!

  5. This is so relatable in so many "fill in the blank" scenarios. Such a great subject. Love your writing as always and I'm pretty sure your little family cannot getting any cuter!!

  6. Oh the "I'm an IVF baby" t-shirt. I have so many days where I wish E. was wearing one of those. I'm also guilty of wishing I had a "But I'm a PhD student too! Really!" t-shirt on when in the depths of sleep deprivation (when I have never felt more like an idiot).

    Great post!

  7. This is a great post. I've worn a lot of shirts especially when my 18 month old is screaming that says. "This isn't my child!" ;)
    You should think about writing a book.

  8. This is beautiful Em. I was reading this post wishing it would never end.

    As usual, you are real and have given me much food for thought. I'm also glad to see another post so soon!

    Love your blog!

  9. I am wearing so many right now, like the one about being not being a bitch, just sleep deprived. Or, how about, I haven't always been this out of shape! I'm going to try to strip off those imaginary shirts and just live in the moment. I think we can still work towards being better, losing the 10 lbs, improving our attitude, or whatever and still allowing ourselves to just be us in the process...no excuses needed. And yes, He does not care about any of what we THINK are our own shortcomings. We are imperfect and completely perfect all at the same time.

  10. This post really spoke to me. I've worn so many T-shirts during my short period on this planet. Some of them you would consider legit while others seem self important. I think you're main argument is a strong one: we all want to feel validated. Whether that be because we are in the middle of our journey to grow our family or raising that family we worked hard for.

    And one final thing: I love Kale (buy the frozen stuff and saute with garlic and pepper flakes) but I have yet to meet a single child who shares my passion. Can't say it can't be done, but I would need to be educated.

  11. I have an international business degree - I'm so much better than this job.
    ... that's what I was thinking as I read your post at work while slacking off on the job. Hm... :\

    It's so interesting that we all have imaginary shirts we wish we were wearing from time to time. I guess we just need to keep working on being more comfortable in our own skin!

  12. What a great post, Em. It makes me think a lot about what we want to present to the world that we're not broken/different/torn/bad, etc etc. Lately people commented on my bump... and I really wished that I had an imaginary shirt saying that It's not a baby bump, it's fertility drugs.

  13. Oh goodness!! I have a LONG list of imaginary t-shirts! I totally agree, He is most interested in the truths we are feeding ourselves, our families, and our children!!! This is a great reminder, because I do eat kale, haha, and what I feed myself and what we will feed our kids is VERY important to me. But, I need to remember, what is more important is what spiritual truths I'm feeding them (and myself). So thankful for God's grace that carries us along this journey of life!

  14. Oh man, I could have a whole wardrobe of these t-shirts!! :) Mine would be an even balance of the "I'm bottle feeding because she is adopted- but give me a big ol' pat on the back because at least it's half donor breast milk, okay??" and "Don't worry- I waited six years for her. You're damn straight I'm cherishing every moment." So in other words, my t-shirts will only come in XXXXL...too many things to say... :)

  15. Oh Em! This post resonated with me! I have a huge stack of imaginary tshirts. Thank you for reminding me of what really matters! ��

  16. LOVE this post! I've been wearing LOTS of t shirts lately.... Love how you always make me think! Thanks, friend :)

  17. This is something I think about often. Yes, I wear LOTS of imaginary shirts. Great views on this topic. I really enjoyed this post. Great work -- as always. :)

  18. Wonderfully written! I think those of us who grew up "people pleasers" and perfectionists (like myself) can really relate.

  19. I love this post and I LOVE you! Seriously, EM, you know just what to say and I really appreciate your honesty! Thank YOU for being YOU!

  20. What a great post! I think it is safe to say that we all compare our worst qualities to others best qualities - mostly because others only feel comfortable sharing their "bests". Always most important to look at the One whose opinion actually matters, though. Thank you for the reminder and for sharing your thoughts.....you are a bright spot in my day!
    PS. I have too many of these t-shirts to count. Thinking it is time to clean out my imaginary closet. :)

  21. Precious post. Honest and strong - you really made me think! Thank you...

  22. Thank you :) I think I got even worse comparing myself and wanting others to approve of my behaviour after my daughter was born. Cleaning out the closet as Joy suggests sounds good :) Greetings from Germany, Frida

  23. Love this, Em. I remember the morning my grandmother died, thinking: if people knew what I was going through, they'd be much nicer.

    I think I'd have a t-shirt that says, "I've had a hard day" and wear it only when I needed an extra degree of grace from people.

    You've also made me think that other people may wish to telegraph me signals. I intend to be more attentive to those, thanks to your post.

  24. Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting?I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work.
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