There are at least 2 people competing inside me all the time: the Ideal Christie and Real-World Christie. They represent two poles I bounce between as I navigate every single role in my life, including wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, customer, etc.. All that bouncing is hard on a woman; it makes me want a sports bra for my psyche.
I suspect that everyone confronts the battle of the ideal and the actual within themselves.
I have noticed that Ideal Christie is much more likely to show up if there is an audience (besides my children).
For example, Jeff just left on a golfing trip with his father and brother. I am so proud of all three of the Ellis men for getting themselves to Oregon for a dream golf vacation. Ideal Christie-Wife drives Jeff to the airport and sends supportive texts like “We’re doing great here– Enjoy that coastal sunset, OXOXO.” She refuses to act put out or annoyed in front of others because she knows that Jeff deserves this joy in his life.
There is also Real World Christie-Wife, who is tempted to go all Joan-Of-Arc martyr-y about parenting solo for a few days. You know, a few sighs as I reflect on my heroism and the 4 straight nights I will do the bedtime routine by myself. (Again, still waiting for the Pulitzer Committee to include a parenting category.) Real World Christie-Wife tallies how many days away he’s had versus how many days away I have had since our children were born.
And, the disparity between who I am and who I want to be is even worse with parenting. God, these two poles conspire to drop ropes for me to hang myself all the time. Ideal Christie-Mother isn’t some crazy bitch from Stepford with good housekeeping skills. In fact, my aspirations don’t really extend to my physical space at all, because I am consumed with the emotional space. My Ideal Christie-Mother is P-R-E-S-E-N-T emotionally to herself and her children; she is available for joy and connection.
I know it’s unrealistic to expect emotional presence all the time, but I still strive for it. And I have moments, hours, and stretches of time where my head, heart and soul are present and joyful as I parent my children.
But in times of stress (say, dinner time or when Sadie crushes Graham crackers on Simon’s head right after I clean the floor), Ideal Christie-Mother can only show up if someone else is watching. Like that time at the gym snack bar when Sadie threw her sippy cup across the room and my whole entire body was coiled for a red-hot reaction. My lips were forming the word, “SADIE!” and my lungs were preparing to bellow, but before I made a sound, I caught another mom watching us curiously.
Do you think I used my hot-headed at-home voice? Oh hell no I did not. I paused and offered a gentler version of myself, one who knows a teachable moment when she sees it. Ideal Christie-Mother emerged out of nowhere. It was a virtuoso performance of mothering– it was art. It was a lot of things, but it wasn’t my first reaction, and it would never have happened if that woman wasn’t sitting 10 yards away.
I don’t bring this up to hate on Real World Christie, because I love her humanness and her honesty and her frailties. Good thing I do, because she’s here to stay. I also love Ideal Christie, and I’m grateful she’s out there ahead of me as an aspiration.
I need them both.