Saturday, June 04, 2011

Images of perfection.

Are we living a lie? Do we project images of ourselves that are not truly representative of who we are? Or do we just try really hard to show the best version of ourselves to the outside world? Glossing over the flaws and hoping they wont be seen. In doing so are we making it hard on each other to be honest and true and real?

Oh, I think my heads gone a bit deep on this one. You see I had a bit of a dilemma last week. It started a year ago when a friend asked me around for a girly lunch. I knew there would be some other friends there too. I didn't expect it to be quite so... professional? The house was gorgeous and clean, the table was set beautifully, the hostess was looking stunning and calm as she welcomed us all in and poured glasses of bubbles. I looked around at this group of women and I thought "Crap, this is really grown up!"

The six of us sat and were served a delicious starter, then main course. The food was amazing, all home prepared. My friend is a really excellent cook but denies it fiercely  She's being modest but I don't think she actually appreciates how really great she is. Then came desert, a home-made cheesecake, coffee and tea. The time flew by and all too soon I was excusing myself and rushing back to collect my kids from school. No more sophisticated chit-chat, back to being a mum who, as always, was running late for swimming lessons with a car full of kids and hoping to God that I had packed the swimming bag in the boot earlier that morning.

Fast forward 6 months and another lunch date was set. This time by a different one of the women at the first get together. I'd never been to her house before. It was just before Christmas and the house looked like something out of "Unbelievably Gorgeous Homes" magazine. You get the picture. Tidy, tasteful, uncluttered perfection. More bubbles, more beautiful place settings, this time a Vietnamese feast. Wonderful conversation between the same group of six women. So different from snatched hellos in the school playground or supermarket car park. I was overawed by this group of intelligent and articulate women who were so much more than the mothers I had grown to view them as.

Fast forward another 6 months. No lunch dates had been offered by any of the remainder of us... The pressure was mounting and so I bit the bullet and volunteered. I texted a quick invite with a potential date and watched the phone dance happily with positive responses. Holy Cow, what had I let myself in for. I looked around my house which I love but all I could see were the sticky hand prints all over the glass doors, the dust-balls that floated under my favourite red chairs in the kitchen and the cobwebs floating in hard to reach corners of the ceilings. My house is not a health and safety disaster but it's not a show home either. There are five of us living in it and no matter how much I try, by the end of a week of getting three kids to and from school in clean clothes, to and from sports activities, working in the hospital part-time and putting hot dinners on the table, it always looks like a work in progress.

And what to serve? I love food, really I do. I bake a mean cake, but savoury food, cooked and served in a room full of women who really know their Entrément from their elbow... I felt out of my depth. All last month I have worried and planned, written lists and had conversations in my head. To be perfect? Or just perfectly flawed? By trying to make my home immaculate was I perpetuating the pressure for us mums to be perfect or was it just a good excuse to move the armchairs and sweep up the mess beneath?

I really struggled. I have often thought that we put huge pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone. The perfect Mum, the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect wife. So often I fall short but then I know that's ok. I'm human. It's allowed. I make mistakes, I apologise. I try harder. Even in the world of blogging there is a real danger of showing only the best bits of our lives. The airbrushed photos, the happy family days. Writing about a messy house or crying with homesickness, or fighting with your spouse? We all have those days but I don't choose to blog them. They are not the bits I want to immortalise and read back on. I want this to be a happy place with the good days remembered in glorious colour photos.

And so I hit the Internet. I searched simple Thai meals. Food that could be chopped and prepared as far in advance as possible. I tested things on my kids and Byron. They told me everything was "brilliant" and "amazing" I realised how much I love my kids! I went into Trade Secrets, a discount end-of-line shop and bought some colourful place mats that I had been meaning to buy for ages to dress the table up on fun occasions. I got out the chop-sticks that my brother Joe bought me in Thailand years ago and sat them on the little white chop-stick rests that I found in a bargain bin for 10cents each! I cleaned my house. But not obsessively. Rooms that I planned to be seen were given a good once over. Other rooms had the doors shut tight. Byron was thrilled. He said I could invite my friends around every week if the house could look so good! The day before the meal I chopped and mixed happily and piled high little plastic boxes of sauces and veggies in my fridge and cleaned away the almighty mess that I had created.

On the day itself I woke feeling calmer than I expected and dressed in jeans and a comfy top. I cleaned the floor but forgot to put on my lipstick! I wrapped my Japanese half-apron around my waist like a lucky charm (it holds in the wobbly bits!) I had a mini panic attack as I heard the cars pull up outside and I fanned my red cheeks with my hands before taking a big deep breath and opening my front door. In walked a group of women who are different ages, cultures and professions. But they all had something in common. They were smiling and they are my friends. Some firm friendships, some new. The next few hours passed in a blur of laughter and eating and talking over one another. I don't know if they noticed the missing cobwebs. I'm not sure they cared. After a couple of glasses of bubbly I'm not sure I did either.

I hope I hit the balance between putting my best foot forward but still being real. Because friendship has got to based on more than what I project on the outside.

Happiness to me this week was in the pile of dirty plates in my sink, the food scraps that had fallen under the table, flopping down in my favourite red chair in an empty kitchen with a cup of tea in my hand and a grin on my face. Knowing I am who I am and with this group of women that's just ok.

9 comments - click here to leave your comment:

  1. Oh, Gina. Bravo you, my friend! I am so delighted that you pulled it off but am even more pleased that you were cognisant of the underlying emotions you were feeling. And then accepting them, flaws and all. Good for you! J x

  2. Gina, such a true and meaningful post. I think it's OK to want to make a fuss over our friends by making an event in our home special and attending to the details...but you are right, it can be hard not to give into the pressure of perfection. Sounds like you pulled off the balance, though. And I also agree about the blogging...we do put our best selves forward. But I think that is OK. When I see blog posts about fun family outings and special dinners, I don't in a million years think those families have perfect lives, that those women never have arguments with their husbands and that their houses always look like they could entertain at a moment's notice. I know that they (like me) probably had to move the folded laundry from 2 days ago they still haven't put away (or at least strategically angle the camera) before snapping that cute pic of the kiddos. But I hope that (like me) they are choosing to accentuate the positive. Blogging helps me to see how many good and beautiful parts there are to life...and I don't think I have to post the negative stuff to make it "real." I love reading your blog. Even though I'm usually on the iPad reading it in Google so I don't always sign in to comment, I am always reading along...and wishing we were neighbors. I would love to share a cup of (herbal, Mormon-friendly, lol!) tea with you anytime...cobwebs or none. =^)

  3. Well done, Gina. It sounds like you struck a good balance and that your lunch was a success! I think it's only natural that we want to portray ourselves in the best light, so it's nice to put in the effort and focus on the positives in life. Having said that, our friends are those who love and accept us, warts & all. After all, we're only human, we can't do everything perfectly all of the time. I think we can often be our own worst enemy in putting pressure on ourselves to reach an unattainable standard. I still think you're very brave - I won't be inviting anyone over to my place for a meal anytime soon! (Maybe after I've watched Italian Foid Safari a few more times!)

  4. Ah, Gina! I could see myself a few years ago, with 4 growing kids and no spare time on my hands. Then I wanted to be 'perfect', but of course I couldn't. I grew at the same time than my kids, now I am what I am, I accept it and so do my friends.
    But it is fun from time to time to play the perfect hostess and put on a kind of polished mask. It is a game, we know it and that true life is not like this.

  5. Gina, I too have had these same thoughts! Each of us has our own gifts. One is into baking, one is into decorating, and another is into cooking~ but the most important thing is that friends get together! I am sure your friends enjoyed every second in your home! I am always insecure about my "gifts" ~ but I know my friends are my friends because they see something in me, something in me that keeps them coming back for more! Aren't we lucky girls?

  6. I went to a baby shower for my sister-in-law quite a few years ago with my mother and my aunt. It was held at the home of her sister, an interior decorator. She had no children herself. Her home was always immaculate, perfectly decorated. The food she had served at her other gatherings was always presented just right and delicious. Decorations for parties were always themed and tastefully done. When it came time to eat, my aunt and I were sitting at the same small table. As we sat down, she leaned over and whispered "I guess it doesn't matter how perfect everything looks, someone is always going to find your cobwebs". As she whispered, she motioned with her head for me to look to the left and underneath her perfectly decorated present table, there they were ~ her cobwebs wrapped around the iron legs of the table. I had to laugh. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone has their cobwebs hiding somewhere. I bet when it came down to it, the others probably stressed over their luncheon as much as you did. :)

    I'm glad your luncheon was a success and all was well in the end.

  7. It must have been daunting stepping forward and being the next to hold lunch but pretending to be someone else all the time is way to hard to pull off and why would you want to do that anyway, you're lovely just the way you are:)

    I'm glad you had a great time together enjoying each other's company and good food because that's what really matters. xo

  8. I can't express how this post spoke to me and encouraged me! I've been in this really tough stretch of life over the past year, dealing with chemical imbalance and hormone changes that have...well, changed me. And consequently, I'm not the neat and tidy woman most think I am, though they know by now that I'm not! Honesty is not encouraged much, so this means a lot to me. I'm getting back to normal and learning to be honest about it. Women like you really help me with that. :)

  9. Hi Gina,

    You seem to have hit a nerve here and it's really interesting... Your responses are to.... I am in EXACTLY the same situation at the moment in that I was invited to join a bookclub run by my husbands boss's wife (who is a video journalist, mom of two and basic and all-rounder). Her house surpassed any I have seen in ireland until we had the next meet and that was even bigger and better. Added to the mix is money and I just feel really out of my depth. I am not a person who feels the need to keep up with the Jones's usually, and I am extremely happy and in love with my home, but I don't know what these woman will think when my turn comes up. it's something that bothers me... I really liked how you ended your post though and you are right in saying "But they all had something in common. They were smiling and they are my friends. Some firm friendships, some new"... I will work at finding something in common with them. Hopefully I will be as brave as you :)