Fiona is a stay-at-home mother, former high-school teacher and writer. She lives in the north-east of England with her husband Ben, sons Joshua and Daniel and cat Mandu.
Because Fiona is from the U.K., I read absolutely everything she writes in a Mary Poppins voice. You might at least try to be more mature than me.
Rainy Days and Snapshots
Here in the UK, we’ve just experienced the wettest June for over a hundred years.
Last week, the persistent drizzle and regular showers of heavy rain we’d enjoyed during virtually the entire month culminated in an exciting grand finale. On the eve of our younger son’s first birthday, freak storms and deep floods engulfed the city in which my husband works, and he finally squelched into the house at 10.30pm after an epic and watery homeward voyage.
Our back lawn has morphed into a marshy swamp, there has been no chance of drying any laundry outside since the last week of May, and I’ve lost count of the number of catastrophically bad hair days I’ve had as a result of walking back and forth to my older son’s nursery school in the rain since Summer theoretically began.
There’s something about a long spell of constantly bad weather that can foster a depressing combination of cabin fever and self-pity, isn’t there?
Sunshine encourages us to get outside and breathe in lungfuls of clean sweet air, bathes the world in a golden light and richly enhances every colour and hue of nature and humankind. When the sky is heavy with damp grey mist and streaked clouds, my mood dulls in tandem with the prolonged bleakness. The laundry pile grows almost uncontrollably, the act of taking preschool children anywhere turns into a chore, and dreams of happy and carefree weekends spent at the beach recede into a soggy and prosaic reality. The indoor air is stale and a little stifling.
And, again, there’s the problem of the hair. There is no crowning glory in my frizzy tresses, and nothing of the yummy mummy about me. I don’t bother to look in the mirror, as I know I’ll be disheartened by the vision of dishevelment staring back at me. It’s hard to shake the feeling that life has, of late, been somehow lacking in beauty.
Truth be told, I adore my wee boys and I want to be nowhere other than at home with them full-time, rain or no rain. A life of giggles and dimpled elbows and mischief and daily discoveries and grammatically creative phrases is a joyful and abundant life: one of wondrous diversity, constant entertainment and gut-wrenching love.
It also has to be conceded that the honest, all-encompassing reality of stay-at-home motherhood includes a few limitations. Tough challenges. Difficulties. Time-outs. Smeared windows. Grimy floors. Grubby walls. A maximum of thirty available seconds per day in which to apply a cursory layer of makeup. Clothing so constantly stained with nasal leakage and encrusted with patches of food that I ask myself silently, really, why am I even trying to look nice? Or trying to keep my home looking nice?
And although I made a conscious decision to steer well away from fashion magazines a couple of years ago owing to their insidious influence upon my already plummeting self-esteem – common to so many new mothers – and although I truly believe and try to embrace everything that the Bible has to say about beauty and the importance of its inner manifestation, I’m still deeply affected by a message fed to me steadily by the world outside.
I might shun the fashion magazines, but still, there are the blogs: the irresistible blogs written by ordinary women. Mothers. Homemakers. Mistresses of beautifully decorated and artfully photographed houses. Crafters. Gardeners. Confectioners. Organisers. The notion of beauty presented within the blogosphere can seem all at once extremely achievable and entirely out of my reach.
Rarely are we offered photos of wild-haired women looking even tireder than they feel, dressed in whatever haphazard combination of clothes came to hand and covered with their child’s breakfast cereal. Instead, there are crisp white shirts and picnic rugs and glossy hair and freshly painted furniture and perfectly frosted cakes and lush green lawns and sunshine. Always sunshine. And I remember how far removed all this is from my own life and ask myself, Is the world’s idea of beauty off-limits to me now?
Then, in a rare moment of epiphany, I realise that these images and anecdotes and recipes are just snapshots — brief glimpses — of another person’s life. That those poised and spotless women, to whom I often feel so inferior, probably experience just as many imperfect daily moments as do I. Underneath the pretty vintage dresses and Cath Kidston aprons, there might actually exist a few stretch marks and insecurities. Behind the gleaming doors, surely a few unmade beds and dirty dishes are lingering, just off-camera. And, in reality, perhaps their hair isn’t beautifully blow-dried every day, but only on the mornings when someone lends a hand with the children. If this is true, then it means that I’m not failing as badly as I imagine. And that we all – including me, most certainly – cover our own lives with a superficial gloss from time to time, when we don’t open our hearts and homes to each other honestly but instead seek to present cleaned-up and polished versions of ourselves. Snapshots.
It also occurs to me that perhaps this phase in my life is offering a wonderful opportunity to learn about beauty. Not an unattainable, fleeting beauty, currently so far beyond my grasp, but genuine, authentic and Christlike beauty. The kind of beauty that loves, forgives, extends patience and demonstrates kindness and gentleness. Beauty that can show up best in our everyday, mundane dealings with other human beings, when we love our families or forgive our friends or extend patience to an elderly pedestrian or demonstrate a small act of kindness to a stranger. Beauty that even brings into sharp and uncomfortable focus the fact that whilst we’ve been blessed with ample rain in recent weeks, there are so many people living in countries afflicted with desperate drought, and that we could do something to help them instead of succumbing to self-pity.
It might just be that during these precious years, when my children are small and there is so little time available to devote to the business of trying to appear outwardly attractive, that God is trying to teach me a few lessons about true beauty. About what it is, and about what it isn’t.