It should be obvious, but too often it isn't: we are generally our best selves on social media. We post about our accomplishments and anniversaries and promotions. We take pictures of engagement rings, ultrasounds, too-cute toddlers. We pin dream laundry rooms, gourmet recipes, shabby-chic DIY projects. And it's all too easy to look at these things, posted by our friends, acquaintances, neighbors, celebrities, and think we're getting the whole picture, to feel that we know the whole story -- or just enough of it to see what that person's life must be like.
In my online world, our 2-year-old twins are always happy. My Instagram account highlights their adventures: visiting the trampoline park or a playground, attending music or gymnastics class, swimming in the pool, stomping around in a stream, sled-riding, hitting the mall, going out to dinner. They are hugging one another or mugging for the camera with me or snuggling up close to Daddy. They are in costumes and laughing. They are reading books, eating yummy snacks, holding hands.
They dominate most of my photos, but I'm there, too: making Valentine's Day hearts for the girls to hand out at preschool; practicing calligraphy on Christmas card envelopes; holding a red Starbucks cup on a rare trip to Target all by myself. I've redecorated the girls' playroom, pink-and-gold and Pinterest-perfect; I made a hand-drawn chalkboard sign for their first day of preschool; I take selfies on the occasional date night with my husband, Matt.
All of it is our real life. We just have so much fun. We leave the house almost every day bound for one activity or the next. The girls are truly the best of friends, with a love for each other unlike any I've witnessed in my lifetime. I like decorating and working on crafts. I have loved my husband for almost thirteen years, and that feeling is even stronger now -- even though we hardly get time alone -- than when all our free moments were devoted to one another. We have a good life filled with family and a lot of love and all of my posts and pictures are proof.
What you see is real.
It just isn't everything.
I don't typically think to take or post pictures in the midst of the tough stuff -- like when I was learning to navigate around wires and tubes as I changed tiny, preemie-size diapers inside the girls' isolettes in the NICU. When I was caught up in the time-consuming, middle-of-the-night, never-ending cycle of breastfeeding one twin, then the other, and then pumping to keep up my supply and trying to grab thirty minutes' worth of sleep before doing it all over again. When I sat in my car in our garage, clutching the steering wheel, squeezing my eyes shut against the hot tears that seemed to come so often when I left my babies for work. When I eventually walked into a partner's office, someone I respected, someone who had spent a considerable amount of time teaching me to be a good lawyer, and quit the job I'd so loved. When a kind-faced doctor stood in front of me, his skin ashen, his eyes on my kids, and told me a biopsy revealed that I had melanoma, and that I needed surgery. When my loving husband carefully unwrapped my bandages each day and examined my nearly six-inch scar, checking for infection.
Nor do I snap photos of the mundane stuff that basically every parent deals with: the endless laundry, the tedious coupon-clipping and grocery-planning and shopping with toddlers who want all the things; the diaper-changing and potty-training and toilet-scrubbing; the stupid pointless fights about which spouse is doing what around the house, how to approach something with the kids, who is more tired and why. No one sees me picking up crumbs from crushed Cheerios on the floorboards of my car, unloading the dishwasher, whispering to children over the monitor who have stirred from sleep a lot too early. I don't get out my phone when tears well up in Charlie's eyes as another cough racks her little body, as she watches me pull out her nebulizer and struggles when I position the breathing mask over her scared face. When Emma refuses to wear the outfit I've picked out and screams that she wants a short-sleeved Sofia costume instead and fights me every step of the way as I dress her in fleece jeans and a shirt and a wool sweater to keep her warm in nearly-freezing temps. I am not taking pictures of the nights that someone throws up in their bed at 2:13 AM and Matt and I sleepily deal with changing the sheets, calming and cleaning the toddler, and somehow getting her back to sleep.
We all deal with this stuff, or some version of it -- the curveballs life throws when we're least prepared, the rigors of the day-to-day grind, the challenges from changes to our routines. And the hard parts, the boring things, all those pictures left untaken and life unposted: they are as real as our best adventures. Maybe more so. But they usually aren't online.
The stories of our lives -- as told through status updates and pins and photographs -- are incomplete. Yet it is all too easy to forget that what we see are simply snapshots, moments in time, titles to the chapters of people's lives. We are sometimes too quick to compare our own accomplishments with those of someone else; to feel guilty about something we did or didn't do with our kids; to think our clothes or our homes or our lives just don't measure up. We forget that we are only seeing part of the picture.
That we are missing so much of the rest.