Of course they are.
You can hear their faint, muffled shrieks and cries from the second floor as you stand in the kitchen, half listening for the “real” screams but mostly ignoring the noise because you know they haven’t been at it long enough to have drawn blood or caused each other any serious bodily harm. You eyeball the slightly freezer-burned chunk of ground beef spinning in the microwave. Watching it slowly defrost, also wishing your creativity for the weeknight menu would thaw. Wasn’t it just taco Tuesday last week? Does taco Tuesday happen every Tuesday? And as you survey your ingredients, the wrinkly tomatoes, the sad lettuce, the half empty box of store-brand taco shells, you notice the expiration date on the sour cream. You deliberate whether the meaning of an expiration date is good through today or goes bad on today. And how can something already sour go bad? You pick up your phone to consult the internet and get sidetracked by Pinterest (for the 27th time today). A child yells for you again. The images of Taco Tuesday on Pinterest look different than the picture of taco Tuesday offered up by your kitchen counter, which is additionally cluttered by unsigned school papers, dirty breakfast dishes, Nerf guns, brown bananas and a Scholastic book order that was due last Friday.
A wicked cackle erupts from the top of the stairs and an oppressed child begins crying for you, lingering sorrowful cries carrying the distinct high notes of a “real” cry. You take one last mental note of the beautiful Pinterest tacos before putting your phone down and interceding on behalf of the losing child.
The kids are fighting again. It makes you tired. They’re probably also coloring on the walls, making a delicious Lego soup in the toilet and torturing the unimpressed cat with free rides in the Barbie convertible. And although their disputes have become somewhat of a low frequency din that you can almost tune out, it’s always around supper time. It’s always when your hands aren’t free and also when you just want a nap. Which seems to be a common occurrence lately, napping, or at least wanting one. You could easily blame your lack of energy on the impending birthday that will soon bring another decade to an end. Another decade and you never finished writing the book that you never actually started. Another decade and you still can’t make a homemade pie crust that doesn’t stick to every surface in your kitchen when you try to roll it into the pie plate. Another decade and you still haven’t completed a triathlon. Or even signed up for one. Another decade and you hope your spouse still thinks you’re as attractive as you think you are in your Facebook profile picture. Which is more than a decade old, as evidenced by your grunge-era hairdo against a Pearl Jam concert backdrop as you and your (then) best friend laugh beautifully, drunkenly for the camera. You’re still friends with her but only on social media because she’s since moved 3000 miles away and is raising alpacas on an organic sweater farm somewhere on the West coast. According to her Instagram she’s incredibly happy and has no children. You refuse to draw a comparison between the two just as a very loud thump followed by more crying comes from upstairs. You’re happy for her. You also wonder what the difference is between a regular sweater and an organic sweater. You check the tag of your Target clearance rack sweater, finding no discernible markings of either.
You look so much different now than you do in your profile picture. You could change it to a more accurate representation but you don’t for so many reasons, mostly because you haven’t retouched your roots in weeks, you’re still waiting for that anti-aging eye cream to start working and you’re pretty sure sweatpants don’t photograph well. Or maybe you keep that profile picture because it’s such a happy memory and that’s how you’d like to present yourself. Or rather how you think the world would like you to present yourself.
As the ground beef browns in the pan and the warm smell fills your kitchen, hungry children draw closer, calling a temporary truce to their sibling rivalry while putting their swords and assorted weaponry on the counter next to the Nerf guns.
They’re cute when they’re not fighting. You peel and hand them clementines as they impatiently wait for taco Tuesday, as they always do. You don’t get why everybody’s so jazzed up for taco Tuesday. You’re tired of eating them and would just as soon stop making them.
They’re cute when they’re not fighting. So cute that you quickly pick up your phone and snap a picture of them side by side, orange slices for smiles and not fighting. As always and on cue the moment you take out your phone for pictures, they wrap their arms around one another and yell “CHEESE!” You click and quickly edit their naked bellies and dirty faces with a soft filter, a cute frame and caption that reads “love their sibling bond!” before you upload it to Instagram with a couple nonsensical hashtags that mean nothing to anybody. While trying to think of creative hashtags you didn’t notice they started fighting again.
And after sharing your moment of happiness you put your phone down and begin chopping the tomatoes with a lighter feeling inside, as if creating that moment of happiness, those two minutes of peace amidst the two hours of chaos, highlighted your children the way you wanted the world to see them. Or maybe the way you thought the world wanted to see them.
While checking to see if anybody had “liked” the picture of your adorable happy children, the beef overcooked, which wasn’t a surprise because although your poetry is really good, your cooking skills are not. The kids are fighting again.
Do they like my picture? Do they like my life as I’ve presented it to them? Do they approve?
Because we’re all seeking approval of what our lives look like from the outside, linked to one another with instantly shared snaps, 140 character authorized autobiographies and books written in pins not words, and relationships built on faces not people. We’re stumbling upon lives we wish we called our own as we push all the toys off the counter, creating a beautifully pristine canvas upon which we paint the perfect taco. The only unbroken shell carefully centered on the only clean plate in the house because you were late for work this morning and forgot to start the dishwasher. You fill the shell with somewhat warm, slightly overcooked beef and turn the wrinkled tomatoes upside down to expose their juicy, seedy underbellies while camouflaging the sad lettuce with possibly expired sour cream. A sprinkle of paprika for color and with all the kitchen lights turned on and just the right filter, it’s worthy of Pinterest. It’s worthy of #tacoTuesday. You share it because you “just love Taco Tuesday!” and even though you didn’t like taco Tuesday five minutes ago, you do now. Because you created something good enough to share.
It must be shared because we’re all waiting to see whose life is so wonderful, so picture perfect, so worth repining and liking. And even though we already have something good enough to share, who is it good enough for and should that matter?
We’re so busy creating an image of what #tacoTuesday looks like that we sometimes fail to look up and see our children licking the slightly overcooked meat off their fingers, flicking tomato seeds at the cat, asking for more and momentarily, not fighting. We’re so busy editing the images of our tacos to notice they’re so busy eating them.
We all do it. But maybe if beneath the flattering filter was a little more real, we’d like each other a little more, for real.
Also, every time I share a picture of my perfect life from this point on, there will be a tiny picture of Gas-X somewhere in the picture. Because that’s my reality and I’m hoping you’ll like me more, for real, if I give you a head’s up.