Struggling to maneuver the double stroller between the tightly placed tables, I feel the sweat trickle down my back. My face is hot and flushed and I fight the tears that threaten to spill. I can feel the eyes of the well-heeled Thursday night crowd upon me. Alice wails in full force, strapped into the stroller’s five-point harness. The diaper bag, my work bag and Henry’s backpack spill over the sides of the stroller and bump into the chairs and into the stylish patrons as we try to make our quick exit. I am half-way out of the epicurian Italian eatery when a young man touches my shoulder. I look up to realize that the take-out meal I had hastily ordered for Henry had been left behind. Internally, I curse myself, as usual for being such a mess. With eyes trained on the door ahead, I push forward, desperate to escape the judgement that follows us. The waitress, who I had tipped extravagantly to excuse our disastrous presence, holds open the door and I burst onto the rainy Vancouver street and immediately erupt into tears.
Our evening had been a disaster. Both kids had been starving as we had desperately tried to find a restaurant that wasn’t congested with diners. It was already an hour after Henry’s dinnertime and what we hadn’t realized that our frenzied search near our Air BnB condo had been in the Entertainment District where the restaurants were NOT family-friendly. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the fact that the elegant Italian restaurant was flanked by a Tiffany’s and a Burberry boutique. In any case, it doesn’t take much imagination to re-create the scene that followed when we sat Henry and Alice down at a table precisely laid out with silver and glassware. The couple attempting to have a romantic meal beside us were not impressed. Blake and I had ended up having a public blow-out (which I HATE) and had resulted in Blake taking off with Henry and Alice and I left struggling to escape the restaurant with some shred of dignity.
Of course, after we had made it back to the condo and everyone had eventually been fed, tempers had been soothed and tears had been dried, things seemed to settle back to their general state of low-lying chaos. But even after making up with Blake, I still couldn’t shake those feelings of self-deprecation. Why did it always seem I was struggling from one disaster to the next? I felt like I was constantly sweating, constantly shoving my unkempt hair from my face, constantly catching my tired face in the mirror and wondering how could that be me?
Blake and I and the kids had traveled to Vancouver for a week-long visit for a medical conference and our trip had generally been great. Aside from the 4:30am wake-ups from Henry and Alice who were stuck on their Central Time internal clocks, we had had a week of eating great food and catching up with close friends. I hadn’t been to a work-related conference since the kids had been born. It had been fabulous and incredibly luxurious to sit and learn while Blake and Henry explored the city and Alice had been at the condo with a nanny. But, although I am feeling somewhat ashamed to admit, what struck me that week was how well put together my colleagues looked. Seemingly, no one else was hauling around a breastpump, was struggling to feed their squirming babies at conference meals or had undiscovered peanut butter smeared on their sleeves. Why couldn’t I just get it together?
That week in Vancouver, in desperation to achieve some sort of outward appearance of organization and calm and to attempt to literally cover up the fatigue on my face, I had mustered up the courage to slip into a large, overwhelming and brightly-lit make-up boutique called Sephora. Prior to our trip, I had pressed my neighbour and fellow mom (of three) how she always looked like she had just walked off the pages of a fashion magazine. With flawless skin and the eery absence of fatigue-induced bags under her eyes, I had to know her secret. She advised me to go to Sephora and buy some key products. I listened attentively and followed her advice. After dropping an obscene amount of money on make-up, I had rushed back to our condo and ducked into the bathroom to excitedly wage war on the hard lines and dullness that covered my face. Unfortunately, as expected, it made absolutely NO difference. Instead of looking like my gorgeous neighbour and my smartly dressed colleagues, I looked like the same Celia. My heart sank.
Back at home in Sioux Lookout, over wine and pizza, I sat at the kitchen table with my two close friends for a much needed Girls Night In. My one girlfriend, a brilliant physician, caring partner and friend who juggled many leadership roles in our obstetrical and education programs at our hospital, was explaining the concept of her Tomorrow Megan. “Tomorrow Megan,” she said, “has it together. She isn’t late for anything. She never forgets things. She’s got it all together.” She paused for a sip of wine and then continued, “I keep waiting and hoping for Tomorrow Megan to come, but she never does.”
I paused too and reflected on this. To me, Megan DID have it together. How could she possibly think that she was a mess, just like me!? I thought too of another physician-Mom who, on the outside, always looked organized and put together. In her mid-thirties and with three kids under 4 years old, she’s the Medical Director at her hospital and has accomplished more than I likely will in my entire lifetime. I saw her recently and asked, “Seriously, HOW do you do it?!”, to which she replied, “Well, I don’t. I am constantly sweating!” I could have kissed her. “ME TOO!”, I exclaimed joyfully.
So, are we all struggling somehow in our own ways? Are we all internally hoping for a better tomorrow and a better version of ourselves? Are we all just getting through those tough days one step at a time? Are we all trying to erase the exhaustion with expensive Sephora products, then are shocked that they haven’t magically put 8hrs of sleep into our skin? Are we all constantly having disparaging thoughts of self-doubt?
“You know Megan,” I finally replied, “you can keep striving for Tomorrow Megan, but it’s Today Megan who we love.”
So, maybe it’s time for me to start loving Today Celia too. Despite the faults, the struggles, the messy hair and tired creases. It’s about time that I cut some slack to Today Celia and just enjoy the beautiful chaos that is my life. Peanut butter smears, sweaty backs and all.