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Beauty and the Mess

This article originally appeared on Flo’s blog, Tales of a Music Mama.

Recently a dear friend (who is also a fellow mama) rode in my car, but not without my sincerest apologies for the state of the car, which looked something like this:

The coffee cup in the back seat contains a banana peel. I discovered this when taking the photo. It's still in the car.

It's not like I thought she'd be offended, but I still felt compelled to hide the mess as I tossed trash and coffee cups into the back seat. She insisted it was fine and, in fact, said something surprising. She told me it made her feel better. She had so far only seen the inside of my house, which is kept, or appears to be kept, in perfect order. One of my closest friends had never really seen my mess. This got me to thinking . . . about mom blogs.

Every mom I know, including myself, reads mom blogs.

There are even celebrity mom bloggers. They write eloquently, post exquisite photographs, journal their Food Network-worthy dishes, knit, crotchet, sew, and paint — all while teaching their dozens of whimsical children at home.

It is lovely. It really, really is. I don't mean to satirize mom blogs. As an artist, I live to create beauty and to breathe it in, and I am often inspired by these creative mamas. Neither do I condemn the blogging mamas themselves. After all, I am one of them. I'm no celebrity, but I have definitely projected — through my blog and through my posts — a picture of a beautiful life. I am only suggesting that we think twice about the standard we create when we post only the good stuff.

For example, a friend of mine posed a question about one mom blogger in particular, asking, "How do you think she does all that and still has time for homeschooling?" My current season is full — with writing and music and school and a family — and several friends have asked me the same question: "How do you do it all?"

I can promise you this:

She doesn't.
I don't.

That "it all" you're so surprised we can do, is not the "it all" you imagine or that is displayed through a few well-cropped photos and highlights from the week. We look with fascination at the mom who has it all together. She documents the meals she crafts, but not the dirt beneath the oven. She features the serene, but never the chaos.

In turn, other mothers — regular mothers, tired mothers, new mothers, mothers with sick kids or stressful jobs, mothers like me who have a very, very low capacity for stress — are left discontent, disheartened, wondering what mistake we must have made that keeps our cups from overflowing with these lovely moments. What my cup overflows with is coffee . . . that I've stuck in the microwave 3,786,493 times because I keep forgetting that it's in there.

But none of that is the fault of mom blogs. Like I said, this is not a campaign against mom blogs, and it’s especially not a campaign against presenting lovely and beautiful things to the world. I'm a fan of loveliness: creativity, wooden toys, eyelet dresses, picnics in the sun, handmade goodness. It's valuable to open our eyes to beauty.

But it's also valuable to open our eyes to the mess — to acknowledge the mess, embrace the mess, and even blog the mess. Messy Mondays anyone? I will go first:

Here are 10 examples of blog life vs. real life. Of course, the "mess" here isn't even close to the messiness that exists in my life, but it’s what has been caught on camera. May both the beauty and the mess inspire you.

#1 — My Beautiful Home

Pristine, no? Well, this was taken when no kids were home.

Would you like to see my front porch?


In case you were wondering, that is a rug from inside, a rained-on sock, and some pumpkins from October. I have no idea how long the rug or the sock have been there, but I'm sure my neighbors do. Obviously the pumpkins are from, well, October . . . and they are moldy.

#2 — Homeschooling

This is a picture from that one year I homeschooled.


This is a picture of the girls at their public school. After homeschool burnout.

#3 — Wooden Toys

Wooden abacus, wooden puzzle. The toys I long for my children to play with.


Plastic VW Bug from Goodwill and a Barbie from Walmart. The toys my kids actually play with.

#4 — Food 

One morning, I made a fritatta and posted a picture of it.


Every Saturday Sometimes, when I sleep until 9:30 in a little, the girls come into my room and ask for breakfast. Drool still fresh on the pillow and without opening my eyes, I manage to mumble, "Go ahead and get a snack out of the fridge . . . like a piece of bread." And they do.

Sometimes they add jelly. Not jelly I made myself. Not even organic. Straight up grape jelly.

#5 — Costumes 

One year for Halloween, I stayed up until 2:00 am crafting this very sweet blog-inspired owl costume . . . that my daughter wore one time.


The next year, I bought a cheaply made, yet overpriced and slightly scandalous Wonder Woman outfit, and my daughter wore it 6 days in a row

#6 — Enriching Activities 

One day I made paint. It was cute, and my kids had so much fun!


On another day, I stared at Facebook for hours . . . as evidenced by this picture, which I found recently. Apparently, my bored-out-of-her-mind child was playing with my camera, and I hadn’t even realized it. This happens more than finger-painting with cornstarch.

#7 — Homemade Clothing 

One Easter, I made this dress out of old sheets. How very mom blogger of me! I probably hand-make all of my children's clothes!


I didn't make this shirt. Or the bed, obviously. 

#8 — Family Photo 

This was one of our Christmas photos. I'm such a serene mother goddess in my flowing skirt and side bun.


This was me on Christmas. And most of the time, really. I’m not going to say anything else about having posted this, other than yes, I realize it was a bold move.

#9 — Happy Children 

Look at my kids during this forced impromptu moment! They are like this all of the time!


No, this is what they're like most of the time.

I could go on, with pictures for every situation.


For example, we have a refrigerator full of healthy/organic/allergen-free food that is also very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that we have to cut costs elsewhere . . . and replace our broken refrigerator door pieces with duct tape.

#10 — The Garden

The vegetable garden. It is peaceful and lovely, satisfying and nourishing, blooming and plentiful. It is a summer garden.

Other times, it looks like this:


Not so beautiful. It looks like this most of the year.


And this is the lesson. Most of our lives are not finger paint and fritatta. Most of the time, our lives are rained-on socks and old banana peels, tears and defeat, life held together with the duct tape of glory, and beauty sprinkled here and there. So I am thankful for beauty. But I am also thankful for the mess. For the moments not captured in a blog.

I'm thankful for the time my daughter told me she wished I wasn't her mom, because despite the hurt, I was able to hold her and let her cry it out and model unconditional love and forgiveness.

And I’m thankful for the time I said something equally ridiculous ("You better clean your room with a cheerful spirit!") and could model humility and repentance when my 5-year-old heard "I'm sorry" straight from her mother's lips.

I'm thankful for this mess. For the "winter garden" when the ground seems hard and cold, but important things are happening just beneath the surface. And for the "summer garden" when we bloom and laugh and when our cup overflows.


At the end of the day, by the grace of God, there is love despite the beauty or the mess. And for this I am grateful.


Oh, and for this too.

All photos by Flo Paris Oakes.

Flo Paris Oakes is a singer/songwriter, novice gardener, and backyard chicken farmer. A California native, she now lives in East Nashville, TN, with her husband and two daughters.

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Reader Comments (26)

Thank you for this! I'm not a mom, but I do have a little fledgling blog of sorts, and your insights are really timely -- just today I was feeling convicted about why I blog, use Facebook, etc...and what sort of life I'm trying to project through those media. Here's to keepin' it real :-)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

This was great...exactly what I needed to hear after taking a three hour nap in the middle of the day while the baby slept and waking just in time to grab something frozen from the grocery for dinner on the way to pick the kids up from school. Thank you for letting us peak into the realness of your life.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Wolfe

Lovely look at a real family, rumpled, busy, loving. And yes, it's good to give thanks . . .

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterViola Weinberg Spencer

The duct tape of glory. Love it. Thanks for showing your mess.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Thanks for writing something I've never been able to adequately express. Your words are kind, and truthful, and hilarious.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAli

Flo, this is the best ... I almost cried reading it because I hadn't realized how much I internalize feelings of defeat and shame because I compare myself with the moms who write mom much as I love to read them. Every time I feed Jack chicken nuggets or am chastised by my mother in law for having a dirty shower or look at my undecorated bedroom, I feel a little less worthy of being a mom. I'm so happy you posted this because it snapped me back into reality. thanks. :)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

This post made me laugh hard and also brought tears to my eyes. Like the commenter above, I don't think I realized how much I internalize the comparisons and the expectations I feel but don't live up to most of the time. My life is so similar--bits of loveliness sprinkled over the rumpled everydayness. Thank you.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSTL

Thank you for this! My two-year old is lately always singing "God makes messy things beautiful..." and we like to joke that we are the biggest messes ourselves!

There's a mom blog *gasp* I read that posts things on Thursdays called "pretty,happy,funny,real" and I love that she tries to keep the REAL into the midst of all the beauty.

I've realized (and somewhat accepted) is that my downfall is my perfectionism. I want everything to be "just so" and if I can't get it that way or make it that way I won't do it at all. Which is just sad. So, my goal for the new year? Embrace the mess.

Thanks for helping me do that! Love your photos -- my son took one of those "mom staring at the computer" shots of me just last week. That's probably the boldest of them all. I just delete them.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

I loved this post. Thanks for the good "pull up a pile of laundry (which probably includes my most heinous pair of dingy old underwear) and sit a spell" reality check. That's my kind of hospitality!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternancypants

I'm posting this on my Twitter AND Facebook! Love the honesty and courage you have to be "real"! When we compare our lives with others we're comparing our inside (and all our insecurities and failures) with what they present on the outside, a deadly trap to steal our joy. Have a wonderful weekend!!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Love this! I've been part of the FB/blogging world less than a year, and I've been stopped by the potential impact (both for good and for bad) that results. A friend of mine was struggling in marriage, following blogs that offered hope, and termed the phrase "blogmosis" (much like osmosis - we want the world of the blogger to bleed into ours). Thank you for offering a picture of what life looks like for most of us... and it is good and beautiful!!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I need more realistic, honest women in my life.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin Moore

I will be immediately sharing this one. Thanks for being so bold, Flo. It is truly encouraging, and I'm glad to hear the voice of someone else who feels the same as me.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanna Barber

genius duct tape/fridge door idea.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmes

Thank you. This is why I scrapbook the mess, the tantrum, and even pictures of myself not so showered, or lean, or Put together. Because I want to look back and see life, as we lived it. This is why if I invite you over, there may still be dishes I the sink, but I have cleaned off a place for you to sit. Beautiful!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I love this! My blog's name was inspired by a similar desire to show both the good and bad. Though, in practice, it's so much harder to share the bad things!

You know, this seems unrelated, but I heard on the radio some linguistics people talking. They said that children acquire language so much easier than adults NOT just because of how plastic their brains are... Just as important: they don't have shame. Shame makes adults afraid to make mistakes, afraid to "say things wrong" so they don't get the kind of practice you need to really speak.

Makes me wonder what else we could do if we let go a little of that shame.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

So real. Thank you.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Glauser

Flo, this is the most refreshing "mom blog" post I have read. Thank you for being transparent. I am not a blogger but I do enjoy reading them from time to time. I have always found the pretense somewhat odd, but like you, I affirm beauty and clever prose and artful photography. I don't want to "throw the baby out with the bath water" but I am most drawn to honesty, integrity and humility in anything I am reading. Embracing the messes (internal and external) are essential to living an authentic life. It seems like blogging tends to steer us in the direction of hiding the messiness - and therefore promoting inauthenticity - of real life. Your post was candid and unassuming....I loved it and look forward to reading more in the future!

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKendra

I am sooo glad to know I'm not the only one who tries (usually unsuccessfully) to hide my mess. Why do we do that??

February 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Ah, this is so great. I needed a little humor and perspective today. Thank you!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTowles

Thank you thank you thank you thank you. You have no idea how encouraging your post is to me today, on one of those days when I feel like my life is WAY not blog-worthy.

You've made me smile! Have a blessed day.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Totally my life, right now....very messy house....very happy kids! I figure I can get it really clean when they move out?! and until then, we will be busy and happy with all of the joys and tears that come with childhood!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdiane

I just stumbled upon this post through Sara Groves' blog post about Art House.

What great perspective and sense of humor you have. Thank you so much for being real!

I've been a mom now for over 16 years (1 girl, 3 boys), and I've continually fought the comparison battle. Whether looking at the mom across the street, the pew, or the blogosphere, I must constantly remind myself NOT to compare my insides with their outsides.

Your insights and humor are a treasure. I am reposting this on my blog, and I commit from this day forward to present a balanced, real picture of our family's beautiful mess.


April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

Late to the game here but just wanted to say thank you--what a true post. We have the ideal and then we have the real. And some days the gap between the two looks unbridgeable. Most days, in fact. Especially on the web, because I can choose what face to present, I can choose how deep to go, how real to be. But if you come into my kitchen, you'll see the rust spots on the outside of my fridge [even though I try to hide them with cute pictures and drawings]. And if you open it, you'll see duct tape too. So nice to know I'm not the only one--which is one of the great value of blogs.
And thank you for ending with grace, which is where I want to be stuck!

July 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie Wald

Thank you for being so honest.
It's not easy being honest, but that is what will really help others to take a chance on "sewing an Easter dress," or trying new recipes. It's about trying someting new, having fun with it and maybe never doing it again. And it's okay- we're no less of a mom or person if we're not a perfect homemaker. We ARE perfect in Jesus' eyes and that's all that really matters.

Life is an adventure-so is motherhood!
Many blessings on living life honestly,

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

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