On Parenting, Perfectionism, and Photography

by Meghan McMackin

 

This is a four-part story in which I recount the miraculous tale of how parenting cured me of perfectionism, and how, through photography I’ve come to embrace the beauty of the present imperfect.

 

Part 1: The PLAN

Before our first child was born, I did everything I possibly could to prepare. I took my prenatals, read books on best parenting practices, wrote a multi-page birth plan, and painstakingly painted the nursery.

By the time I was done with all of that, I was feeling pretty ready. It wasn’t that I thought I had it all figured out. I mean, I knew we’d need to be flexible with our plans…I just had no idea that flexibility in practice would need to be much greater, and more expansive than I ever imagined. And it started right from the get-go.

Up until approximately 20 weeks of pregnancy, I had a crystal clear vision of blonde pigtails bouncing around our backyard. I had dreams so vivid and realistic, that the possibility that our baby could be a boy didn’t really register to me until the ultrasound tech pointed out a certain protruding body part on the screen and pronounced, “Well, that’s pretty obvious!” And so began the first (of many) in-depth revisions of my preconceived notions of what parenthood would be like.

Then came our carefully researched, planned, and premeditated homebirth. I went into labor on our due date, but everything else ended up going totally off-script. 45 some-odd hours and a failed vacuum extraction later, we found ourselves in the middle of a very necessary hospital c-section for which the pain meds weren’t working. Thankfully, that trauma was quickly overpowered by the presence of our beautiful baby boy, and the wonderful post-partum care from our pinch-hitting birth team.

Then just a few days later, the nurses gave the infant carseat straps a good tug to make sure they were tight, handed us our complimentary package of Pampers Newborn Swaddlers and a helpful DVD on “Purple Crying”, patted us on the back, and pushed the elevator call button for us.

 

Part II: Growing Pains (or Thank Goodness for PEPS)

It didn’t take me long to realize that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought, but I stubbornly stuck to my research and plowed ahead with my newborn program. By the time our baby was 9 months old, it was finally clear that those awesome sleep book my sister recommended was just not working for us.

We swallowed our pride, and admitted what everyone else in our PEPS group already knew: we needed to forget the book. They  pulled together for us and helped problem solve…and to make a long story short, we eventually resorted to the dreaded, and perennially controversial “Cry It Out”, and our son has slept peacefully (for the most part) ever since…

I’m sure there are many other things I could put in this section –  examples of my ineptitude as we fumbled through that first year or so…but it’s still a little too painful to dwell on. I’m sure you get the idea…

SO, moving on…

 

Part III: Our Own Private Population Explosion (or Party of FIVE)

Given the relatively recent proof of my incredible reproductive prediction prowess (*read in dripping sarcasm*), I guess I can’t really blame my husband for not believing me when I told him, a few weeks into our second pregnancy, that I suspected we might be having twins.

mkm_peps_17-6Fast forward to our 10-week appointment, and I was the only one in the room not surprised to see two little sacs via ultrasound. The proud Papa turned as white as the paper sheet on the exam table, and as cliché as it is, I was actually afraid he might pass out. Now, I may not have been “surprised”, but I was certainly “shocked” as is sunk in that this was not just a premonition anymore. As coincidence would have it, the first person we ran into as we walked out of our provider’s office that day was our dear PEPS friend, Erin. She can attest to our stunned state as we stared at the printed ultrasound pic of our tiny babIES (PLURAL)!

This was the moment I began my true journey towards letting go of pretty much all expectations related to parenting, and the illusion that I could perfect, let alone control, any of it. There’s nothing quite like twins to make perfectionism turn tail and run.

 

PART IV: The Present Imperfect

In January 2016, we moved into a house we were blessed to inherit from my grandparents, and our busy lives just picked up from there. In the spring, I relaunched my part-time photography business. The summer was so busy that I’m not even sure what I fed the kids, but at least I know they got plenty of raspberries, apples, figs, and grapes by foraging non-stop in my grandpa’s garden. We got six chickens. Our twins turned two at Family Camp in August, and our oldest (now 4) started preschool in September.

As a mom of three little boys, my daily life is filled with potty accidents, plus a couple of other short “p” words that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company, and only rarely does anyone (myself included) wear proper pants. I’ve taken to wearing earplugs in the presence of my progeny to prevent any further damage to my eardrums from their piercing screams. And IF I’m able to sneak a moment of privacy in the bathroom, and happen to glance at myself in the mirror, I inevitably have peanut butter encrusted in my hair. As I fend off tantrumming toddlers with my leg and spatula, while trying to place yet another frozen pizza in the only partially preheated oven, I hear my grandmother’s oft-repeated phrase, “This too shall pass”, as clearly as if it was spoken.

And it will. Which is why I decided to stop picking up toys before picking up my camera.

mkm_peps_17-12The results have been pleasantly surprising. Not only is it much easier to not have to try to find an uncluttered corner that also has good light, it’s also simply a lot more fun. No more pausing to pose, just play (okay, I still sometimes ask them to pose, but not nearly as often). Most powerfully of all though, is that seeing our life captured this way has had the unexpected effect of helping me appreciate it even more. It helps me take a breath, and a step back, and see the beauty in all of the messy, chaotic, imbalanced, muddy, wild glory that is our present.

These are the things I want to remember: The way my babies’ wispy blonde hair felt against my cheek, the pucker of their lips as they work out the pronunciation of a new word, their sweet snuggles, and their wild post-bath backyard romps. I suddenly don’t mind the stack of still only partially unpacked boxes in the background. I sometimes now even choose to focus on the fact that our patio looks like a strange land where once-bright, primary-colored plastic playthings have come to fade and perish. It turns out these previously undesirable details just help embellish the memory and make it more palpable. And I need that. I think we could all stand to see our own lives this way, and share more of these stories.

mkm_peps_17-15So please, if you’ll allow me one bit of unsolicited advice, it would be this: Take the picture, or better yet, hire a photographer so you can get in the frame with your kids (or set a timer on your camera – whatever it takes), then hang out in your home and document some of your favorite things to do together. Let your kids play, and capture the things they are passionate about right now – even if their pokemon collection isn’t particularly picturesque. Don’t worry so much about the 10lbs of baby weight you still want to lose, or the fact that your backsplash hasn’t been scrubbed in a couple of years, or that your spouse needs a haircut. Your kids won’t notice. They’ll just see you, and themselves, and the love that is your family. You don’t have to post any, or print them big and hang them on your wall…but my suspicion is you might want to.

 

Because yes, “This too shall pass”, and all too quickly too.

 


About the Author

headshot_4_16_sq_web-1001Meghan McMackin is a lifestyle and documentary photographer, striving to make images that tell the story at the heart of the family or individual she photographs. She lives near Seattle, Washington with her husband and three little boys, and finds buckets full of inspiration (and dirt) in trying to capture the boisterous, messy, beautiful chaos of their everyday lives. Find Meghan’s photos on her website and Instagram.

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