My family and I have just returned from 5 days glamping (glamorous camping) in the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside, UK. We stayed in an idyllic canvas lodge – a tent with a wooden floor, proper beds, a flushing toilet and and a wood burning stove. The camping field was on a 400 acre farm with pigs, horses, fields as far as the eye could see, go karts, an honesty shop and tiny rabbits and guinea pigs, one of which was delivered to us to become our pet for the duration of our stay. We called him Blackberry.
Apart from an American family who stayed for a couple of nights (along with their shellshocked friend who thought by country retreat she was off to stay in a castle – poor love), we were the only ones there.
Like most thirty-somethings I took the opportunity to take a zillion pictures. My kids are growing up fast and I have a new phone with a pretty decent camera. I want to remember these days and I want to capture special moments so that when the kids leave home I can look through my photos wailing at just how fleeting these years were.
My parents did the same. Growing up the camera was always out on holidays and special occasions and we would pose for the pictures that still fill album after album in my Dad’s study.
All these photos evoke memories. This one of me was taken on a holiday to Switzerland when I was about 9.
We only really did UK holidays so it was such a treat. The weather was great. There was a festival while we were there which we loved. We rode ski lifts to get to the top of mountains. We ate delicious food and stayed amongst breathtaking views. The photos capture all of that in all it’s perfection.
But we’re human and perfect it was not.
We drove all the way there in our family car – a maroon Toyota Space Cruiser. As we drove the 700 miles there our car thermometer picked up a temperature of 41°. The moon roof and windows were the only source of air conditioning and hot does not describe it. Mum and Dad had to negotiate Paris roads which was stressful to say the least. It was a holiday with 3 sisters, 2 of which were teenagers and one of which was me. There was moaning and arguing and standard sibling behaviour. We played tennis one day which was lovely until I tripped and badly hurt my leg, limiting what we could do for the rest of our stay. My diabetes came with us too so long walks up mountains were inevitably met with horrid episodes of hypoglycaemia.
The photos don’t capture any of that. The memories we absolutely want to keep are recorded and every few years we look back through them with fondness of all the wonderful times we had. The less nice memories are just that – memories. They feel less harsh years later and fade into the abyss compared to the captured wonderful moments.
Just like my parents, on our holiday just gone we took perfect pictures. They were of our kids playing beautifully, lit fires and boiling food, cuddles with fluffy animals and a bowl full of chicken eggs. They capture a brilliant holiday with so many moments we will treasure forever.
But it wasn’t perfect.
They don’t capture the sheer exhaustion with which we arrived. A zombie like state from prolonged sleep deprivation and an incredibly busy and intense time for Dave at work. They don’t capture the dog phobia that cripples our oldest child that made trips up to the main farm tricky (though helped so much by a very understanding lady looking after the farm). They don’t capture the hours spent with hungry children waiting for the fire to heat up and no fridge meaning many, many crisps were consumed. They don’t capture the dirt that penetrated every item of clothing we took nor the trip for eggs while the water boiled in waiting only to find the chickens had not laid. They don’t capture the big argument we had while the kids were asleep, although our eldest wasn’t and heard everything. They don’t capture the hours spent awake at night dealing with our youngest child’s diabetes nor her wakeful fear of the badger making loud noises under our cabin for a good hour in the middle of the night.
I posted our perfect photos on instagram and facebook. I love sharing them for far flung friends and family and as an online diary for me. Like Mum and Dad’s photos they are a record of a very wonderful time and I want to look at them and let others see them.
But Mum and Dad’s photos are shared with narrative. We sit down look at them and discuss “when that happened” or “do you remember just after that was taken when”.
Social media robs the narrative and therefore presents a picture of perfection that is mostly not true. The pictures are wonderful and celebratory and capture the brilliant. But we must be wise enough to remember that we do not hear the back story.
I don’t think we should always post the bad stuff online. I don’t want to post a picture of my husband and I enjoying a meal together with the caption “this time last night I was calling him a *$^@*.” I want to remember the happy meal we shared. We know the narrative, it’s personal and it’s ours to dig up if we choose.
Sometimes it’s important to share the less good. I remember when Nia was diagnosed with diabetes we felt it right to share on facebook. We were met with an army of support and some key people, who may not have otherwise known, became an integral part of our journey.
Some of you may follow Simon Thomas on Instagram. He tragically and suddenly lost his wife last year and he’s documenting his grief and life after Gemma in an incredibly honest and real way. It’s raw and painful and difficult to read at times but it also shows the importance of beautiful memories he and his son have of their beloved wife and Mum. The British are not brilliant at grief and I am convinced God is using him to impact so many. He’s giving permission for others to be openly devastated and to go through an essential time of proper mourning. He and his son are remarkable and I am grateful for their bold honesty.
I always want to be real and honest. The name of my blog clearly demonstrates that. There are times when I will record the tough and the hard. Sometimes I share the narrative as a sort of therapy for me or to encourage others that we don’t live perfect lives. But I believe that recording beautiful, happy memories in picture or word is food for the soul. That leaving the bad stuff to remember with dampening retrospect is part of the way we recover from tough times and allow them not to tear us apart.
I want to flick through these photos in a year and remember the delicious risotto I managed to cook on the stove. I want to remember the girls running free and playing together and feeding the hilariously ugly pigs our food scraps. I want to see our family looking chilled and Dave and I drinking champagne in a field. And I want to see the beautiful scenery that surrounded us for a precious and rare 5 days alone together.
If you follow me on social media I really hope you can enjoy these photos too. But remember there is a narrative behind them all that maybe you’ll hear in detail one day. Maybe you won’t.
It wasn’t the perfect holiday because I’m not sure one exists. One day I’ll go to heaven and I truly hope to see you there. That will be absolutely perfect.