When I was little, I longed to be sixteen. Like it was then that I’d finally be cool and pretty and worldly. When I was sixteen, I longed to be twenty-seven – the age that I decided I’d have babies and a cute little blue house with daisies planted out front. No matter what age I was, Growing Older was high on my bucket list, not having hated my childhood, but not thoroughly loving it either.
I wanted to drive my own car, to have a fridge bursting with my favourite foods, to learn about intelligent things, to have babies on my hips, to decorate my kitchen with small pots of flowers and to be loved by a man who found me utterly beautiful. They were simple dreams, really, anchored in the fantasy of Playing House, in all its full, romanticized glory.
Perhaps it was an antidote to the awkwardness I felt as a child and the self-doubt I waded through as a teenager, but Real Life As A Grown Up shimmered down on me like hope, like a pot of gold waiting for me to find.
Of course, Playing House in real life is not the same as I imagined when I was sixteen. Partnership and motherhood is not all love-sick staring, and I am far from the serene earth-mother pin up girl I had forever pined to be – the epitome of womanhood, in my eyes. Kind of like Angelina Jolie but with less intensity and more paisley.
Playing House in real life is tough as nails. It’s smiles and daisies and love-stick staring too, sure, but it’s dirt and grit and clench-your-teeth survival and messy, complicated love. A lot of the time, it’s this, actually.
You know, every now and again I play this game with myself. I see a photo, or I take a snapshot in my mind of the moment I’m in, and I pretend my younger self could, just in a quick flash, see it too. Like a photo of Joel and me smiling as wide as watermelons, two babies stuck to our hips, and having this flash in my mind when I met Joel for the very first time, all those years ago.
The images are beautiful, and if my younger self saw them, she’d drop to her knees and holler a thank ya Jesus. She’d also be REALLY nervous on her first date, trying to pull off a casual no-biggy vibe when, really, she knew what was about to come. These 2-D images of her future self would make her happy. Relieved. Excited. And completely over-analyze her shoes-and-handbag combo.
A couple of weeks back, we had our family photos taken by the very talented Kate from Kate Veronica Photography. Looking at the pictures she took of us, I had one of those future self/younger self moments. Like my sixteen year old self saw them, and my 23 year-old-post-break-up-the-world-is-ending self saw them, and my 25-year-old-sitting-on-the-plane-about-to-visit-Joel-in-Nepal self saw them. My younger selves would have been mind-blown, I’m sure. They would have whispered Yes. That’s exactly what I want. That, in no uncertain terms, is happiness.
And yes, it is. It is happiness. But it’s happiness which has been earned. It’s not glossy magazine happiness and blue-house-with-daisies happiness. It’s not easy-breezy happiness I just fell into. Looking at these photos now, every smile has worth, more worth than my younger selves would have ever valued, because what I couldn’t have known back then was the back-breaking work and unthinkable exhaustion and messy, brutal efforts loving well truly entails. I would have just seen the breezy air and beautiful children and smiling man and said, without a moment’s hesitation, Yes! I’ll take it! Where do I sign?
I’ve worked for this love. These images hold weight and depth for me. They are 3-D and alive, piercing me with their beauty precisely because they’ve come at a cost. This cost might have made my younger selves take their sweet good time before signing on the dotted line; a cost that is invisible within the pink tones and the smooshy kisses and shining eyes I see in these pictures, a cost I doubt I would have fathomed back then.
But Cost, thank you. Because you’ve made this happiness mean so much more.
Much more than my younger selves could have ever imagined.
** All photos taken by Kate Veronica Photography, a Brisbane-based photographer specializing in families, children, pregnancy and newborn portraits. Kate has photographed my family four or five times now and I cannot recommend her enough. Check out her website here for more info.