Time to do all the fall things, eat all the fall foods, drink all the fall drinks...take all the fall pictures! ... Or at least that's what social media tells us. My Instagram feed is flooded with girls in boots, frolicking through leaves (pumpkin spice lattes in hand), and kids clad in matching outfits, propped up on gourds. Everyone's checking the fall boxes: Wear the scarves! Pick the apples! Snap, snap, snap the photos!
Now, don't get me wrong, I love fall, I love bonfires, costumes (duh), and pumpkin everything, but it does feel like the fall frenzy is getting just a wee bit out of control. It's not enough to just do fall things...we have to curate a fall experience.
A few weekends ago we had the most beautiful October weather Ohio has ever known, so naturally it seemed like the perfect day to head out to the farm to take advantage of the warmer temps, and satisfy all the things on our Fall bucket list. But we got busy, and before I knew it, it was Sunday and we still hadn't made the Autumn dreams happen. I started strategizing how we could squeeze in a trip to the pumpkin patch... Let's get to church but leave right after it ends, eat a quick lunch, move naps up earlier, force feed the baby...wait, we need to get our outfits. Where did his pumpkin hat go? What time does the farm close? Do you have any cash? We need to get all the strollers packed...
And as I scrambled to make this dream happen, I realized...I was going for the wrong reasons. I wasn't going to have fun with my family. I was going to take pictures of having fun with my family. (Ugh. That sounds even grosser in writing than it does in my head). Sure, the kids would enjoy a fall festival (in theory...) but it had been an exhausting weekend, plus they were fighting off some colds, so forcing everyone to toughen up in the name of memory making seemed a little cruel. We decided it'd be better to stay home, and make our own low-key fun, rather than trek out to the country for a magical photo op. And honestly? We ended up having a lovely afternoon. We put on football, did some coloring, and even made our own apple cider slushies.
But while I know that was the right choice for us in that moment, I still struggle sometimes with jealousy over other people's picture perfect portrayals of their lives. And I know the pressure for me to snap-snap-snap magic memory shots is only going to get worse as we head into the holiday season. I'll want to capture the perfect Thanksgiving spread, get a Christmas-card worthy family photo, document the annual trek to choose our tree, record the priceless first reactions to opening presents... And those are all good, beautiful things, but they can get ugly if my motives aren't right. The problem isn't with the activity, or even the portrayal...it's with my heart.
A trip to the pumpkin patch can be a fun family outing, filled with laughs and precious memories. Or, it can be a stressful "this was supposed to be fun, why is everyone crying?!" type of event, done in an attempt to keep up with the my self-imposed standards of the season. With three kids three and under, I had to surrender to the fact that for us, this year just wasn't a pumpkin patch year. And even tougher, I had to be honest with myself that a part of me was chasing the output of the activity (artsy photos, a beautifully curated "feed", satisfaction of things checked off a subconscious list), while ignoring the needs and limits of this stage of our life. It's not wrong for me to want beautiful momentos of our time spent together. But I have to check myself in the process: what do I have to put my family through to get those pictures? And what do I have to crop out to keep up with the social media success formula of white space + sunflare + soft filter? ...Is it worth it? Is it real?
So after all that, we did still get pumpkins...I'm not an Autumn Grinch! But we chose to make an after-school stop at Home Depot, rather than a day long trek to a far-flung farm. It didn't result in a #goals captioned instagram picture but I can assure you my kids didn't care one bit. They ran happily up and down the parking lot "patch" showing off their pumpkin-lifting muscles and striving to find the just right pumpkin to bring home. The setting maybe wasn't the coolest (it was...orange!) and their clothes weren't matching (or clean even) but the day served as a reminder to me that none of those things are the point. Their smiles were just as big, the joy was just as real, and the memory was worth just as much.
In the end, there's no right way to celebrate fall (or Christmas, or Birthdays...or...). Going all out with themed decor, matching outfits, stunning pictures is fantastic if that's what fills you up and works for your family. And skipping the chaos if it's stressing you out? That's okay too! Regardless of where we fall on the spectrum, let's chase real this season. Let's pursue having fun first, and capturing it second. Let's be honest with ourselves (and each other) about when we're in it for the image more than the experience. Let's have grace with ourselves (and each other) when picture perfect just isn't happening. Let's record the reality of motherhood: matching or messy, pretty or pretty cranky, because there's beauty, and value, in it all.