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Instagram vs. reality: Holiday edition

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Preston Lecky, Scarlett Lecky

THIS IS REAL LIFE Mom-of-two Caroline Lecky had the perfect matching Christmas outfits for her son Preston and daughter Scarlett, then 16 months and 3 years old, for pictures with Santa. But life doesn't always go according to plan – especially life with little ones.

Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 8.

As my entire family waited in the drive-through line of Whataburger, my four kids, all under the age of 7 at the time, were fighting over a silly toy. Suddenly, my phone rang. It was a little after 6 p.m. on a chilly Thursday before Christmas 2021.

I answered. I heard a kind voice. “Annie?” “Yes, this is she,” I replied. “I got a cancellation for a carriage ride. Can you all be here in 15 minutes?” he asked.

Well, 15 minutes usually is not even enough time for my kids to put on their shoes, but as fate had it that wintery evening, we were just down the street from the meeting spot of these horse-drawn carriage rides to look at Christmas lights. We decided to go for it.

I had spoken to the man in November, hoping to book a picturesque carriage. He explained that not only was he full but he’d been full for months. I asked if he could put me on a cancellation list just in case. He took down my number. I sort of forgot about it.

Well, that phone call was our moment. Here was the Christmas memory I had dreamt of for my kids – riding with blankets and hot chocolate past colorful twinkling lights while the steady beat of horse hooves played in the background.

We pulled up. At least 12 horse-drawn carriages filled the lot. Parents and kids, head to toe in perfect holiday outfits, awaited. Everyone had gloves and blankets and Yetis filled with hot chocolate. And there we were. Ketchup was all over my toddler’s face and my older son did not like the shoes he brought. He insisted on walking to the carriage without shoes on. Sigh.

I was wearing workout clothes from the day’s holiday errands. All four of my children had disheveled hair. Even though it was chaotic, I believe that if I had tried to plan a perfect holiday outing in advance, it not only would not have gone as planned, but it might not have happened at all. Because life happens. Life with kids happens.

As we loaded into the carriage, I grabbed my phone to snap a photo of my kids in the carriage. It was not an Instagram-worthy photo. It was reality. The moment was chaos, but it was beautiful chaos, and it filled my heart. That chaotic night is burned in my brain. It was not perfect by any stretch. It was real.

The holidays can add extra stress for parents, especially parents with young children and babies. It is the pressure to have the gifts wrapped in perfect matching paper. Have matching dresses and make picture-perfect sugary iced cookies. Do not forget to snap beautiful photos for the ’gram (Instagram for those who do not know).

Well, what if we did not give in to that stress? What if in the “Instagram versus reality” world, we leaned into reality instead of the picture-perfect Instagram scene? What if we skipped the gram-worthy photos and embraced the chaos?

Erin Dickerman, a mom of three, says she tried to make the holidays extra special in 2020. “I wanted to make up for not being able to do any of the normal stuff that year,” she said. She tried all sorts of crafts and home activities that year. She tried to make some cute Pinterest crafts that she says she rarely tackles at home. “One of the crafts we tried to do was make cinnamon dough ornaments,” said Erin. She set up the ingredients and supplies. In her mind, she envisioned creating these save-worthy ornaments to hang on the tree and keep year after year.

Erin had three kids under the age of 3 – big brother Spencer, and baby twins, Lucy and Crosby. The supplies were out, and it was a mess. Lucy attempted to eat the paint. Fail. But she remembers it as a fun day.

The Dickermans, who also celebrate Hanukkah, got Spencer a “laser dreidel” when he was 2. “He was terrified,” said Erin. They took a video of Spencer, shrieking and running away from the light-up dreidel, which spun around the room.

A few years ago, Buzz mom Caroline Lecky planned a visit with Santa for her two children, Scarlett and Preston. She purchased adorable matching tartan plaid outfits for them to wear. From their outfits to their socks, shoes, and Scarlett’s little bow, everything was on point and running smoothly. As Scarlett was walking up to enter, she tripped outside in the parking lot and cut her knee. Caroline had to put two large blue band-aids on the cut, which showed up in the picture. It makes for a funny story now, even though it was not too funny at the time.

As a parent, it can be a challenge to relax during the holidays. We have in our minds the way we want things to go, and the way they do go. So, whether you devise your family’s holiday plans months in advance or accept a last-minute carriage ride cancellation, just try to forget about taking those perfect Insta-worthy photos. Let us all post the failed attempts – the real ones. Happy Holidays.

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