Ward and June Don't Live Here
Reflections on charmed lives, envy and the half-truths told by social media.
The lawn in front of the beautiful red brick colonial home was such a beautiful hue of green, so lush and perfectly manicured it looked like a golf course. As I was having lawn lust, a tiny red sports car began pulling out of the driveway, the quintessential country club couple flashed their dazzling smiles and kindly motioned my bike group forward. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better a fuzzy, big English Sheep dog popped his head out of the back seat, looked at us and I swear- he smiled with pearly whites mirroring his owners’ flawless smiles! The cuteness barometer blew up! My bike group meandered through the upscale neighborhood on our way to the river trails and I marveled out loud to a friend- can anyone’s life really be that picture perfect? Is there always another story lying beneath the surface, or do I just want to believe there’s a crack somewhere so my own life doesn’t look blemished in comparison?
A few years ago, I posted a blog on my Facebook about growing up in the '60s with a sibling with an intellectual disability and how as a child I had often wondered why my family wasn’t “normal” when everyone else’s family seemed to be living in June and Ward Cleaver’s house. As an adult I had come to realize that wasn’t the case, yet I was still surprised at how many private messages I received from childhood acquaintances telling me about their private family issues. Apparently, many of the “ideal” families I envied had their own fault lines, yet we all had attempted to present a façade of perfection.
There is no doubt that some people sail through life in a yacht while others are perpetually bailing water in a leaky canoe. Despite Jefferson’s words in The Declaration of Independence, we aren’t all created equal. Some have built-in disadvantages such as being born into abject poverty, being part of an oppressed minority or having an intellectual disability. Then there are those who seem to have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths and have it all going for them; looks, family wealth, intelligence and a college education without the debt. I shamefully admit I’ve envied those that seem to have won the lottery without ever buying a ticket, but are their lives as seamless as they appear? We can’t deny money greases the wheels of life and can go a distance in easing the pain, but money and good looks don’t always guarantee smooth sailing. Accidents happen, people get cancer, spouses cheat and abandon you, children rebel and break your heart, the Tesla car battery runs out of juice. Stuff happens even in the most affluent circumstances.
There is a saying that into every life some rain must fall, but some people appear to lead a charmed life and then there are those people that never seem to catch a break. Most of us fall in the middle of the spectrum and experience an ebb and flow of good and bad. One evening my husband and I were reflecting on how perfect everything in our lives was at that moment; we had good jobs and a nice home, our kids were successful and happy, we were all in good health. It was almost too good to be true. I’m glad we knew to be grateful and relish the moment because in a few months there was an ill parent, an unexpected financial burden and a struggling child, the normal ups and downs of life that most of us weather.
When I catch myself figuratively peering into the rose-colored windows of the picturesque brick Colonial house envisioning June in her heels and pearls serving “The Beaver," Ward and Wally dinner, I remind myself the Cleaver family existed only in television land. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in real life and that’s ok, we need to love what we have instead of yearning for the unattainable version of fictional families. Social media is a semi-fictional account of people’s lives. The highlights, the accomplishments, the parties, the carefully edited photos are posted, and if you’re gullible enough to believe that’s the entire story you can be left feeling inadequate in comparison. But what you don’t see are the failures, the lonely nights, the struggles, or the bad hair days. I love my family complete with all our foibles and quirks. I have a reasonably good life most of the time, but I assure you: Ward and June Cleaver don’t live here.