Life & Love

Hello, I’m Lorelei. I’m a writer, and a mother of two beautiful children. Oh, and I’ve been getting into filmmaking recently. Just dabbling, really. Maybe you’ve seen some of my recent work? Lentil Pizza: A Tragedy? The Interpretative Dances of My Daughter (Parts 1 – 26)? Of course, the work I’m most proud of is my first-person reportage on pinworm extraction. It’s a little gritty—as you might know, the front line of pinworm extraction is a sleeping child’s anus. But as an artist I’m inspired by real stories about real people. And their pinworms.

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I’m kidding, but only kind of. I am a writer, and a mother of two beautiful children, and I really did make all of the above ‘films,’ on Instagram stories. Until I had my second baby two years ago, I didn’t know that Instagram stories could help me express my struggling creative side. I didn’t know the extent to which my creative side was struggling.

Everyone says that the first year of the second child is one of the hardest periods in a parent’s life. That was definitely true for us—until we got to the second year. Then it got even harder. The relief I’d been expecting didn’t come, and the days of diaper changes, cooking meals that ended up on the floor, and carrying around two toddlers who were perfectly capable of walking seemed to expand out endlessly into oblivion.

Everyone said the first year of the second child is one of the hardest. Then it got harder.

Looking back, I can see that the thing I was most desperate for, besides a glass of wine, was to express myself, and not in the Medela sense of the word. I don’t think I’m alone. It may be hard to see it when you’re trapped inside the dense fog of child-raising, but I defy any parent not to call that smiley flourish of ketchup you squirt over your kid’s dinner “creative”, or to refer to your over-stacked dishwasher as “a legitimate architectural triumph.”

Things got better when I discovered that making stories out of the very things that were so monotonous and frustrating helped me cope better with them. I was astonished at how enjoyable and purposeful it felt to splice together a couple of ten-second videos, add some dumb captions, and broadcast even the most tedious minutiae. When an everyday catastrophe happened—like when my son spilled a packet of dried spaghetti all over the pantry floor—instead of getting mad or panicking, my reflex was to transform it into something entertaining instead. And by “entertaining” I mean turning the camera on myself and writhing all over the dried noodles so they made a satisfying crackling sound.

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Before long, I started getting messages from other parents who said they could relate to my stories. Normally, knowing I had an audience would make me stressed—what if my work was bad—but with stories I felt differently. If I do a bad or boring story, my audience just swipes through and it disappears 24 hours later. I feel zero pressure to make anything brilliant or perfect, which gives me more freedom to experiment, which in turn makes each day a potentially fun prospect instead of one filled with overarching dread. Without an audience I wouldn’t be as motivated to discover how much I can share, how much I can get away with, and how to tell a story that connects with others.

I turned the camera on myself, writhing all over the dried noodles my son spilled.

Until you’re living it, it’s hard to get your head around how inherently tedious and self-sacrificing raising children is. Or how painful it is to realize your professional capabilities have diminished since becoming a parent. In theory, I want to write a play. In practice there are two cranky children expecting me to make them dinner. But with just four ingredients (a frozen pizza base, a can of lentils, grated cheese, and a phone) I can create both a disgusting Lentil Pizza that they’ll throw all over the floor, and a compelling three-act drama to add to my stories.

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Instagram has become a kind of shorthand for the trappings of the enviable, perfectly curated life. But the photos of beautifully dressed children in spotless neutral colors playing with expensive wooden toys are nowhere near as entertaining as a video of a toddler quaffing from a (thankfully empty) wine glass in their bubble bath, set to the Superzoom Beats filter. Stories has flipped the Instagram script, and for those of us who value creating and documenting more than curating it’s a fine time to be online.

My new filmmaking hobby (I can call it filmmaking if I want you can’t stop me) has been good for all of us in unexpected ways. During my five years as a mom I’ve tried medication, therapy and meditation, and they’ve all assisted in various ways to get me through my hardest days. But documenting the daily happenings of family life has lifted my mood more than any other remedy. It’s hard to be bored or unhappy when you’re constantly on the lookout for interesting things to add to your story. Because I consider myself a Good Parent, I hate being on my phone a lot in front of my kids. But I also don’t want them to have a joyless parent at home who is barely coping. So a while ago I decided to cut myself a break from that never-ending guilt trip.

It’s hard to be bored when you’re on the lookout for things to add to your Instagram story.

All the things I hate to do that my kids love become interesting—even fun—when I turn them into a story: My Little Ponies, blowing bubbles, playing “mothers and babies.” (Seriously, why would I ever want to play this game, it sounds like an absolute nightmare, i.e. actual life.) With the camera focused on what my children are doing, I become more engaged, instead of the usual braindead zombie that interacts limply with them. I notice my kids becoming more engaged too, catching on to my renewed excitement and interest in them.

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Still, I can’t disregard the Elefun in the room. Am I exploiting my kids? It’s a question I wonder about a lot, and then … I don’t. Everyone will have their own boundaries of how much they’re willing to share of their kids on social media, and I know where my boundaries lie. (Everything up to and including retrieving a cluster of pinworms on a strip of Scotch tape, apparently.) The stories make people feel good, and most of all they entertain me, so I’ve decided that, for us, it’s okay. Our informal family motto is “Everyone helps each other.” I hope that when they’re older they’ll understand how much they’ve helped me during this time.

I’m sure many parents will continue to share only their most beautiful, constructed moments, and that’s their prerogative. But those perfectionist ‘grammers are ignoring what we all know: that the best material comes from the most out-of-control and messy moments in life. So I’m sticking to the credo of the magnificent Grace Coddington in The September Issue. “Always keep your eyes open,” she says. “Keep watching. Because whatever you can see out the window, or whatever, it can inspire you.”

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