Have you ever taken your kids to a local park to feed the ducks? Have you ever pondered how ducks swim? A swimming duck appears to be simply sitting ever so serenely on the surface of the water, gliding effortlessly from one side of the pond to the other. Yet, if we could see as clearly underneath the surface of the water, we would have a completely different perspective. Below the serenity, below the effortless glide, we would see the duck’s feet moving in a more frenetic manner with one powerful stroke after another to propel the duck across the surface of the water. My mom has a little picture of a duck at her house with a quote that reads: “Be like a duck. Stay calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.”
If you pause to consider it, a mom’s life is not so unlike a swimming duck. Think about it for a moment. We take a gander (just could not resist that pun!) around the duck pond and what do we see? We see all the other mama ducks gliding effortlessly across the pond. All their little ducklings are following in a neat, orderly row right behind them. How cool, calm, and collected they all look…on the surface!
What we fail to note in our observation of the other mama ducks’ lives is that they are paddling just as frantically under the surface of things as we are. Their lives are just as crazy, just as chaotic, just as frustrating, and just as exhausting as ours. We misinterpret our observations and begin to think that Mrs. Mallard is just so organized, so on top of things, so much better a wife and mom than we are. We place upon ourselves unrealistic expectations and burden our families while trying to present the same effortless façade that we mistakenly perceive the Mallards maintain. I guarantee you, however, that Mrs. Mallard is also feeling those same pressures and below the surface; she is struggling just as much as you may be.
We live in an age where we are continually bombarded with images of perfection. From the magazines at the grocery store check-outs that are smeared from one cover to the next with celebrities and their perfect(ly airbrushed) bodies to the posts of friends on Facebook, we constantly assess where our lives fall in relation to what everyone else may (or may not actually) be doing. We make assumptions about the lives of others without being able to see the complete picture and then we value (or devalue) ourselves according to those (inaccurate) presumptions we have made.
In comparing ourselves to Mrs. Mallard, we need to consider that each person to walk the face of this earth not only has been gifted with natural strengths, but also suffers in the face of natural weaknesses. For some reason, we tend to look longingly at the strong suits of others without taking the time to consider that they also struggle with deficiencies. We engage in a mental exercise of comparison, yet we tend to use a more stringent measure when we evaluate our own lives. We look at ourselves and allow our shortcomings to overshadow our talents.
If we are to compare and assess, let us do so honestly. Maybe, in my yearning for Mrs. Mallard’s natural ability to organize I fail to notice that she quite equally craves my own natural creativity. Perhaps, she excels at structure and self-discipline, but I excel at flexibility and adaptability. We view her as an Olympic gold medalist for her natural abilities and yet consider ourselves abject failures in comparison because of our inadequacies in the same area. We believe she has it all together and we don’t. But, as we’ve learned from watching the ducks swim, we have to realize that what we see on the surface is not all there is. Mrs. Mallard struggles too.
It seems that oftentimes we are more likely to forgive and gloss over the shortcomings of others than we are of ourselves. We are harder on ourselves and place heavier burdens on our own shoulders than we need to try to carry. We think we need to be superheroes. We think everyone else has it all together and we wonder why we don’t. We truly have to remember that what we perceive is often only half of the story. We have to give ourselves the grace not to try to keep up the appearance of perfectly smooth sailing. It’s not reality in the same way that we all know that “Reality TV” is not true reality.
Keeping up with the Mallards is an exercise in the futility of trying to keep up with the illusion of a half truth. It causes us to doubt our own abilities and undermines our self-confidence. It causes us to perceive life incorrectly and to desire that which does not exist. Each of us is a beautiful, unique creation whose worth cannot be measured one against another. The value of one person is no greater and no less than the next. Keeping up with the Mallards causes us to paddle like crazy underneath all the while sacrificing the joy of our own effortless glide above.