I was one of those little girls who grew up dreaming about getting married and having kids instead of changing the world through a fascinating career. It was all I ever wanted for my life. I suppose this natural bent in my personality was only amplified by the plethora of Disney princess movies I watched as a kid. The fact that my mom was a wedding coordinator and one of her close friends was a florist probably played a part, too. I would drool over wedding dresses in magazines, think about the best flowers for wedding bouquets, dream about my future groom, and sketch pictures of my closest friends in fancy bridesmaids dresses.

Whenever I thought of being a wife and a mom, it was always with this dreamy, romantic outlook. I thought of waking up in bed next to someone and having him kiss me on the forehead and tell me “Good morning.” I thought of cuddling chubby, rosy-cheeked little babies who always slept eight hours and smelled like flowers and baby powder. I picked out baby names and plotted how many kids I would have. I wondered what my husband might do for a living, and what kind of a mother I would be. My rough idea was that I’d be one of those awesome moms who never shouted and did crafts with my kids every day in my beautiful, spotless house. And this was even before Pinterest. 😉

If someone would have told me all those years ago that someday I would grow up to marry my childhood sweetheart, have three little girls, live in a little house five minutes away from my parents, and have a dog and a cat, I would have been ecstatic. It would have been hard to wait for my amazing future.

And in many ways, my life is the beautiful thing I imagined.

I have a husband who loves and cherishes me unconditionally. I have three sweet girls with the incredible potential to go out and change this world for the better. I have an adorable dog and a cuddly kitty. I have a home to call my own.

And yet, this whole “happily ever after” thing isn’t exactly the way I imagined it.

See, when you’re a kid thinking about the family you’ll have someday, you don’t know about the sleepless nights with that crying baby, and how hard it is to function on repeated nights without rest. You don’t know about the stubborn sin natures and complicated fights your kids have, and that you’ll often feel more like a judge or a referee than a mom. You don’t realize that having three girls can sometimes be more like a horror story than something from a fairy tale.

You don’t think about the fact that your handsome prince charming might snore horribly, or have bad morning breath, or stink up the air with foul gas in the middle of the night.

You don’t know about financial struggles, or mildewy walls, or toilets that decide to flood at twelve o’clock the night before your girls’ first day at a new school. You don’t know about never-ending laundry piles and socks that magically lose their match no matter what you try. About dogs who run away to your neighbor’s backyard on a rainy morning when you’re trying to make breakfast and get three girls ready for school, and the way you’ll be running around after him in your pajamas for all your neighbors to see. About cats who suck on your ear until they drool or go from sweet, cuddly kitty to feral, psycho-ninja kitty in a matter of seconds.

You don’t realize that your husband might not have that simple eight to five job you pictured, but that he’ll work long, late hours, and sometimes nights, so you can stay home with the kids. And even though you’ll be grateful for his sacrifice, you’ll miss him and sometimes feel like a single parent with a salary.

You don’t know that sometimes as a mom you’ll feel so overwhelmed, so incredibly crippled by guilt, so worried you’re doing everything wrong, that you’ll spend nights crying by yourself while your husband works a late night shift. You don’t know that half the time, you’ll have no idea what you’re doing, and that your mom really did make it look a lot easier than it was.

You don’t know that your hormones might be so messed up that you’ll have to take Lexipro to be able to deal with the normal trials of everyday life that most people handle without medication.

You don’t know that you’ll still be struggling with those body image issues you had as a young girl, and you’ll be terrified of passing the same mindset on to your precious daughters.

After fifteen years of marriage and thirteen years of parenting, I know all about those things now. My life is a mess. I’ll be the first to admit it.

The first sign of this is my house itself. It’s typically buried in piles of laundry, dishes, and toys. I don’t have a Better Homes and Gardens home. It would be more likely to feature in an episode of Hoarders. Adding two pets that get to hang out inside hasn’t helped the situation. The house is usually only clean when people are coming over to visit, and drop-in visits from friends are among my deepest fears.

But it’s not just my home that’s a mess. It’s me, too.

I’m not the naturally loving, patient person I always thought myself to be before I had kids. I’m impatient. I’m selfish. I can be too authoritative and mean in my discipline. And many times, the things that frustrate me most about my children are the things that make life more inconvenient or embarrassing for me. I can be stubborn. Sometimes, I don’t respect my husband the way I should, and I focus on the things he’s not doing rather than all the things he does for us.

My kids aren’t perfect. They like to argue. Sometimes a lot. My youngest can be a bit of a bully. My oldest can be the boss of the universe. My middle has a hard time standing up for herself or sharing her thoughts at all.

And don’t even get me started on my crazy animals that wrestle around the house like high school boys, coating everything in a layer of hair and filling the air with the charming odors of wet dog and litter box contents.

Without my Jesus, I don’t know where I’d be.

As I look at this terrible, wonderful, beautiful mess around me that is my life, though, I realize I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because through the tears, through the frustration, the guilt, and the times I’ve royally messed up, there are those moments that make it all worth it.

Like the nights your daughters are so excited to talk to you that you can’t get them to go to bed because they have so much to share with you. Or those times they are so sweet with each other, so loving, that you see a glimpse of the lifelong friendships they will share.

There’s the day you realize that your thirteen-year-old is becoming one of your best friends as well as your daughter. Or the days your eleven-year-old keeps you entertained with her silly antics and brilliant comedic timing. Or those times your nine-year-old comes up and gives you a big hug just because she loves you so much.

There are those sweet, wonderful moments when your husband makes you laugh when you’ve had a hard day, or when he does the dishes, or takes out the trash without being asked, or walks the nutso dog so you don’t have to. Or maybe he still tells you you’re beautiful, and even though you don’t agree with him, you love that he says it, especially since you know he really means it. In his eyes, you are his beautiful bride: cellulite, varicose veins, double chin and all.

There are those times you’re cuddling with your crazy pets and you realize how much you love them. As frustrating as they can be, they give your life more meaning.

There are the moments you watch your children conquer a fear they’ve always had, like this summer, when my two youngest tackled their fear of water and learned to swim. To watch their slow transformations from caterpillars to butterflies in the pool was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

There are those cherished times spent together on family vacation, taking a day slowly on the way back home just because we can, and finding a brand new beach together, or visiting places you went as a child.

There are those days when you’re so glad you’re a wife and mom, because you know there’s nothing else in the world you’d find that rewarding and fulfilling.

I did end up with my own sort of “happily ever after.” It’s just a little messier, a little crazier than I pictured it. And that’s fine with me. 😉