You know you have problems when you hear yourself saying to a friend, “You are a much better perfectionist than I am…” without a note of irony in your voice. I said this very thing last night in a lengthy conversation with a dear old friend. I’ve long struggled with perfectionism and, so far, the only thing I’ve gotten from it is an ulcer. Nothing says, “I’m doing my best” like gastrointestinal bleeding. Most of the time, my perfectionism has led me to achieve. I was an excellent student and am well-respected in my profession. There are no big failures in my past. I look pretty good from the outside. The truth is, however, that there are no failures because I have never tried anything that that might be a risk. Sure, I had that spiral perm in 1989 but I could blame that on my mother and an overzealous stylist in southern Missouri. Really, I’ve never done anything that might somehow lead to personal failure. If something seemed challenging, I loped off in the other direction. I played it safe. Then, I had to go and have kids.
Last night, my son said, “I am so dumb. I’m like the dumbest person in this whole house”. I put my head in my hands and couldn’t help but think, “Well, I’ve already screwed this one up. Maybe I should try again with a fresh one”, like my children are Easter eggs and I can go down to the market and pick up an extra dozen just because the first ones cracked when I dipped them in the dye. As a parent, I can’t just give up because things aren’t perfect. I can’t move to a new house and fill it with a new family just because my real children scream sometimes and eat ketchup off of their plates with their fingers. I can’t cut my losses and run. Well, I could but I don’t want my kids to grow up and write a scathing memoir about me which would lead to me being stoned by strangers. I can’t run this time because I love my children madly and want the absolute best for them. They came into my life with their amazing smiles and their trusting eyes and they blink their gorgeous eye lashes at me expectantly like, “What’s next?!?!” And, for once in my life, I have to truly grapple with the fact that I don’t know what I'm doing. I have to live with the fact that I am going to annoy them, hurt them and disappoint them. I might very well be the person they complain about when they are talking with their friends over a glass of wine someday. I have to sit with the knowledge that I am perfectly imperfect.
I really hate that.