Sunday, May 20, 2012

Preventing Perfection

Sophia said something the other morning that freaked me out. 

Kevin had been out of town for a couple of days, and we were having a leisurely morning.  She woke me with a stack of books, asking if we could snuggle and read them together.


Gradually we had dragged ourselves out of bed and I was puttering around the room, putting laundry away that had been sitting in a basket for about a week.  Sophie was doing gymnastics on my mattress. 

“Watch this, Mommy!  Are you watching me?  Watch me!”  She was flat on her back.

“I’m watching, I’m watching.”  I say, turning from search in the closet for an empty hanger.

Sophie arches up into a bridge.  I am impressed.  I didn’t know she could do it.

“Isn’t it a perfect bridge?” 

Perfect.  I am fairly certain it is the first time I have heard her use this word.  And it jumps out of the sentence at me, as if she had just cursed. 

Perfect is a concept that tortures me.  I walk around with this theoretical, aspirational, physically impossible sense of how things should be, and beat myself up when I fall short of it.  The mantle of perfection makes it impossible to enjoy the pretty good.  It robs me of satisfaction. 

I love reading stories of people who were able to suddenly “let go” of their perfectionism, or at least some glossy image of who they think they should be.  People like Anna Quindalen, who in her 1999 commencement speech that became the book, Being Perfect, urged the young grads of Mount Holyoke to “Give up the nonsensical and punishing quest for perfection that dogs too many of us through too much of our lives. It is a quest that causes us to doubt and denigrate ourselves, our true selves, our quirks and foibles and great leaps into the unknown….” 

How I envy Anna.  Sure, I have moments, periods even, where I am happy with things-as-they-are.  But then I slip back into my perfectionistic ways, and the happiness evaporates.  I know there is a “better” way to be, I just can’t be it.  I’m hoping that it is a developmental leap one finally makes in the latter third of one’s life.  Just as the sudden the way I acquired object permanence in infancy, one day I’ll wake up and embraced my flawed self. 

Please let that be the case.

But even if it is too late for me, if I am already too far gone, perhaps I can prevent perfectionism in my daughter.  Maybe it is possible to teach her that the goal is not a flawless performance, but the pride and the joy in the doing. 

It is worth a try.

I smile at Sophia, who is thrilled with what she has discovered her body can do, and I tell her.  “Sophia, perfect is such a silly word.  There’s no such thing as perfect.  Let’s think of a better word to describe your bridge.  Something that says how proud you are of it.”

“How about awesome?”

Yes, I think, that’s perfect.  

No comments: