A Perfect Year
Raising children in a small town has its advantages. It’s never far to get from school to the pool, and from there to the arena, and then back home. If you’re stuck, you can usually call any number of parents to give your child a ride home. But it also has its downsides.
From across the room I once witnessed my three-year-old spill a humungous jar of sparkles all over the library floor. It wasn’t really her fault. She was shaking and shaking and shaking and the top just shook right off. And my jaw dropped. And there were sparkles everywhere. I suppose I should have been at her side, helping negotiate these crafting pitfalls. In the big city it’s easy: you just pretend the child is not yours and then surreptitiously make your way back through the stacks of books. While everyone is off searching for the offending parent you can make your getaway. But in a small town everyone knows who you are. They know what car you drive. They know where you live.
It seems I am forever expecting more from my children than they can reasonably be expected to handle. My mother would have told me this is because I am a fool. Her definition: someone who makes the same mistake twice. But at least I know I am not perfect. At least I am in a position to learn from my mistakes. It happened again last week - my five year old decided she would like to wear lipstick to her performance. “I don’t know if you are allowed to wear lipstick,” I replied. “But... whatever, hurry-up, we are going to be late, throw it in the bag. If your teacher tells you to take it off, then take it off. Okay?”
The next thing I know I am waiting for the show to start, and parent volunteers are rushing here and there. “ Who would do such a thing? There is lipstick everywhere.” My heart dropped into my stomach and I knew, I just knew, we were in trouble again. I started to formulate my apologies. I am really sorry, I just wasn’t thinking.
I am not the perfect parent. I just write about how to be one in this magazine.
We never did find out what really happened. I tried to tease it out of her but she simply replied, “Mom, I would prefer if we not talk about that... ever.”
When my husband was a kid, his mother lost him in the grocery store. She found him with half his arm stuck in a gumball machine. Following the extrication he also requested that the incident never be mentioned again. Until she told me a few years back, she honoured that request. In addition to being a wonderful grandmother, she has the good sense to let the past be the past. Live and learn, and move on. Kids are not the only ones to lose their mitts, topple over a glass, or put their foot in their mouth. So why be so hard on them? Make lots of mistakes, and learn from them. Don’t try to be perfect, just try.
If you want your children to have the perfect life they have to understand and live out two things: stubborn perfectionism can be cured with determined gratitude, and the past is the past. You can spend your whole life beating pillows over an imperfect yesterday, and some people do but you are only robbing yourself of the possibility of a perfect present. Try and be grateful for what you have left, and teach your children to be grateful. Once in a while, when perfectionists actually experience perfection what they realize is it was there all along. And they had no business trying to define perfection in the first place.
Sometimes when I am especially grateful, and therefore especially cheery, I will respond to the usual, “How are you?” with “I’m perfect.” Of course what I really mean is I am perfectly comfortable with my imperfection. There is a lot of anxiety to be perfect out there. I hate to see our kids suffocate in it. This year, what I will be whispering to my children before a big event will be, “It’s going to be great, but don’t try to be perfect. I’m not.”