This awful “perfect” thing

Today was one … perfect day

Got up, wrote, visited some other women’s fabulous websites , got some heaters for Mom, did a machine circuit and a deep water aquafit class, danced with David to a beautiful Andrea Bocelli CD, delivered the heaters to Mom and set her up, met friends for a movie and great Italian dinner.  Came home and ended the evening with a little slice of pumpkin pie since Canadian Thanksgiving – the one without the pilgrims – was just around the corner.  Shpilkes still at work I guess.

 Ah – it’s this whole “perfect” thing that’s got me thinking these days.  Seems to me that perfect is a standard that plagued my life and, in the end, in some ways it ends up dropping me into a muddled lump.  What’s the problem with the “perfect” thing?  Well, I started up aiming to be the perfect “x”, at least thinking that if I was perfect then I’d be loved.  Perfect daughter, perfect sister, perfect student, perfect mother, perfect teacher, perfect wife.  Inevitably reality peeks in and the image of perfect starts to dissemble, evaporting away until it’s unrecognizable.  Because, it seems, the minute I realize that I’m not perfect at whatever I slide into thinking about that way is the moment I start to think that I’m the worst. 

Let’s take motherhood as an example.  As a young woman I remember being very moved when I heard Jackie Kennedy – a heroine of mine in my youth – say that in the end what would really matter is only how good a mother she had been.  That, I thought, was a proper sentiment.  So that’s how I went into motherhood, thinking that no matter what else I achieved in life if I wasn’t a good – a perfect – mother … it just wouldn’t count.

There’s my particular story through motherood and I’m guessing that if I genearlize from the details it’s a tale many of us have actually lived.  You start full of ideals and commitments:  I’ll never raise my voice, I’ll never get unglued, I’ll never feel discouraged or even depressed, I’ll never say “because I’m your mother and I said so”.  Started that way.  I clearly remember the first time, in the midst of chaos, I belted out:  “because I’m your mother and I said so” and I felt such a sense of euphoria; why hadn’t I done that before?  Raising three children on my own (starting when they were five, four and one and a half) and – as is true for all of us – bringing my own issues and insecurities and immaturities (in varying levels) to the task, I did my best.  Seemed to be doing not so badly until my children began entering adolescence and so began an atmospheric change tantamount, I’m sure, to a category five hurricane.   Totally unprepared for this sudden flip from “mommy, will you marry me when I grow up?” to “you’re the worst parent that ever walked the face of the earth and lived to talk about it” in one fell swoop, I found myself pretty much totally overwhelmed for the next number of parenting years.  And that’s when the terror of “perfect” really set in.  All of the self-doubts about parenting flourished in an environment with one of me and pretty soon three adolescents; there was no shortage, in those turbulent and tumultuous years, of messages of failure as a parent.  I followed Winston Churchill’s advice, embedded in his saying that “courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”.   Of course there’s also Santayana‘s saying that “fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” I knew intellectually that this was part of the transition from childhood to adulthood – the needing to push mommy away, come out of the shadows, and become your own person that every one of us pretty much has to go through … although some do it with more ease and grace than others.  I knew that … in my head.  But in my heart?  If I wasn’t the “perfect” parent, then I was the worst.

It’s a set-up looking for the “perfect” anything.  Voltaire said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”  I think he was right.  I realize that now.  It doesn’t matter if I was or wasn’t a perfect daughter; what matters is that today I’m a good daughter.  It doesn’t matter if I was or wasn’t the perfect mother; I continue to try to be a good mother and a good grandmother.  Not perfect; just good.  It’s an entire reassessment.  Is there really anything wrong in just being a good wife?  Seems much more likely to be a challenge I can meet than the “perfect” anything could be … which means that maybe, just maybe,  I can learn to be comfortable with who I am.   Could it be that good is perfect .. or am I just on tautological thin ice?

Which brings me back to the perfect day.  Seems to me that the measure of a perfect day being one in which I am able to accomplish twice as much as any other human being would expect to do in a day … in half the time and while well-dressed, charming, in good humour, and intellectually stimulating … well, that’s just not the way I might want to imagine perfect any more. 

Not having to be at work long hours every weekday any more I am about to enter a place where I can choose how much running I do, how much hurrying and stressing and overloading.  Maybe it’s time for a perfect day to be the one in which most of my time is spent being mindful of the joys of the moment and the beauty all around me; maybe it’s being ready to take flight or just sit back and watch the sunset.  Maybe a perfect day will come to mean one in which there is time to sit … thinking or not. 

There’s nothing to keep me from trying on a new sense of perfection is there?


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