Thursday, March 26, 2015

A few stray peas

Last night Finn was finishing up his sweeping.  There were peas for dinner, so this was no small task.

As I scrubbed at the dishes in the sink, I glanced quickly behind me, hoping to monitor, and perhaps speed, his progress.  I found him on his hands and knees, pulling one single pea from underneath the table and brushing it into his dustpan.  And then again.  And again.

I turned back to the dishes, and about five minutes later he tapped me gently on my back.

"Is it good?" he asked.

I carefully studied the floor, and considered.  It wasn't perfect.  There were a few stray peas and some cranberries from Benjamin's wanderings earlier that day.  I could have, and maybe should have, sent him back.  To finish the job right.  To make it perfect.

But instead I knelt down and looked into his eyes.

"It looks great," I said.  "You really worked hard."

And I meant it.  I mean, comparatively, it looked much better than pre-sweeping.  And he had worked with such focus, his little tongue hanging out of his mouth, intent on corralling every, tiny pea.  I patted him on his tiny butt and sent him up the stairs for a bath.  Then I took the broom and meticulously swept every stray crumb before finishing the dishes.

Later, as I was getting ready for bed, I re-played these events in my head.  I was walking into the closet when I stopped, mid-step.  Because it hit me.  Right then.  Why don't I ever talk to myself like that?

I'm a bit of a perfectionist.  I mean, I hate the term.  Perfectionist.  It sounds like such an underhanded brag.  But I don't mean it like that.  I don't mean like the type of "perfectionist" who works so hard at perfecting that they become some successful big-shot with a top-floor office and a vacation house in the Hamptons.

I mean the kind of perfectionist who is scared to try anything, because what if I don't do it perfectly?  What if I'm not the best?

If I can think back on something I've done or something I've said or something I've written and find one, tiny hint of imperfection, I count the whole thing as a loss.  The whole interaction, the whole conversation, all of the words that surrounded that tiny dose of imperfection.  If it wasn't perfect, it wasn't any good.

And I thought, as I stood in our dark closet, Why don't I talk to myself like that?  Why don't I look around at all of the good, and excuse the few stray peas, and tell myself, good job!  You worked really hard!  You tried, and I'm proud of you for trying!

I distinctly recall my dad, in high school, telling me I didn't have to get all A's.  That all I had to do was try.

But I was holding a report card full of A's and I wanted to say, "Of course I do.  Because the A's prove something and a B wouldn't prove that thing."

And so I memorized pages of notes for the sake of A's and not at all for the sake of learning.  In fact, after a test, my mind dumped the pages of notes that it held, word for word, in order to make room for the next ones.  For the next A.

And so I don't, honestly, know where this perfectionism comes from.  Certainly not from my parents, who are two of the most encouraging people I know.  Who supported me in every decision I made.  Who advised me to "do what I love" in college, even when it meant walking away with a degree in English Literature and zero direction for my future.

But it's there.

If I'm being completely honest, which I guess I am, it's part of what I love about staying home with my kids.  Because they have no idea what kind of job I'm doing.  They know I'm not perfect, I guess, but they think I'm pretty darn close.  Or at least I assume so from their constant chanting of my name all day long.  I'm kind of a superstar around here.

But my kids and husband are easy.  They don't expect perfection, and they certainly don't give it.  We're imperfect and yet loved in this house.  It's normal.

So why do I expect it from myself?

Why do I beat myself up over the few stray peas instead of looking at the whole picture.  That I did something.  That there was a lot of good in that something.  And a little bit of bad.  But it doesn't matter because what matters is that I woke up that morning and I tried.

Joel has lost a lot of years from his life trying to convince me that there is no such thing as a perfect decision.  Or even a right decision, for that matter.  That we just make decisions and try to make the best of the circumstances that result from those decisions.  (I married a very wise man.)

When we made the decision to move here I expected the hard.  But I expected it to come and go quickly, and leave me, after the first month or so, basking in the warm rays of our good decision.

So after my self-imposed transition period, everything bad, every tear shed in my kitchen, every moment of marital discord, every pang of loneliness, led back to that one decision.  And I would tell Joel, "See!  I knew this would happen if we moved here.  We were happy before.  And now we've ruined everything!"

Of course Joel would stay annoyingly even-keeled, as though he knew, somehow, that things would change.  And, of course, they did.  And I could say great things now about our decision.

It doesn't mean it's not hard.  It doesn't mean there aren't stray peas spread about, threatening the absolute perfection of our life here.  But there's so much good too.  And I'm learning that a decision is just a decision.  I'm learning that it's better to do something than to do nothing at all.  Even if the something leaves a few stray peas in your wake.  Even if the result isn't perfection.

Sometimes I come to the end of a day and I feel like a failure.  I lost my temper with the kids before dinner.  I let Benjamin watch TV instead of playing with him.  I rushed through a bedtime story just to get them to sleep.  And the peas, somehow, define my day.  They cancel out all the kisses and the laughter and the sincere, albeit exhausted, love.

But I want to be kinder to myself.  I want to look around at my pretty clean floor and pat myself on the back for trying.  For getting under the table and pulling out those pesky, little peas, one by one.  And forgiving myself for missing a few.

And maybe, one day, I'll see that I needed those peas there.  That they stood in such contrast to the clean, white tile, I might not have noticed how good it looked without them there.  I might have completely overlooked all that good, if it weren't for those small hints of imperfection.   

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 
- 2 Corinthians 12:9

1 comment:

  1. After retirement my perfectionism has decreased. I realize that I can be happier if I cut myself....and Jim....a break. Good enough really can be good enough. Give yourself a break.