Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Perfectionism...Woe to the Imperfect

People often say that parenting brings out the best and the worst of the virtues and vices within. The little bundle of joy nestled so snug in the soft cotton blanket is still cuddly at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am…, but by 5 am the patience is somehow clouded by the blurry cotton balls that have lodged themselves between the eyelids. Frantic, we panic. Help! We think. This child is not sleeping! There is something wrong! A new blanket! A new crib! Something that vibrates, or hums, or whirrs…..yes! This must be the trick!  And so we race to the store the next day and stock up on something, anything that will result in a night of sleep. We have spent a boatload of money on each of our three children when we reach the two-week sleep deprivation stage. (Side note: this is the time to offer babysitting services to new families. One hour of sleep in the afternoon could save them $200 in impulse buys at Babies R Us the next day.)

I never considered myself a perfectionist. To me, perfectionists were people whose lives were perfect. These were my friends with perfectly ordered lockers in Middle School, with binders always impeccably arranged, with bedrooms always tidy, makeup always flawless, clothes never out of style, hair exactly the way it was supposed to stand up or curl or hang.  But having children has revealed that, Hello, I am…a Perfectionist. But even worse, I am a perfectionist who is woefully, absolutely, never ever perfect. Ever. I exist in a state of constant panic and frenzy, trying to create a perfect organic, loving, music-laden, natural-toy (but not too many toy) family environment amidst three budding, growing, exploring children; trying to create a perfect home to entertain family and friends that gives the illusion of order and serenity; trying to create a perfect veggie-laden, homemade, chemical-free lifestyle to nurture my family while adhering to a tight budget…. and for my efforts I reward myself with an inward grade of “FAIL” by the day, hour, minute. And so I run faster, sweeping, baking, wiping noses. Exhausting myself and bewildering my husband, who cannot understand why I burst into tears when the toddler spills his milk on my newly cleaned floors (shouldn’t it be the toddler who is crying?)
Just sit down and rest, he commands, and so I do, thinking inwardly about how while he’s bathing the children for me I’m going to “quickly” tidy up the living room, wash the dishes, throw in a load of laundry, fold some towels, and then hop back on the couch to exude a picture of peace and calm when the children return. I’m so tired, I say, and I am. Perfectionism for a perfect person must be hard. Perfectionism for an imperfect, striving mother or three small children… is going to lead me straight to loonyville.
So…what to do? I crave order. I read parenting books that tell me that my children crave order. AAAAAGGGH! What do I want for Christmas? Some order. Some consistency. Less running, less yelling, less pounding up and and down the stairs. Is this reasonable? Feasible? I read blogs by women with 10 children who insist that oh, yes, it is so feasible. I bake, I sew, I clean, and on the side I self-teach my children who are all on the verge of winning Nobel prizes for their absolute brilliance. Piece of cake! Just make a list or two.
In the meantime, for those of us who are mere mortals, I have decided on a few basic necessities that will, I hope, keep me from being admitted somewhere. First, I need quiet time. And more than five minutes. I need at least one hour a day of uninterrupted quiet. To make this work I coordinate naps to occur all at the same time, every day. And for those who insist they are too big for naps, they sit on their beds and read. And during this hour I’m implementing a new rule for myself: no cleaning, no cooking, no frantic running. Just…being. Writing, or reading, or sipping tea. STOP MOVING. (We’ll see how this works.)
Next, I need a place for everything, and everything in its little place. And then I need the little people around me to also do it. It sounds so much easier than it is. But we’re working on it.
Finally, I need grace. Grace for myself, grace for my children, grace for the women out there who really are perfect. (You are amazing!) I need to learn to exist in a house that might be slightly out of order, a kitchen that might still have breakfast dishes in the sink, and a day that might require boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch instead of a homemade hot dish every day at noon.
I don’t want to be a perfectionist, just a little more perfect. I want to be calmer; I want more order; I want organic, grass-fed beef dinners and natural play toys for my perpendicularly arranged living room. And I will achieve these things by surrendering the need for these things. Baby steps. Baby steps.
There is a reason that Grandparents laugh so much, I am convinced.