One day last week I watched casually as my 5-year-old daughter held a thimble-sized sticker in her hand the shape of a triangle. Her eyes squinting and her mouth opened slightly, I could see she was immersed in concentration. She was trying to apply this tiny sticker to Chelsea’s Clubhouse, a new toy we purchased that day. I watched silently as time and again her small hands couldn’t quite arrange the sticker exactly where it needed to go — on a yellow plastic piece the shape of a flag with an indentation the same shape as the sticker. She stuck it on and pulled it off a few times. The last time she pulled it off, it ripped, and she let out a frustrated grunt. Uuurrrgh.
“Do you want some help, sweetie?” I offer, already knowing what she’s going to say.
“I can’t get this on right. I want it to be perfect.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye because now she knows what I’m going to say. “Don’t tell me that nothing can be perfect Mama, ’cause it can!”
I smile because I appreciate the strength of our bond, that we can read each other’s thoughts.
“Honey, there’s no such thing as perfect.” I say, like I always say when my perfectionist first-born wants to get something just right; her arrangement of stuffed animals, her drawings of rainbows, or her worksheets of practiced letters and numbers. She wants it all to be perfect.
“Perfect isn’t what’s important anyway. Tell me honey, what’s The Most Important Thing?”
She lets out a sigh because I have asked her this question since she learned how to speak and she knows the answer without having to think.
“Trying.” She says like a bored teenager.
I smile. “That’s right baby. Trying is THE Most Important Thing. As long as you try, that’s all that matters.”
I’m divorcing her father. It’s not going well. My soon-to-be ex was a professional contrarian in our marriage. He defended this habit of contradiction as “enjoying debate” or, “I just don’t see it the way you do.” Sure, he was bound not to see things the same way sometimes, but ALL the time? I swear if I said I thought the air was chilly, for him, it was balmy. If I said the dinner was excellent, he’d say the steak was horribly dry and the service atrocious. If I said I wanted to go to the beach, he’d make a case for a hike in the mountains.
If this tendency was strong in marriage, you can imagine how much fervor it has gained during divorce.
In spite of my best laid plans, life has not turned out the way I’d imagined. I suspect this is true for a great many of us. I did try though… to make it perfect. I went to school, got good grades. I went on to get great jobs and promotions. I got married at the average age of 27 to someone who looked great on paper. We saved money, bought a house. I stayed healthy, had 2 children, 2 years a part, before the age of 35… a boy and a girl. Everything was unfolding as planned… until it didn’t.
Until life happened on life’s terms and I was thrown into a turbine of impossible choices such as: Option A. catastrophe, or Option B. oblivion.
No. No ma’am. There is no such thing as perfect.
Today, my daughter tells me, hands on hips and a look of smug satisfaction, “Guess what? Daddy says you’re wrong. He says there IS such a thing as perfect. And he says that it’s ME. I’m perfect.”
I get down to her level. My mind spins off into a million directions trying to hide my frustration and think of how to explain this so she understands.
“Honey. No one is perfect. Not me, not you, not your daddy, not your brother, or grandma or grandpa. There’s not a single one of us who is perfect.” I have her attention now. I take her hands. “But, and this is an important part, we are all just fine the way we are.”
She stares at me. “But daddy says… “
“I know what daddy says but listen to what I’m telling you right now, sweetie. No one is perfect, but we are all just FINE the way we are. Repeat that for me, please.”
She repeats it not looking at my eyes, her attention already diverted to other things. I bite my lip and wonder if she understands but I know if I press further I will lose her completely. I know this subject of perfection will come up again, and I will repeat this mantra again until it is committed to her memory, just like The Most Important Thing.
She goes about onto another project and I say a silent prayer; it is for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.
When her father came to pick her up this afternoon I had to carry my son out to the car because he had just woken up from his nap. As I’m strapping him into his car seat my daughter says, “Daddy, tell mommy there IS such a thing as perfect?”
He lets out a quick laugh from his gut that sounds like “ha” with your mouth closed. Of course he says nothing to this request because he won’t even look at me let alone speak to me. I hear her repeat this plea as I shut the car door. “Tell her!”
“I love you, have fun!” I shout as they pull from the drive.
And as I walk back into my empty home I say another silent prayer; for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.
Because I am not perfect, and all I can do is… try. It is The Most Important Thing of All.