Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parenting: The Ultimate Destruction of Perfection

I had 38 weeks of almost perfect mothering.  I didn't scream, yell, or scar my child in any way.  I may not have eaten has healthy as I should have, but other than that I was golden.  I remember thinking about that.  I remember savoring what it felt like to be a perfect mother with a spotless record, knowing it was all going to end because my water had just broken the night before.  The next day, I gave birth and I immediately started making mistakes.  This is what being a parent is really about: giving up any chance of perfection.

As a child, adolescent, and even young adult, I was a bit of a perfectionist.  I only did what I was really good at and if I wasn't fairly sure I wouldn't be pretty good at it, I didn't do it at all. Sometimes, it held me back.  There were things I wanted to learn, but I *knew* that I wouldn't be great at them, so I was too embarrassed to try them too often.  I used to watch the food network and Top Chef and I desperately wanted to learn how to cook, but really cooking stressed me out so I stuck to very simple meals and became very edgy and grumpy when I did try to stretch myself.  If it didn't turn out like the recipe, I panicked and felt incredibly embarrassed.  I only cooked things for people I knew I could cook reasonably well, and when in doubt, I'd suggest we go out or order in.  In college, I majored in something I loved, but also that I knew I could succeed in.  Partly it was because of my passion, partly it was because of my fear of failure.  Before anyone ever came over, I cleaned feverishly.  I agonized over what I would say when I met people or what we would talk about when we spent time together.  (Actually, that was a waste of time because I always felt afterward that I had said all the wrong things, anyway.)  I always wanted a clean slate and to do things right.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that motherhood is the antithesis of all that.  With children, you learn quickly that no one can ever be "on" 24 hours a day.  There is no planning what you can and will say for every situation because children are completely unpredictable.  You can mess up horribly, horrifically, in ways that are sure to lead your children into years of therapy, but you can't even allow yourself an hour to obsess about it because they still need you to take care of them moments later and there is no escaping the mess you just made.  You have to face it and move on, immediately.  Everyday, I feel like I live a thousand books or movies on parenting and about half are tales of triumph and the other half are cautionary tales like "Mother Dearest."  My first year as a mother was demoralizing because I had to let go of any idea that I ever would be "great" or "perfect" again.  Even in my physical body!  I have never had a very attractive appearance ("okay" would probably be my highest rating) and, honestly, I probably have a better chance of getting in shape now than I ever did in the past, but there were features I liked about myself back then, my hair among them and wouldn't you know as soon as I had my first baby, I found I immediately had some gray hair!  And saying/doing the right thing all the time and trying to be the "perfect" mother?  Forget it, I could barely function at all on the ten minutes of sleep it seemed like I was getting at night.  I was so sleep deprived by the time I reached the six month mark that I lost my ability to make short term memories.  People came to visit and we went places with them and less than a year later, I DIDN'T REMEMBER anything about the visit because I had not been able to form any memories I was so sleep deprived.  My quest for perfection had to end and the world actually got a little better when it did.

For one thing, I can cook now.  After having to change my diet dramatically to nurse both of my sons, and having to juggle multiple food allergy issues, I had no choice but to cook.  My meals aren't always glamorous or perfect the first time out, but they have gotten better and, after working through what was a surprisingly short period of mistakes and unimpressive entrees, they have become not only healthier, but actually quite good.  I'll never be a chef-testant, but I am probably a better cook than a great many people out there and my food (even with all its food allergy restrictions) tastes a lot better than what I was eating before.  For another thing, even though I probably mess up more on a lot more important things, I'm much better at letting things go and starting over.  Are there days when I miss those fantastic 38 weeks of mothering perfection?  Sure.  I was an excellent mother before I had kids, full of patience, wisdom, tolerance, and creativity.  But like all perfect things, it wasn't real.  It wasn't tangible.  I could think about it and plan for it, but I couldn't snuggle up with it and kiss away tears with it like I can real motherhood.  So, as much as I might romanticize making a new start to parenting and doing it better this time, I know in my heart that I've done the best I can with who I am every step of the way and that has involved some pretty stomach wrenching mistakes and some serendipitous triumphs.  Everyday, I learn a little better how to embrace them both and lessen the former while enjoying the latter.

I used to dream of accomplishing great things and leaving a legacy that could stand for years.  I was obsessed about it.  Motherhood has taught me to accomplish small things with great love.  My new goal is to try to create ripples of kindness that can echo throughout the lives of my children (and if I'm lucky) their children and maybe their children's children.  Even if no one remembers my name anymore, I hope that I can pour enough imperfect kindness and love into my children so that they will feel empowered to pour their own imperfect kindness and love into the world.

Now, I'm off to make a few hundred more mistakes today. . . and if I'm lucky, a few hundred and one more miraculously good moments.

Thanks for reading,


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