The Perfect Post

(image credit Lama Jigme)

(image credit Lama Jigme)

I’ve been accused of appearing perfect.  BA-HA-HA-HA! (Excuse me while I ROFLMAO.)

It seems that this alleged perfection of mine can be intimidating.  This concerns me on several levels.  Primarily because if I’m supposed to be this ‘perfect’ person,  I’d like to enjoy it.  Perfection must have a benefits package that includes perks like flawless fingernails and the ability to walk gracefully in stiletto heels – neither of which I currently possess.  (Point me to Human Resources;  I’ve been gypped.)

The idea of my perfection is as absurd a notion as the misconception that my children eat liver.  It’s just not true.  All the same, I’ve amassed enough of these false accusations  that I must set the record straight.  Because I believe I’m being set up.  (I do hope someone from the FBI is reading this post.  I could use help debunking this conspiracy theory.)

You see, I am a perfectionist.  Or as I like to think of myself, a recovering not-good-enougher.  This is not to be mistaken for actual perfection.  Allow me to explain.

There is a demon inside of me who set up camp many, MANY, moons ago.  This demon believes it is protecting me from the pain of judgment and shame.  It thinks itself a shield – a very heavy one – that needs to be carried around constantly in order to earn approval.  Without this shield, I risk death.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic.  But to the hyper-sensitive little girl inside, not being enough is a death sentence.  And the world is a very scary place.

The irony is, the perfectionism shield scares people away.  It makes them defensive.  And they, too, prepare for a fight.  Only, they have swords.  And daggers that come out of their eyes – especially when I show up at the morning bus stop showered, groomed, and ready for the day after a 5 a.m. workout.

Sometimes they throw stones when they see what I eat – a wide array of healthy fare – because it makes them feel bad about their own choices.  So they try to hurt me without noticing that I’m already hurting from the dietary restrictions my body demands.

On occasion, they get their big guns out and attack where it hurts most – my parenting standards.  They see that I’ve written a book for tweens and equate that with a claim that I am a perfect parent. Deep down, beyond their own fear of being imperfect, they know – and I know – that there is no perfect parent.  But the wanting to be one, that does exist.  And it causes a whole mess of disappointment and misunderstanding.

If one really needs proof, I’m happy to pull out a file box of imperfections.  Just this week I’ve filled up an entire drawer with mistakes.  BIG ones like forgetting my BFF’s 40th birthday.  Ouch!  And medium ones like mistakenly ripping off daughter’s ski club ticket that was supposed to remain on her coat for the season.  (Then having to swallow my pride and admit that I am that parent that didn’t follow simple instructions.) And little mistakes like missing a doctor’s appointment.  All in one week!  In fact, I’ve noticed such a sudden increase in personal imperfection that I’m wondering if someone is in possession of a voodoo doll named Deb.  If you are, I beg you, leave her alone.  She needs a rest.

She, the perfectionist, works really hard at not wanting to be perfect.  She considers perfectionism an affliction, a cross she bears.  This cross is not one she would have chosen had she known how heavy it would be, or how many miles she’d have to carry it.  There are times it makes her fall to her knees and her loved ones have to peel her off the ground.  They might even offer to carry the cross for a while.  But the fact is, the cross belongs to her.  She will be crucified on it, I’m afraid.

For now, she walks on, practicing self-love, learning how to trust herself and to trust life.  Trying, and often failing, to show herself a bit of compassion.

Please, do not envy the perfectionist.  Do not mistakenly label her as perfect.  That label hurts more than you know.  She is not only wildly imperfect like the rest, but also acutely affected by imperfection, and incapable of embracing it in herself.

Most importantly – LISTEN UP – she doesn’t think she’s better than you.  Nor does she want you to feel bad about yourself.  She only wants to protect herself in a world that, long ago, taught her it wasn’t safe to make mistakes.

Brain Shrinkage

I messed up royally – again.  Before I tell you what I did, I want you to understand why it’s a big deal.

If there’s one quality my mother embodies, it’s dependability, which is closely related to her extreme organizational skills.  I don’t exaggerate when I say that Mom has never lost anything or failed to do what she says she’ll do.  Her linear, and possibly photographic memory is backed up by an elaborate system of note-taking and filing.

Claiming to have inherited her affinity for organization myself would be disingenuous.  But, for what I lack in natural talent, I was trained to make up for in discipline.  I can chart with the best of them.  Or I could, until I had children.

Husband used to rib me about ‘pregnancy brain’ citing research theorizing that women’s brains shrink during pregnancy.  I went to great lengths to disprove the theory by covering up for my all-too-frequent memory lapses, which I secretly feared amounted to permanent brain damage.  As you know from recent blogs, my mind never did fully recover.

I remember clearly the day I decided to surrender to imperfection in the memory/organization departments.   I simply removed the mask of Utter Competence I had rented and declared myself a mere mortal – free to make mistakes andforgive myself without excuses.  That very month, I forgot to invite my daughter’s godmother – on my husband’s side – to a birthday party.  (It’s always worse when you mess up with the in-laws rather than your own kin.)  

My error registered as an immense transgression.  Shock waves shot through the family.  You’d have thought the sun forgot to rise by the way people reacted.

Determining not to let their disappointment scare me back into perfectionist tendencies, I simply said, “Oh, I forgot,’ and prayed really hard that would suffice.  Vaguely, I recalled something I read about ‘giving up perfect.’  The sage warning was, ‘When you stop being perfect, don’t expect it to be a popular decision.’   People were used to my dependability in these matters.  Well, they’d have to adjust because imperfect me was here to stay.

Further proving my committment to imperfection has been easier – and more enjoyable – than I could have imagined.  Aside from the occasional frustration it causes, I rather like imperfect me.  Of course, I do occasionally feel a bite of horror, like today when I was informed that I forgot to acknowledge my mother-in-law’s birthday (two weeks ago!)  Yes, it is my husband’s mother and he forgot too.  But then, men aren’t laden with the same expectations as women in this regard.  Ultimately, I take ownership.  After all, I am the one in charge of the fancy calendar.  How did I miss this?  It’s not like it’s a new entry!

I can’t be sure my mother-in-law forgives me this oversight, but truthfully, it doesn’t matter.  Harsh sounding, I know.  In defense, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my imperfection training, it’s that self-approval is more important than approval from others.  I am sorry for forgetting, but I cannot – will not – revert to perfectionism.  It hurts my head.  I choose, instead, to offer my soggy, over-saturated brain some compassion.  It can only do so much.

Years from now, this too will be forgotten.  It will be replaced by subsequent mistakes and hopefully, some triumphs as well.  I hope the scale will be balanced, so that I will be balanced too.

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