You came home last night with exciting news. You had already told Mimi and couldn’t wait to tell me, with a sheepish grin.
“I wrote my name on all my papers today,” you proclaimed. Followed by, “You can go ahead and cry now, Mom.”
You were so ready to see tears of elation.
You know. Oh, you know how it kills me that you aren’t more like I was in school – teacher pleaser, honor roller, over achiever. You know how much advice I’ve sought simply because you are so desperate to divergently walk your own path – the road less (or never?) traveled – so much so that you do these things that land you in the “safe seat” constantly, that get your name on the board, that have put me in constant contact with your teacher.
“Graham is smart,” she reassures me. But you won’t show your cards. You can do what you’re asked, but you refuse. You can finish the worksheet, but halfway through when you’ve shown you know how to write that letter G, you don’t see the need to keep going. You can write your name on your paper, “but everyone knows the one without the name is mine.” This is Kindergarten.
And oh we have so many years to go.
You exhaust me. Your brother who actually has diagnosed needs? Piece of cake compared to you. But here we are in the trenches together. I subconsciously dress myself in armor in your presence. I try to mentally anticipate your needs, your actions, before they happen. I work to diffuse your “spirited” ways. And it’s work.
I remember hosting our first Parents As Teachers meeting in our old house when we still counted your age in months and we still wore our naiveté on our sleeves. Our instructor asked us to tell her what characteristics we hoped you would have. I remembered how surprised she was that we knew so clearly what we wanted for you.
Perfectionism wasn't one of those things.
Unfortunately what I’ve found is that you are in fact more like me than what I want for you. “It has to be perfect!” you shrieked recently when your pencil line contained a wobble. “It’s not perfect and it has to be perfect!” The wobble became a roadblock and you refused to go any further. I saw my reflection in your eyes and my heart broke.
Who doesn’t want their child to do well? But you don’t believe me when I tell you that you can indeed make mistakes. You can wobble. That you only have to do your best, whatever that may be, try again, learn from it, move on. Move on.
Things are harder than they have to be. I know because I make them harder, too. I want to be perfect, too. I know how exhausting it is inside your mind, too. Trust me, son.
But while I yearn to see you as the teacher pleaser, honor roller, over achiever, what I more so want for you is to not be like me. To get off of this steamrolling perfectionist train before it’s too late and you live your life on it, mile after exhausting mile. What I want for you is to be imperfect and happy in your skin, in your surroundings, in your intellect. To have character, not perfection. To shrug glitches off, not let them incapacitate you. To write the word, not dwell on the wobbly line.
A couple nights ago, between stories and tucking in, you looked in my eyes and said, “Mom, I can’t tell you how much I love you. And the more days we get, the more I love you.” And oh my heart. My armor fell off.
Child, you slay me – with both frustration and elation. How do you do that? You do it so well… so perfectly imperfectly. This is what I want for you. If only that was all you wanted for yourself.