Today, as the temperature outside dipped down to freezing yet again, I pulled out the art supplies for my children. The messy ones that I keep high up in the cabinets. As I watched them work, I was struck by their differing personalities. My happy go lucky child dives right in. He sloshes paint and water around. He is happy with the process. He produces many paintings and declares each of them so damn good he doesn't know which one is the best.
Then I have a child who is paralyzed by the very idea of producing something. He has gone through twenty sheets of paper in as many minutes. Every line he produces on his paper is not good enough. He is critical of all of his ideas. When he does have a good idea he doesn't follow through because he becomes paralyzed by the small details. Nothing is ever good enough.
I want to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shake. "Get over it. No one is perfect," I want to say.
He is exasperating. He is frustrating. He is exactly like me.
How often in my life I sit where he is now. How often I do nothing, not out of laziness, but out of fear. I mean, what is the point of doing something if you can't do it perfectly.
Perfection, however, is paralyzing.
I am good with the ideas. I have lots of them. Things I really want to do and accomplish. And then the little niggling voice starts speaking in the back of my head. "Who do you think you are?" "You can't do that." "Don't even bother trying."
Last week while waiting for gymnastics lessons to be over, I was talking to one of the mothers. She said, "But you have it all under control. You are so perfect and composed all the time. I don't think I have ever seen you flustered or lose your patience. You are so together... I bet everyone says that to you."
I had to look over my shoulder to see if there was someone standing behind me that she was talking to. I answered, "Only people who don't know me very well say that." I am nothing if not self deprecating. Look at me, I can't even accept a compliment gracefully. She laughed and said she knew that wasn't true.
But it is true.
We all muddle along and think that someone else has the answer that were are missing. Everyone else appears to have all the answers. We envy. We covet. We compare ourselves. We inevitably fall short of some imagined ideal. We are all harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else around us.
The more people say things to me like this mother the more I realize that if I, with all my imperfections, project the illusion of perfection that there really is no such thing. In a strange way that is comforting.
My son just held up a painting, "Now this one is the bestest one yet."
I resist the urge to ask about the big scribbled out area on the upper right quarter of the paper. He doesn't even see that huge glaring mistake on his paper, that imperfection. The rest of the painting, which is quite nice, cancels that out for him. Perhaps that is perfection after all.
I long to be like my 6-year-old. To slosh about in the paints and have fun with it. To be happy with the results, imperfections and all. To set aside the need to be perfect. To get messy with life.