In the process of sweeping perfectionism from my life these past few years, I have inevitably missed some corners… and underneaths and behinds. Most notably, I’ve recently found that I neglected to sweep perfectionism from my suitcase, and so it followed me to Boston and settled into my clothes and my skin. I wore it all about. Feeling uneasy and agitated.
The day of travel was graded against some rubric. Baby slept during flight, excellent. Comment: The application of husband to childcare was well done. Gold star. Bonus points awarded for reflection and audiobook consumption on plane. Navigation to hotel, acceptable. Tense tone used slightly more than necessary, but the end goal was met. Credit given for selflessly delivering baby to bed and husband to hotel bar.
Day two and three went similarly. Meals consumed to the inner-composition of Trip Advisor reviews (that I will never take the time to write). Time and space to myself were etched out bravely in the sand and largely honored. Toddler toddling, husband husbanding. The family pie chart of needs relatively balanced and captured using warm Instagram filters and witty journal entries.
Day four, the child realizes that the long car rides are not delivering her home or to grandma’s house and she starts to protest. She wants mama. Mama cannot escape. New England fall colors feel like the 10-minute mark of a fireworks show and blend into half-hearted oo’s and aah’s. Perfectionism feels like grit in my eyes and between my teeth and my tone gets harsh, my words become accusatory. I begin to fail.
We abort mission one-third of the way around an opalescent-blue lake beneath a granite cliff face. Standing on a carpet of warm pine needles, we all break down. Perhaps we should have just sat there for a while and let it happen, but things in motion tend to stay in motion so we scrolled through Yelp reviews and set a course for dinner. The lake and the cliff and the trees seemed unperturbed and are there still to be enjoyed (or not) by many types of people. Some of them able to see what’s in front of their eyes, some of them receiving a C and only for effort.
Now, at home, I can settle into my own space and remember that I traded away perfectionism because authenticity matters more to me. Even in its quirky, garbled, inefficient moments, the truth is so much better than a revisionist history. Wearing my mask of perfection, I revise for the public an airbrushed family vacation and beneath it all I lacerate myself for the sights missed, meals un-savored, precious moments discarded.
Now, at home, self-compassion finds me with her kind voice and says, “Sweet girl…” She always starts that way, and I pray that to my dying day I will call myself such a name. She says, “Sweet girl, remember the still waters. The moments your body rested on boulders. Remember running down paths lined with flowers with your daughter and how, when you paused to take a picture, she ate dirt and you both survived. Remember the small way you loved your husband through a two-hour historical tour of John Adams’ birthplace and the way he loved you through solitary a writing retreat by a waterfall. Remember the dozens of times your baby clicked into carseats and strollers without resistance and the fact that you packed exactly the right amount of underwear for this trip and that time you stopped the car at a farmstand and came back with a bag of lovely red apples that fit in your palm and that you polished to a shine on the leg of your jeans and that tasted like the freshest thing you’d ever eaten. Remember the deep breaths and glasses of wine and long conversations with your love while winding through mountain roads. Remember being her person and the small, strong arms that held you so tightly. Remember that you are home to these people when you are far from home and that means you will sometimes lose yourself, but you will still arrive on the other side and everyone will survive.”
This is the story as it really happened. I can see it clearly from here at my desk, and as I get up to change the laundry and return to my everyday, I can forgive myself for falling back into the sand pit of perfectionism and I can forgive myself if I fall in again when I next pack the suitcase. Compassion is slowly taking up residence inside of me and I know she will help me sort out fact from fiction, one day at a time.