She says she wants to draw me a picture and I set her up with paper and crayons. Minutes later, I’m stirring dinner and I hear her breathing deep as she tries to keep her emotions in check.
Then she makes one mistake too many and loses the fight. She slams her hand on the table and her crayon hits the wall. She lets out a shrill cry and crumples her paper.
I come to her side, my spoon dripping with gravy. She lays like a starfish on the dining room floor. I ask her what’s wrong even though I already know. I know because she had the same reaction at 18 months old when her block tower tumbled to the ground.
The same one she has when she can’t pull her hair into a ponytail. Or read words above her grade level. Or catch a Frisbee.
“I can’t do this.” She says, holding up her crumpled artwork.
I reach down to pull her up and remind her – again – that these things take practice; that she’s learning and improving and doing a great job. Then I ask her if she knows in her heart that she did her best. She says yes and I encourage her to be proud because no one can ever do better than their best.
Perfection is a mirage.
Then I shake my head and sigh because I know I need to march myself right over to the mirror and repeat all those words to a reflection that demands more of me than I know how to give.
Too often, I feel like a child splayed out on the hardwood floor. Holding my life’s work in a crumpled ball, I cry in exhausted desperation, “I can’t do this.”
Because this messy thing I hold? It doesn’t fit my expectations. Not even close. It’s all flawed and unbalanced and the perfectionist in me won’t give it a rest.
Not just because I think I should be able to do it better, but because I’m stuck in the belief that I’m holding a stick figure and you’ve all somehow sketched out a Rembrandt.
It doesn’t seem to matter how often I remind myself that we’re all operating below perfection; that we all carry big baggage and fight hard battles and serve peanut butter and jelly for dinner.
As a busy-minded person, my expectations have a life of their own.
Somehow I took the collective accomplishments of every woman alive and decided that I must be just like her. I must do everything and do it just right or I run the risk of missing out, of falling behind, of not #winning.
Winning at what? Does anyone even know?
Certainly not at the race I claim to be running.
Instead, I get wrapped up in the pursuits of my ego, hustling and pushing and over-extending. Until the day I flopped on the couch with tears on my face and adamantly declared to my husband that I can’t do this anymore.
I can’t possibly keep a clean house and serve healthy meals and be physically fit and raise the kids up right and build a blog and chase my dreams and do it all while smiling as if I’m not coming apart the seams.
And my husband. He’s just the ever-lovin’ best because he looks at me all confused and says, “I don’t understand. Who says you have to do all that?”
Sometimes I wonder how I got to this place where none of my efforts feel good enough. And I can sit here acting like I don’t know, but that would be a lie because I know darn well.
It’s sitting in my pocket with all its apps and life hacks and parenting tips and pictures of Bento lunches. It beckons with its webinars and ecourses and life-changing products that promise to put me among the #winners.
And even though I should know better by now, I still forget that perfection is just a mirage.
When my daughter can’t get her expectations under control, when her ego demands a level of perfection that threatens to steal her joy, I urge her to walk away.
Take a break. Clear your head. Come back when you’re ready to run your race for the right reasons.
Tonight I head to a three-day church retreat, one where I must leave all of my electronic devices at home.
Given my constant temptation to crumple my beautifully blessed life into a not-good-enough ball, the thought of three smartphone-free days both excites and intrigues me.
And I anticipate that this step begins a journey to pull away from social media because I’m just too busy-minded to let it have a regular place in my daily routine.
For a long time I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to run a successful blog without a constant social media presence. People in my writing circles cautioned me, saying this could cost me my following and ultimately derail my dream of a book deal, but I decided to accept that risk in the interest of living an untethered life.
That doesn’t mean I’ll close my accounts. I still have a Facebook page and Instagram account because I do believe social media has some great benefits, and I value my connections to people with whom I might otherwise lose touch.
However, for many of us, social media has morphed into something far bigger than we ever imagined, and I worry about what the constant sharing of moments does to our ability to live those moments for what they are and not what they allow us to bring to the Facebook table.
For the next few weeks, I’m planning to live my moments without sharing them. Maybe a short break is all I need to renew my energy for daily liking, commenting, and sharing. Or maybe a short break is all I need to set myself free from it all.
Cheers to an untethered summer.