Perfection, Motherhood, and the Minnow
Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to do everything perfectly. So intense was her pursuit of perfection, in fact, that when this little girl FINALLY got a B on her report card, instead of scolding, her mother took her out to lunch to celebrate. The little girl’s perfectionism was, indeed, not just a little concerning to her parents. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the little girl wanted to be a “writer, an actress, an environmentalist, and a veterinarian.” As the little girl grew older, other titles were tacked on to a growing list of accomplishments the little girl set her sights upon. A sailor, a journalist, an anthropologist… Somehow, the roles of “wife” or “mother” never appeared on the list. It seemed far too messy to be perfect at those jobs, so the little girl set her sights on other titles.
The little girl grew up into a young woman who found that being practically perfect in every way was perfectly impossible and, as they say in the South, she dropped her basket. A few months of rehab; countless meetings in church basements; a cheerful Southern debutante sponsor with a backbone of steel and the patience of a saint; and a long distance relationship with a therapist got the young woman back on track. The young woman got familiar with the notion that perhaps, instead of aiming for practically perfect, she could try to accept herself as being perfectly imperfect instead.
The young woman matured into a grown-up who knew exactly where she was going - straight to the top, come hell or high water. And then, she met a man who made her think maybe a wife might not be such a terrible thing to be… She fell in love with that man and six months later, said, “yes!” Six months after that, she said, “I do!”
At some point in between “yes” and “I do”, the woman began to think that, with this man, she might actually…maybe…sort of…want to be a mother, too.
The woman got pregnant and had a perfectly adorable pregnancy and then along came a truly perfectly perfect baby. The woman and the man nicknamed the baby Minnow and it stuck. A month later, the Minnow revealed just how impossible a tiny word like “colic” can make life. The woman felt that this must be the result of some mistake she had made and drove herself to distraction reading parenting books, mommy blogs, and online parenting forums as she tried to “solve” this confounding conundrum. The man banned the woman from reading parenting books.
The woman felt the familiar pressure of perfection creep in, this time a desperate need not to let this precious new being down by totally FUCKING UP AS A MOTHER. The woman had never thought she would be a mother, so she had not prepared herself properly. The woman cursed her stupidity and resolved to make up for it from now on.
At each new phase of the Minnow’s life, the woman frantically tried educate herself in developmental milestones, early childhood development, and parenting theory. The woman read relentlessly, convinced that if she learned enough, she wouldn’t screw up this monumentally massive task of raising this little person.
The woman wanted to be the perfect mother for her Minnow. She HAD to be, it was that important. This was the one instance where imperfection was unacceptable.
And then, one day when the Minnow was five years old, she knocked over a glass of milk and started crying. “I’m sorry, Mommy, I didn’t mean to, it was an accident,” the small, tear-streaked face sobbed in the woman’s neck.
“I know, Minnow. It’s OK, it was just a mistake, you don’t have to be upset,” the woman comforted her sweet girl as she smoothed her hair and wiped away her tears, not understanding why on earth she was so upset over literal spilled milk.
After the woman put the Minnow to bed that night, she tried to figure out why her normally rambunctious, carefree little girl had gotten so upset. Somewhere in the far recesses of her mind, a connection was made and an unseen finger flipped a switch that illuminated everything in stark relief.
Her little girl was growing up watching the woman try to be the perfect mommy (and the perfect writer and the perfect wife - just a perfectly perfect person), and so the little girl thought that perfection was the standard that she, too, must strive to attain. Even though the woman had all along used her words to tell her little girl that she didn’t need to be perfect, the woman’s actions were speaking louder than her words. The little girl had been watching like a hawk.
The woman felt her stomach sink and her heart squeeze. For a moment, she felt despair - she was totally screwing up the most important job she’d ever had. But rather than resolving to do better and be more perfect, the woman started a list of all of the ways she was going to teach her daughter to be imperfect and messy and full of mistakes. She resolved to fail openly in front of her sweet little one. She resolved to look silly and fall down and make terrible stick drawings of cats that look like panda bears and dance as energetically and awkwardly as only a 35 year-old woman with very little rhythm can.
The woman realized that the most important part of being a mother was going to be finally letting go of perfection. She began to tear up all of her notions of what perfect parenting was and blow away the specks like confetti.
Because of the daughter who made her a mother, the woman finally found the strength to cast off the pall of perfection.