Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
It is spring and my perfectionism is in full bloom.
It happens at the playground: Why is my child licking the statue like it's a giant metal ice cream cone? It rears up regarding career and ambition: How come she is younger than me, but has already published a book and has a story in the New Yorker? And at the gym: Did you see her butt? It doesn’t move when she runs! My butt is so big, it has its own pair of running shoes!
Needless to say, this voice sucks. It is not helpful. It doesn’t inspire me. But it is loud, bossy and persistent.
Sometimes, when I’m smack in the midst of struggling with a life lesson, the universe gives me a little extra material:
“Mommy, you left your underwear at my school,” my son says. Four year olds say many weird things, flailing from the existential: “But where were me and Violet before we were in your belly?” To the bizarre: “Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!” To the embarrassing: “Why are your nimples so big? Are you going to have another baby?”
I have become used to fielding bizarre questions and statements. So the underwear comment semi-permeates my consciousness, but quickly glurps beneath the surface of my quicksand mama brain.
But the next day, he says it again. “Max, what are you talking about?” I ask.
“Deb was holding it up,” he says, his arm outstretched to demonstrate.
Oh dear God. I can instantly feel the static that his school nap blanket and sheet create when they come out of the dryer, clinging to each other like new lovers. I remember not taking the three seconds to shake them out and fold them before I dropped Max off at preschool on Wednesday morning. This must be why most people wash their sheets or towels separately from the rest of their clothing instead of tossing it all together, a bright stew of darks and lights, nap sheets and panties.
I bet the other mommies all shake and fold. They probably even do it the night before school, right after they finish cleaning up from the five-course organic meal they made for dinner, I think.
When I drop Max off at school the following day, my fears are confirmed. In his cubby slumps a crumpled plastic Hannaford bag, the kind that his clothes come home in when he gets pee or vomit on them. I peek in and spy a flash of bright pink.
“Hiiiii Deb!” Max bellows to his teacher as he struts into his classroom. Violet makes her bowlegged way after him, heading straight for a tray of small, shiny beads that are exactly the same size as her esophagus.
“Hey, Deb,” I say. We make brief small talk about the upcoming auction for the school while my underwear blazes in my son’s cubby. I take a breath and decide to confront the situation head on. “So… Max tells me a pair of my underwear made it to school the other day?”
“He told you?” she says, surprised.
“He told you?” she says, surprised.
“You’re not the first,” she says. A breeze of relief flushes over me.
“Really?” I ask.
“I’ve seen thongs…all kinds of things…” She trails off, a war veteran trying not to summon up the horrors her eyes have beheld.
“At least it was clean,” I quip. And not the enormous, leftover maternity panties that I drag out once a month, I think.
After I hug and kiss Max goodbye, I grab Violet and my underwear.
Maybe that wasn’t so bad, I think. I’m so tired of trying to gauge how I measure up, always coming up short. It takes so much energy. I make mostly good choices. My kids are healthy and loved, and they seem to be kind human beings. It is unlikely that the underwear incident will be mentioned at my funeral. It is doubtful that my inability to get a meal on the table that doesn’t contain peanut butter or pepperoni will come up. We are human. We have body parts and children that don't always behave as we'd like them to. We are wildly imperfect, shimmeringly flawed creatures.
That being said, I will probably shake and fold my son’s nap gear next week.
How do you battle the perfectionism monster?