We are, um, slightly addicted to listening to Laurie Berkner in the car. If you have a preschool-aged child, you probably know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t have one, figure 2 parts Raffi, one part Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a dash of, I don’t know, Suzanne Vega or something. Folky, poppy, kid music. With an extreme, severe, and gigantic tendency toward getting stuck in your head. When Jenny of Three Kid Circus mentioned that she was humming Victor Vito in her head, I went out and bought the CD, not realizing that the humming might well not be voluntary. Catchy. Yeah, just a little.
Anyway, there’s a song on the Victor Vito CD called “I’m Not Perfect.” It goes like this:
I’m not perfect
No I’m not
I’m not perfect
But I’ve got what I’ve got
I do my very best
Do my very best
Do my very best each day
But I’m not perfect
And I hope you like me that way.
Then it goes along to sing similar verses for “you’re not perfect” and “we’re not perfect” and in the end it’s “And you know I love you that way.”
And you know, there are days, driving to school after a particularly intransigent morning, or an afternoon where I literally had to drag them out of the preschool building, when that song is a bit of a balm for my spirit. It makes me feel a little better about the extreme imperfection of my parenting, and my general self, at those moments, and, well, all the time. So I sing along with it, rather imperfectly, and it kind of makes me feel better.
The thing is, the kids are listening (this is supposed to be kids’ music, after all). And in short order, they start singing the song themselves. “I’m not perfect, no I’m not!” And then I’m torn. Because part of me wants to shout out, “You ARE perfect! You are absolutely perfectly, completely, ideally, and faultlessly YOU, and that is perfection itself.” And I do think they’re perfect, Ellie in her freckle-nosed, round-bellied, pretend-ballet-dancing blur, and Henry in his blond and handsome talkative seriousness. Even when Henry steals Eleanor’s Groovy Girl and throws it over the backseat for pure spite and she head-butts him in retribution (yeah, that would be THIS morning’s excitement), could they be any more perfectly three? Any more perfectly twins? I’m here to tell you, that’s about as perfectly THEM as it gets. (Which is why I often have a perfect headache.)
So, in the midst of all this perfection, this not-always-desirable and far-from-peaceful perfection, do I really want my kids singing a song about not being perfect? I mean, I don’t think they’re going to need therapy for this or anything, but I’m just trying to figure out what my stance is. So I try it on for myself. What if I was singing that song, and somebody said to me, “Yes you ARE perfect! You are perfectly scatterbrained, perfectly irresponsible, perfectly sloppy, and perfectly YOU.” And after recovering from that pretty major back-handed compliment, I might say, um, BULLSHIT. I’m not even perfectly any of those things (except perhaps sloppy), and I’m not perfect and I don’t want to be. Perfection is too much pressure. I don’t want to spin perfectly and I don’t want to knit perfectly and while I imagine I’d like to parent perfectly it probably wouldn’t be very good preparation for life in a world full of real people and anyway, no danger of that happening, that’s for sure.
So perfection isn't for me, but then what do I tell the kids? Perhaps my resistance to imagining myself as perfectly me, in the glory of all my imperfections, is just the layers of a grown-up life, and perhaps they can still accept themselves as perfect. Or maybe I should give them the same slack I give myself and say, “No, I tend to think you’re perfect, but nobody is really, and you don’t have to be. In fact, take my advice, don’t go there. It isn’t any fun.”
I guess what I really want to protect them from is the idea of perfection. It’s a word they’ve asked me to define, and I said that someone who’s perfect is someone who never makes mistakes, and there aren’t any people like that in real life. I want them to strive for wonderful things in life, but I think that the drive to do that is naturally occurring, and sometimes the quest for perfection is what chases it out of some of our hearts. I know that perfectionism can stop me dead in my tracks if I let it.
For now, I suppose I’ll take the easy, imperfect, lazy-mom approach of which I am so fond. I’ll keep singing, loudly and off-key, and encourage them to join me in the chorus. Because I suppose in the end, that’s the point. “And you know I love you that way.”
Edited to add that I should have linked to my dear friend Sara's column in Bay Windows on a very similar topic. Thinking about this in the context of disability brings the notion of true perfection to a completely different level, and reminds me that the human version of perfection takes a million different, equally perfect forms. And because I can't resist the opportunity to show a cute kid picture, I'll link to a photo I posted in response to her original post on the topic.