My kindergarten teacher had a special pen she used every day for grading papers. On one end was a regular ball-point red pen, but on the other end was a smiley-face stamp. She would carry it around as we did our work, and if we got everything right, she would turn the pen around press that pretty stamp on our paper. But, if we made an error, she used the ball-point side to scrawl a sad-face.
The first time I saw this magical pen, I silently vowed to get all smiley faces the whole year-long. I achieved this goal until one winter afternoon, when I counted six snowmen instead of five…and a sad face was drawn quickly on my math paper. Eric P., who sat at my table gasped and said, “Ohhhhhhhhh, Katie got a sad face!” I gulped and willed the tears away.
And thus, my terrible tango with Perfect began.This push-me-pull-you dance always led to a short-lived exhilaration, often mixed with exhaustion and tears and sometimes, great emptiness. And still, I’d dust myself off and dance on with this fairly unrelenting and overpowering partner. This continued through undergraduate and graduate school, and into my teaching career. Maturity and time slowed the dance down a bit, though occasionally, Perfect would strike up a tempo that would push me again into a dizzying pursuit…
The perfect dinner party. The perfect thesis. The perfect house. The perfect lesson.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the Ultimate Promenade of Perfection into which I entered on March 21, 1994:
I was completely overwhelmed by the intensity of competition around raising children. Play groups felt more like beauty and talent competitions; discussions revolved around whose child was first in reaching milestones and accomplishing great feats. I felt an almost-primal need to protect my children from the clutches of the Perfect culture, only to discover its pervasiveness: a mainstream magazine recently dubbed parenting as “The Most Competitive Sport in America.”
The conversations I heard at dinner parties and school functions were heavily laced with mentions of Perfect. You know what I’m talking about…the kinds of statements about travel teams and talent scouts that, in my less-secure moments, make me want to thoroughly examine where I went wrong with my obviously-average offspring. Or throw up. Or both.
Still, when I come to my senses, I firmly resist strangling my kids with superlatives, knowing that they’ll never be the smartest or the fastest or the strongest and the best in everything…and that’s okay.
It’s taken me a long time to learn this, but Imperfect yields a bumper crop of gifts that Perfect could never offer:
If my children were perfect, they would have no need to develop any of these qualities. If they were perfect, they might miss out on the unique relationships that develop from cooperation and loyalty and mutual dependence.
If they were perfect, they’d have no need for me…
and they’d have no need for Him.
So, no thanks, Perfect. When it comes to parenting, I’ll sit this one out. I’ll watch my perfectly imperfect children, (who were born of a most-imperfect mother!) as they become just exactly who God planned them to be…
…and I’ll dance with Joy.