No one would ever walk into my house and worry that I struggle with perfectionism. And it only takes about 30 seconds of a conversation with someone new for me to out myself as a walking (but redeemed!) disaster.
But perfectionism is a sly little monster that can sneak up on me at the weirdest times and catch me completely off guard.
The week of Halloween, Caroline asked me if we could carve a pumpkin. Well, being the Type B person that I am, I waited until the day before Halloween to think about getting a pumpkin. I sent Brad and Caroline to find one and after going to three different places, they came back with the only one left anywhere.
So that Friday night, Caroline and I went outside and spread out some garbage bags. I assumed I would be doing the majority of the work and Caroline would assist, but she had the reverse in mind. SHE wanted to do it and wanted me to help as needed.
She’s a pretty capable kid and handles her business like a champ. And this was HER pumpkin. Something I would remind myself about fifty times over the next fifteen minutes.
She reached for the pumpkin and the knife and I said, “Why don’t you let me cut the hole in the top?” She scowled at me and I continued quickly, “Well, it’s just a small pumpkin and we’ve got to be careful to cut it big enough to get in there, but not too big so it crowds the face….you know?”
She rolled her eyes and relented. “Fine.”
Yes, it will be, I thought to myself smugly. Just fine.
“Great,” she replied, less than enthusiastically. “Okay, let’s start cutting.”
I eyed our work in progress. “Okay, see, we’re gonna have to move the eyes down a little more, like this,” and I expertly cut out the first eye.
“Mom! I wanted to do it!”
She looked dejected and I felt guilty. “I’m sorry, babe. Here. You do it.”
I held the pumpkin still has she happily began to cut. I smiled, encouraged and offered minimal instruction while the inner battle raged. I could hear Rachel Macy Stafford (Hands-Free Mama) arguing with my unwelcome perfectionism, which was now approaching a Category 4 hurricane.
RMS: It IS her pumpkin you know. Let her do it.
Me: But she’s gonna mess it up!
RMS: Who cares? This isn’t about the pumpkin. It’s about your daughter, spending time with her, creating a memory, letting her try something, maybe letting her fail, and being there when she needs you.
Me: But if I did it, it would be perfect.
RMS: And what would that teach her? That what she is capable of isn’t good enough. That she shouldn’t try anything unless she knows it would turn out perfectly. Would your perfect pumpkin be worth your daughter’s disappointment?
Me: She wouldn’t be disappointed because it would end up so cute!
RMS: But it wouldn’t be hers. If you get in the habit of taking over every time she wants to do something with you, eventually she’s going to stop asking.
Me: (Frustrated sigh.)
RMS: Stop looking at the pumpkin’s face. Look at HER face.
I did. She was biting her lower lip in concentration, brow furrowed like mine does all too often. She was empowered, nervous, happy.
RMS: Whose smile do you care more about? The pumpkin’s? Or your daughter’s?
I folded. My imaginary Rachel was right. It wasn’t about the pumpkin. It was about the child. Get a grip, Mom.
She got through the second eye and the nose and proudly showed me her work.
“That’s great, babe. Good job.”
She smiled, then got serious. “Okay, time for the mouth.”
And I saw what was about to happen. But I had already said and done too much. Garnering every bit of self-control I could muster, I let it play out. Slice, went the knife and off came one of the teeth.
“Oh no!” Caroline exclaimed in distress. She picked up the broken piece and looked at me, not knowing what kind of reaction she would get. Shame. I told you so. Or…
“Aw, man,” I lamented gently. “You know what? It’s okay, kiddo. I may be able to fix it.”
Relief washed over her face. And I knew it was more relief about my reaction than the fact I could fix it. “How?”
I smiled mischievously and leaned in, like I was telling her some well-kept secret. “Well, what you don’t know is I happen to be a world-renowned pumpkin surgeon.”
She looked encouraged and we continued. There was another mis-slice, another lost tooth and another pep talk. When she had done all she could do, she handed the patient to me. “So you think you can fix it?”
“I can try,” I told her. “Let’s get everything inside. The bugs are killin’ me out here.”
A couple of broken toothpicks, some inner cuss words and elbow grease and the teeth were back in place. It didn’t look great. More like Frankenstein than Charlie Brown. But Caroline was so proud of it.
She took a picture of it and sent it to her dad. She shoved it in Brad’s face as soon as he walked in the door. She gazed at it and just loved the ugly little thing.
Then she gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for doing the surgery, Mom.”
I then realized it had been God’s voice in that argument, disguised as Rachel Macy Stafford. And He was right.
THAT toothy grin was all that mattered.
Guest post by Lindsey Staton