Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pretending to be Perfect

A perma-smile was on my face one evening a few weeks ago while I watched Kate climb, run and jump so ably at an indoor play area in a nearby suburb. I'm amazed at, and proud of, how capable she is—she was climbing up this huge play structure (which is, in part, shaped like a big tree) with such ease, vastly improved from only a few months ago when she tentatively and slowly climbed up, not sure of her footing and not as strong. I was filled with such awe and love as I watched her navigate the climber. She was so curious—checking out different points of entry and new ways to climb up, not playing it safe and sticking to what she knew.

Her preschool room teacher at ECFE had told me earlier that day that Kate is confident, not afraid to stand up for herself (yay!), and has a mind of her own. Those things, while at times challenging, are music to my ears. I know that this is how I perceive her, but it's so nice to know that another adult—a long-time preschool educator—sees it, too. I hope so much that she holds onto these qualities throughout her life. I hope that I know enough, and will learn enough, to do my part in nurturing these characteristics and help strengthen them. I love her so much and I wish I could parent her perfectly so that I don't cause any harm—for example, damage her self-image or cause her to lose some of that confidence.

I'm not a perfect parent. I know no one is, but I think somewhere in my pre-parenting naiveté I believed that I'd come damn close to perfect. Not because I believed I was perfect—far from it, actually—but because I think I believed that I would love my child so completely, so enormously, that I'd never do anything that I'd later feel ashamed of, or at least not proud of. There is no question, I love my daughter as much as—no, more than—I thought I would, but I have not been a perfect mother. I think I tried, in the beginning, to be perfect and I was mostly proud of the kind of mother I was, but over time that has changed a bit and I have moved from being a close-to-perfect mom (this is subjective, obviously, and probably not at all true) to being a human mom. There is a lot of room for improvement on my part, but I have to remind myself that I don't have to be perfect—that it's not possible and that striving for that and ultimately failing is only hurting me, and eventually Kate, too.

I think this desire of mine to be perfect has some big, old, gnarly roots. It's strange, though, because there is this part of me that wants to be perceived in this way despite the fact that the people I'm most drawn to, and whom I find the most interesting, are people who aren't afraid to let it all hang out, so to speak. They show the world their imperfections and are more likeable for that, I think. I'm really afraid to show people my weaknesses. On some level, I think I'm afraid to start digging up those roots because the whole big mess of ugly, old knots may be unearthed at once, my foundation as I've always known it will no longer exist, and I may fall apart completely. I can't fall apart completely because, well, it's a scary prospect, but also because Sean and Kate need me. Then again, if I just keep on living my life this way, I'll never fully be in any of our lives. I think I need to take a lesson from my girl. I need to stand back, look at these old roots and ask myself if I should play it safe and leave them untouched, or if I should find a new way to approach my life and start digging with abandon.

My history of trying to be perfect—the good girl—started when I was young. I could be counted on to look normal, act normally, get good grades. Smile. Be nice. I was almost always smiling on the outside, but, on the inside, I was very often longing for a large, open space, where there was no one within earshot, so I could scream and let out all of my repressed feelings; a place where I could just be real and be myself. And did I mention scream? (I think my normal appearance and behaviour were, in part at least, a cover-up, so that no one would suspect that things in my family life were far from normal.) God, I just want Kate to be able to be herself. To be confident and feel good about who she is, and never feel that she has to pretend that everything is okay when it's not. (Of course, I hope that things will be okay for her more often than not.) I have to make sure she understands that it's okay not to be perfect. I suppose that means that I have to let her see that I make mistakes, and that I don't have to berate myself for that—that it is acceptable and normal, and that I just have to try to learn from it and move on. Move on. Oh, if only it were simple to do that.