Perfectly Imperfect (7/30/2014)

Perfection is really elusive. Sure, we all want perfect – the perfect body, the perfect smile, the perfect house – and sometimes, we have those moments of perfect, even briefly.

I have stopped chasing perfection.

I have found perfection is really about as possible as spotting a rainbow-winged unicorn in my backyard.

I have learned countless times how flawed I am, how I fail daily, sometimes on a moment by moment basis to the point I don’t get too cocky about anything anymore because the second I exclaim, “Hey, look what I just did!” I end up doing something that proves yet again, I am not perfect.

I tend to think I am just being honest with myself and I am very aware of my imperfections. Oh, sure, I am always lamenting over how I look, what I do wrong, that things are never “just so” and I want them to be. I am always talking about the things that are not perfect, when I know there is no such thing. I can always find something that is just not right and how everything could be just a wee bit better. I could be thinner, the house could be cleaner, bigger.

It never occurred to me that I am giving a negative example to a very attentive audience.

“I give up!” Cole cried, throwing down the artwork he was making. “I can’t fix it. I am going to throw this away.”

“Wait a second,” I said, interceding his path to the trash. “What has you so upset?”

His little face was all wadded up in a mixture of anguish and disappointment. That’s one of the things about raising a creative person. When what they are creating doesn’t turn out quite like they wanted, their artistic, creative world gets turned upside down and they think they are failures.

I thought creative, artistic people were supposed to be able to appreciate the beauty in things that were unconventionally beautiful. Perhaps, like most people, they have more tolerance for the flaws in others, just not their own creations.

I took the page from his hand, the edge of it already crinkled from his grasp and smoothed it out. To me, it was incredible, full of minute details, wild displays of color, telling a vivid story in the figures and shapes he had drawn.

“I love it, Cole,” I said sincerely.

He shook his head, his eyes downcast. “No, it’s awful.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “Look at this – there’s no way I could put this much detail into a drawing.”

He refused to listen to me, shaking his head again. “It’s garbage, I am going to throw it away.”

“It’s not garbage.”

“It is. I messed up and it’s terrible. Look at it – the lines are all crooked, I didn’t make the head right. It doesn’t look right. And that’s not the color I wanted, I used the wrong one. I am tearing it up and throwing it away.” He was looking at me now, his eyes clouded with his anger at himself.

He reached for the page, ready to rip it to shreds but I held it close.

“No, you’re not going to tear this up either. And I really want you to change your attitude, Cole. If this bothers you that much, maybe you need to take a break from your art work for a while.”

The thought of that made him have a fleeting look of panic. Art is his way to express himself and he has been known to sit at breakfast, pencil in hand as he draws while he eats. His shoulders fell in defeat.

“No, I don’t need a break,” he said. “I think it’s trash but you can keep it.”

“Why did you hate it so much?” I asked him softly.

He shrugged. “It wasn’t perfect.”

“I thought it looked great,” I said.

He shrugged again. “It wasn’t perfect though, Mama, and I wanted it to be perfect.”

“Don’t you know that the things that are not so perfect make something unique. And that makes them perfect. Every artist should know to find the beauty in the imperfections.”

He thought about this for a moment, chewing his inner bottom lip like he does when he is weighing my words to see if I am telling the truth or blowing smoke.

“Then why do you say you want things to be perfect so much? It seems like perfect is pretty important to you, Mama.”

Maybe that was what I was teaching him. That if something wasn’t “perfect” it wasn’t worthy.

“Is that what I have made you think? If something is not perfect, it’s not good?”

He nodded. My heart sank. Unintentionally, but just as damaging my actions and words had made my child think I demanded perfection.

I had never demanded it of him; never told him he had to be a certain way, or make a certain score or any of the usual standards we impose. I always just told him to give everything his best effort. I didn’t have to put pressure on him; he picked up on the pressure I put on myself and imposed it on himself.

“Oh, Cole,” I began. “There’s no such thing as perfect. But I think we both need to not focus on things being ‘perfect’ and just focus on the good qualities, the things that makes them unique and different. What do you think?”

He smiled slowly. “I would like that, Mama,” he began. “That would actually be … perfect.”

It would be beautifully, uniquely, allowing of flaws perfect.

What Would Granny Do? (7/23/2014)

It had been four months since Granny had passed. Not a day had gone by that I hadn’t thought of her.

“I miss the old gal,” I admitted to Mama one day.

“I do, too,” she replied softly.

I didn’t wallow in my sadness. Granny wasn’t one for wallowing. She would sometimes have herself one good cry and then she was done. None of this sitting around, whining and telling everyone about what had her all “upsot” as she called it.

“You know what I miss the most?” Mama said one day.

“Her telling you what to do?” I asked.


“You should. I don’t know how you and Bobby are managing.”

My mother and uncle were now geriatric orphans. Granny loved to threaten them with her plans of one day finding her own place and leaving them to their own devices.

“And prove what?” I had asked her mid-rant. “To prove to them at 60 something years of age they can live on their own? Woo hoo – they will throw raves with prune juice Jell-O shots with Milk of Magnesia chasers. And everyone will have to head home by dark since they’re scared to drive at night.”

Granny did not appreciate my logic and told me I was a hateful old gal.

Mama interrupted my inner reverie.

“No, I miss the way she did things. She was far smarter than I ever gave her credit for. But she knew how to do things.”

True, she did.

Granny was smart for someone who had maybe a ninth-grade education. She liked to remind us, especially me, that she had common sense.

“You got book smarts,” she would say. “That’s fine if you taking a test, but ain’t so good otherwise.”

I had asked her what was the dreaded otherwise. Granny said book smarts was just downright useless in a lot of situations – battling a possum in a chicken house, dealing with possible intruders, knowing how to properly clean a meat grinder. Things she didn’t think I would ever figure out how to do and she didn’t know what in the world would come of me.

“What is happening that Granny would know how to do?” I asked Mama. “Do you need me to take care of anything?”

Mama sighed a sigh that reverberated volumes. At just weeks shy of 70, how do you say you just need your mama to take care of things?

“No, I don’t. I just miss … Granny knew how to deal with certain people and I feel bad if I do it like Granny would.”

“Like what, Mama?”

Mama was quiet for a few moments before she began.

“OK, you know I don’t judge anyone based on anything, right?”

“Right.” Mama was so liberal sometimes she could make a Kennedy look conservative.

“My problem is not based on their religion. My problem is I don’t like strangers coming to the house.”

Ah. She didn’t have to say anymore.

Bless her heart. I could see Mama having an inner conflict on this – she was torn between being plumb southern hospitable on one hand and not wanting someone to come up unannounced, unexpected and completely unknown to her front door.

This is a woman that tries to uphold some degree of proprietary, so to be rude to someone at your door was a horrible disgrace.

“Mama, you don’t have to answer the door, you know.”

“Yes, I do,” she said, appalled at what she would deem disrespectful.

“No, you don’t. If you don’t know them, you don’t.”

Mama still thought this was rude.

It had been a while since I had to deal with people just arbitrarily showing up at my door. The main bonus of living in the boonies. But I remembered well how disruptive it was when we lived in town and had people randomly showing up. I had just gotten Cole settled for a nap when he was teething once, only to be woken less than an hour later by a politician campaigning. I think the expression on my face when I opened the door with a screaming baby in the background gave him a clue he wouldn’t get my vote.

I suggested putting up a “No trespassing” sign but Mama worried someone may not come down the driveway if they had to call 911. And she thought that was tacky.

“You could always do what Granny would do,” I began.

“What’s that?”

“Granny would either tell them she would listen if they would listen to her tell them about Jesus.” Granny actually did that once. Totally backfired on the old gal; she ended up with a new friend and sewing buddy.

I would hear her telling the lady, “Now, we will just a-stick to sewing and leave our beliefs out of the conversation and we will be fine. Besides, I’m right and we both know it, so no need to get into an uproar over it.”

‘”If you think putting a no trespassing sign up is rude, you will think the second one is definitely rude.”

“What?” Mama insisted.

“Start going to the door with her shotgun in your hands. You don’t have to even cock it, just have it in your hands. They’ll leave and not come back.”

Mama didn’t respond.

She didn’t have to. That was the simplest, easiest answer. And it’s exactly what Granny would have done.

Gotta keep swimming (7/16/2014)

I had signed my child up for swimming lessons before, several years ago. The first day, he loved it, splashing around in the water, making new friends.

The second day, he was told he would put his face under water and he promptly told me he would not go back.

“There’s also bottoms under there,” he explained, telling me how he was not sure if some of those “younger children” had on proper pool pants in case of accidents. He was four.

This summer was to be the summer he learned how to swim.

He had declared, on previous occasions, he knew how to swim.

He went to the pool, full of all kinds of nook and cranny dirt that normally made him cringe and sent me into an OCD fit, with his father under the intention of learning how to swim.

“I know how to swim!” he announced when he returned home.

I looked questionably at his father, who shook his head.

“He rode on my back and kicked me in the kidneys for 45 minutes. He would not get off my back and held on to what hair I have left. He doesn’t know how to swim.”

We worried, or I did, because that’s what I do. But I didn’t let him go anywhere near a pool of any kind.

“He doesn’t know how to swim,” I would tell his teacher if there was a field trip involving anything near a body of water. “He will tell you he does, but he doesn’t.”

I know that grossly cramped his style, but safety overrides any perception of cool.

And even though he didn’t have a fear of the water, I didn’t want him to get in a situation that was not safe.

I was 19 before I learned how to swim, but that had not stopped me from getting in the water with friends. I remember one particular incident where I was in the middle of Lake Sinclair with some friends when a storm came up suddenly.

Of course it was suddenly, it was a weekend in Georgia; minutes earlier, it had been clear. But there we were, a bunch of teenage girls in the middle of a lake with lightning cracking nearby.

My friends started swimming to the dock and I was floating in my life jacket, wondering what had just shimmied between my feet. I didn’t look down.

“Help!” I urged the friend closest to me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked over her shoulder as she was already facing land.

“I can’t swim!”

She turned around and looked at me. “You can’t swim? Why didn’t you say something before now?”

“I didn’t want to miss out on the fun,” was the truth. I had sat on the dock before, or on the beach or whatever was dry. And here I was, maybe putting me and my friend in danger. As in, we could die danger based on the way the storm was moving.

She flipped over and told me to hold her foot and she somehow got us safely back. I don’t know if it was a backstroke, a back float or what it was and usually, I would be mortified to hold onto to someone’s toe, but I was extremely grateful for her big toe that day, even if she did need a pedicure.

I didn’t want my own child to be in that kind of situation.

So there he was, at another swimming lesson.

He had been worried he would be the oldest in the group. I told him it didn’t matter how old someone was, as long as they were learning.

He wasn’t the oldest though as there was another boy his age in the class, much to his relief, and he spent the first lesson being social.

The second day, he couldn’t get his legs up in the water. At least I knew where all the food he eats was being stored.

“Are you scared about taking your feet off the floor?” I asked him on the way home.
He nodded. “Mama, I did once and I felt weird…”

“Like you weren’t in control?” I asked. He nodded. “Yeah, and I didn’t like that.”

I completely knew how he felt. I hadn’t been in control in over nine years, so that was familiar territory.

By the third day, he was frustrated. With himself, with the water – with everything. He got out of the pool, gave me a look of disdain and headed for the car.

The fourth day, he got in the pool with determination. I watched him, wishing I could tell him what to do but I didn’t even know. I just knew he wanted to learn how to swim and this was one thing I couldn’t guide him on.

He took a board and decided to practice swimming across the shallow end on his own. After several minutes, the teacher asked him if he wanted a break. “No, ma’am!” he called. “I love it!” He was struggling so hard – how could he love it?

She watched him, all arms splashing and beating the water, for a few moments then stopped him.

“Like this,” she said, showing him how to do his arms, smoothly, scooping the water. “Don’t fight it – relax, trust and just go with the flow.”

He nodded, then took off across the pool again, this time, sending less splash and noise in his wake.

“I did it! I did it!” he screamed to me from the pool. I gave him a double thumbs up as he went off again, his arms scooping water as he went.

I smiled, watching him glide through the water, albeit still not 100 percent smoothly but far better than I had ever done. Endlessly, back and forth he went until time to go. He was learning.

And growing up.

Life, much like swimming, goes so much better when we relax, trust and just go with the flow.

Growing up – optional (7/9/2014)

My path was crossed the other day by someone I had not seen in a while, and thankfully so.

As I did what best could be called the “pass and repass” ritual of being a polite Southerner, I was asked what I was up to lately.

I gave a brief report which was met with a snort.

“Still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, do you?”

Given the environment I was in, I had to bite my tongue and smile weakly.

Maybe I am still trying to figure out what I want to be.

Maybe I’ve partly always felt like I was on some wild vision quest because I am scared that if I do stop learning, stop challenging myself to do something I have never done before, I will grow bored – a sure death for my soul – or I will hate myself for missing a great opportunity.

When I was in high school and Mama wanted to know my future plans, I told her I was going to be a writer.

“So you want to major in English then,” was her logic.

“No,” I said, “to write, you have to experience life and see it.”

She looked at me through her Virginia Slim haze and said simply, “You don’t like to travel. You think it’s a day trip to go to Gwinnett Place Mall.” (That was decades before the Mall of Georgia and the then mecca of malls was pretty far.)

True. I had better plans.

“I am going to sit in a coffee shop and observe people and write about that. I can eavesdrop on their conversation, imagine what is going on, what they are going home to, if they are happy, if they are sad. There’s a lot you can pick up from just watching people.”

Mama inhaled as she nodded slowly, not buying my spiel.

She wanted to be supportive but she also wanted her Kitten to have a promising future, preferably as a lawyer or doctor. Mainly a lawyer, she is always wanting to know if something is worthy of litigation.

Months passed, I graduated and found myself sitting at a technical school one semester, in the paralegal program, a good precursor to law school Mama thought.

I quit.

“It’s just hard for me to figure out what I want to do the rest of my life when I am just 18. How am I supposed to know what I want to do?” I cried as I made my announcement.

Sure, I have had several jobs – and by several, it’s more than 30. Heck, it was at 30 when I was 28. I had turned in a notice at my then-current job to which I was asked, “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet, just not here,” was my answer.

I would like to think I have learned a lot of new skills with each job, because oftentimes, the new position would be in a field I had never worked before. I don’t think it’s a matter of me being qualified but rather me being crazy and foolish enough to apply. So far, I have known my limits and have not tried to be a bungee jump instructor.

I have had some great jobs, too. I have met some of the most amazing people – some wretched ones too, but overwhelmingly amazing – and had the opportunity to be a part of some truly interesting and challenging experiences.

There’s even been a few times, I have been humbly reduced to tears because I was able to do something I didn’t think I could.

Some paid well, while some the compensation was so low I would tell Mama I was going in the hole by putting on my makeup every morning.

I’ve walked away from some jobs because they didn’t feel right, and took one that, on paper, looked as scary as the devil’s lair but ended up being incredible.

I have learned so much from each experience individually and the collective sum. I can look back on how things have transpired and laugh, because it has been apparent how each experience built on the next, laying a foundation that would help me in the future. Even when I couldn’t see it at the time.

I know I would rather try something and fail. I know I would rather take a risk than wonder.

And I know I would prefer the change, the transformation – no matter how scary it can be at times – to not having any evolution to my soul.

So maybe I am still trying to figure out what I want to be “when I grow up.” That’s fine. I’m still figuring it all out.

It’s OK if others are too.

We will all get there.

I think I am up to 47 in the job tally.

And I have maybe, just maybe, grown up a little bit with each one.

Sissying up (7/2/2014)

Unlike the masses who started prepping for swimsuit season shortly after the last Cadbury egg or Peep was eaten, I have decided to start integrating an exercise routine.

I have been talking about it for a while now. Years would probably be more accurate.

I don’t have time, I am too tired – I have a long litany of excuses.

Then, vanity kicked in when I saw a photo of myself from my late 20s.

That was the kick in the gut, punch to the throat I needed.

I was going to somehow, someway, get back to that level of shape.

OK, we all know that ain’t about to happen. I am in my 40s now, I have had a child, I sit on my tater most of the day. There’s a lot of gravity and time to overcome here.

Back then, I went to the gym practically every day, sometimes twice a day.

I amazingly ate the worst kind of sustenance imaginable, but I guess Mother Nature gives you a free pass every now and then when you get up at 4:30 a.m. to be in a kickboxing class at 5 a.m.

But I have to remind myself I am older now. I have changed, my priorities have changed. I am not hiding from an obnoxiously critical ex; I want to come home to eat frosting out of a can while hearing about Pokemons and boy wonderment.

I decided I wanted to pursue something gentler, more holistic. Not the pounding on the treadmill for an hour followed by another hour lifting weights. No, I needed balance, I needed to quiet my mind, to be able to have a routine that was almost spiritual for me. I had practiced yoga before and knew it had been my most blissful hours.

I dusted off my old yoga VHS tape – yes, I still have a working VCR, don’t judge me – and spread out my new purple yoga mat. My older one had been confiscated by the dogs, who seemed to prefer it to their plushy beds.

I went through the video, surprised that I was still fairly flexible in some of the poses. Of course, when you are 5’2″ and hide your emergency chocolate on a top shelf, you do have to stretch to reach it at times. That was just some of the poses though. Others I am pretty sure if I had been able to do them correctly, I would have popped a hip out of joint.

I felt so proud of myself, I decided I would try it again the next day, where I was faced with a technological snafu. The 15-year-old VCR needed to be cleaned and I could not find the tape that did the deed.

“What are we going to do instead?” my new yoga partner, Cole, asked. “You want to play checkers?”

I told him my mind had been well exercised, I needed to tone my glutes. He wanted to know what a glute was and snickered when I told him.

Instead of yoga, we decided to do Pilates with Denise Austin.

“It’s like yoga but not,” was my definition to Cole.

He was ready. He wanted to try this on for size.

We rolled out our mats and got everything ready. Five minutes into the DVD, it was apparent Denise Austin wanted us to suffer.

She was far too perky and bouncy to be directing me to do some of the things she was telling me to do. “Is she trying to kill us?” Cole asked.

I think she was. Death by Pilates.

We made it through the first segment of the video, moving to the mat for the floor exercises.

“This should be better,” Cole thought. I thought so, too. Oh, how mistaken we were.

We made it through half of the floor exercise before Cole declared he could go no further.

“Pumpkin, go for help!” he told the Border collie who was napping upside down on the couch. “Lassie would have gone for help,” he said.

“We’re not in a well,” I said, thinking I pulled something but wasn’t sure what it was or where it was located exactly. Something just hurt.

“We are just in the floor.”

“Can you reach the water?” Cole asked, eyeing the bottles on the end table. I told him I could not. I didn’t think I could move.

“Mama, I am 9 and I need a Life Alert,” he cried.

“No, you don’t. We just need to ease into Pilates,” I said.

How did I do this kind of stuff before? Oh, that’s right. I was 27 years old, instead of 41. I whimpered.

Feeling sorry for us, Pumpkin slid in between us on the floor for a cuddle. She didn’t go for help but she did lick my nose to offer her sympathy.

“Why did you want to do this torture thing again?” my child wanted to know. If he of no body fat and lean boy-ness found it difficult surely it was not just me being a weak, lame sissy.

“Because,” I began, “I am trying to get in shape, to be thinner, to put things back where they used to be. I am trying to fight getting older. I may be failing at it horribly, but I am fighting it, baby. Getting older is not for sissies.”

My child lay on his yoga mat, petting the collie in her repose.

“Mama, so you are putting both of us through this pain and agony and watching some woman with crazy eyes because you are fighting getting older?”

I nodded. I think I felt something twitch in one of my glutes.

“Mama, my sweet girl,” he began sincerely. “You better just sissy up.”