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.