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Things I Cannot Fix, or Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

July 10, 2014

Things I can fix:

  • splinters
  • torn blankets
  • stuck zippers
  • tangled car seat straps
  • grass/food/blood stains

Things I cannot fix:

  • crayons with tip broken off
  • my sliced fingertip (damn concave sweet potatoes)
  • broken water bottles
  • fear of accidents
  • traits inherited from me or just earned by the cosmic dice roll, that simultaneously drive me crazy and make me want to solve that problem STAT to prevent familial and individual strife

I have already confessed to being a recovering perfectionist.  But “recovering” doesn’t mean “recovered.”  Not past tense.  Present continuous tense.

I recognize signs of struggle-with-struggle in my kids, particularly one who tries, say, to put a shoe on one foot, and when it does not magically slide itself on over the heel, reacts thus:  kicks it off and/or throws it, screams, and walks or runs away.

Repeat.  However many times it takes to get said shoe on.

While I am trying to simultaneously get four other feet in shoes (ideally by the foot owner), find my keys, etc.  I need to remind myself of my mantra, “We have enough time.”

Then we played our first board game:  a truly innovative game called Robot Turtles, which is designed to teach kids the principles of computer programming.

The kids each had arrow cards, and could play any direction they wanted on their turn.  They had to move their turtle piece from the starting point to their “jewel” in the center of the board.

My kids do not really understand “right” vs. “left,” so I tried to coach them while offering choices.  If they used the wrong card, they would be pointed off the board.  My husband, the software engineer, reminded me to let them learn by doing:  if their turtle didn’t move, then they were learning just as much or more than by listening to my “guidance.”

I don’t want to be a parent who hovers, who micromanages choices.  I know better.

As a teacher, I used to commiserate with my colleagues about parent meetings.  We all had stories of the “crazy” parents who helicoptered or ranted at their kids or acted in whatever way we thought was not helpful to their child’s learning.

I have a lot more empathy for parents of my students now.  I try not to be the helicopter parent, but I so understand the impulse behind such behavior.  We are all just drawing the map as we go, hoping that our early paths will help our kids find success rather than create more obstacles.

Just like when one of our kids when through a hitting phase six months ago:  I obsessed.  I researched every other night:  How to stop toddlers from hitting.  Gentle discipline.  I agonized, envisioning this kid as that kid in preschool, or at the playground.  We had one of those kids in our music class, and I watched that kid like a hawk whenever he neared one of mine.

After a few weeks and consistent, (mostly) patient and kind responses from us, this kid grew out of the phase.

This is what I see in myself recently:  the need to “help.”  To fix.  To streamline and make efficient.  To just do it myself because I am hungry, or we have already spent 50 minutes getting ready to go to the park (true story), or I can’t stomach the discomfort of waiting more minutes for my kid to struggle with buckling a stuffed animal into the car seat so it will be safe.

Or, this week, not for my kids to succeed at potty training, but for them to feel positive about the learning experience.  That if I mess it up, they will end up less resilient, less confident, less independent.  Like I can dictate how they feel.  Like I can control their reactions.

I want my kids to be more resilient than I was.  The tricky thing is, part of me still wants that One-Easy-Step process.  My perfectionism kicks in and wants to know the quickest and most efficient way to make sure my kids don’t get frustrated when they struggle.

Oh, the irony.

Like my sliced finger (which is now bandage-free, and which has received many kisses from many small beings, including stuffed beings), this takes time to heal.  Maybe it will always be with me.  The urgency to just move on to the next thing.  To show them the Right Way.

I need to remind myself:  Wait.  Trust.  Be open to possibility.  Love is always the Right Way.

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