I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection lately. Now that I’m at my new job and my good friend K and I work for the same company again, we usually have lunch together several times a week. After hearing me enumerate my woes and personal shortcomings over lunch for two days in a row, K said to me, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and a lot of your problem is that you try so hard to be perfect all the time. And you don’t have to do that.”
K is totally right, and I’d never really thought about my actions in those terms before – that I try to be perfect. But it’s what I do. At work I want everyone to think I’m smart, competent, and efficient, and sometimes I put up fronts to make it seem as if I don’t make mistakes. In my writing I labor over my poems, stories, and book reviews for ages, rarely sending anything out to be considered for publication because I never think the work is good enough. At home and in my personal life, this tendency shows itself most strongly. I take housekeeping personally and obsess about the dusty floors; if we have people over then I run myself ragged trying to be the perfect hostess. I guilt myself over every little way I fail to be perfect: forgotten phone calls and birthday cards, wasted minutes on Facebook when I should be doing something useful, every single time I perceive myself as having said the wrong thing. And I can’t even count all the ways that I’ve failed as a mother already. I try to make my appearance perfect too, obsessing over wearing the right clothes and shoes, feeling uncomfortable all day if I didn’t have time to dry my hair in the morning. And that shit should have been over back in high school.
Sometimes striving to be perfect causes me pain on the happiest occasions. I woke up sobbing the morning after my wedding with regrets about things I’d done or failed to do on the big day. It took a long time for that guilt to go away and for me to remember our wedding day as the beautiful day it was, without those distortions. And the most painful area where I failed to be perfect was YogaBaby’s birth.
We’d taken a birth preparation class focused on using self-hypnosis to control pain, and saw all these videos of women calm and peaceful during labor, almost as if they were sleeping. I wanted such a beautiful, peaceful, all-natural childbirth, and with the techniques I was learning, combined with the yoga, meditation, and breathing practices I already knew, I thought that giving birth would be no problem. Of course when the time came, it was fast and intense and hurt worse than anything I’d ever experienced. Some of the relaxation techniques we’d learned in class helped a lot, but the hypnosis flew out the window. As I brought my daughter into the world, I was crying, writhing, and screaming. Her birth was an amazing, magical event, and holding her in my arms for the first time will always be the most beautiful moment of my life. But I’m carrying around all this guilt and shame about how I acted during the labor. I know that I did an awesome job – I birthed my daughter with no medicine, no epidural, and she came out healthy and strong. I know this, and I hate having these guilty feelings in my heart surrounding such a profound, meaningful experience. But it’s still there.
So what I want to say now is, Screw perfect. There is no perfect. I (and all of you out there nodding your heads as you read this) need to let go of perfect. We don’t have to do it all. I’m going to start sending out my poems again, even though I don’t think they’re ready. We hired a cleaning service to come to our house once a month, and I’m going to revel in the relief I feel about that instead of feeling guilty that I can’t do it all myself. And most of all, I’m going to strive to let go of the desire to be a perfect wife and mother. F married me, with all my faults and neuroses: I’m the perfect wife for him just as I am. My daughter’s birth was hard; I worked hard to give birth to her, and I rocked it. I need to honor that. I need to do this for myself, so that I’ll stop allowing guilt to cloud my days, and I need to do it for my baby. If I don’t, she will see it in me, learn it from me, and that’s a legacy I don’t want to give her. My baby girl is perfect just the way she is, and I have to start recognizing that maybe I am too.