Perfectionism is lame, and don’t I know it.
Here’s a case in point. This cheery bunch of mums, planted by my eight-year-old at the end of August and still thriving in a corner of our weedy flower bed almost two months later, very nearly didn’t exist.
Blooming happily in spite of my cynicism, the flowers have become a welcome, daily reminder that things don’t have to beperfect to be just fine. They don’t even have to be close-to-ideal. Sometimes good enough really is just that–good enough.
Sophie and I were making a quick Walmart run after school. My mind was preoccupied by the long to-do list scrolling in my head, and I was T-I-R-E-D. Dinner and kids’ homework still loomed before me. My objective was to get in and get out.
Sophie’s objective was to spend the three dollars that was burning a hole in her pocket.
“Come on. Let’s go!” I said, feeling like someone ought to have fired a starting pistol. I tried to maneuver Sophie past a table of marked-down garden plants and into the store before she could get any ideas. Too late. She was rooted to the ground, gazing with longing at a small pot of wilted, bedraggled mums on clearance for $1.98. I could see the wheels turning in her little green-thumb mind.
I was ready with my objections before she even opened her mouth. To me, planting a pot of ugly, dying flowers was just One More Thing, and I couldn’t handle one more thing at the moment.
“But Mom, I really want to plant some flowers, and it’s only one dollar and ninety-eight cents.” She was bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet like she does when she really wants something but knows it’s a long shot.
True. It wasn’t like it would break the budget. And she was always begging to grow things. And I kept putting her off. And she kept sticking watermelon seeds in the ground to see what would happen.
There was no place to plant the mums since preparing the rock-hard, over-grown flower beds was a project that had been a summer must-do task that hadn’t made it any further than my guilt list.
To plant the mums properly would require clearing the entire bed of weeds, loosening the soil, amending it with compost, and getting down on my sore knees to dig in the dirt. On top of that, the plant would have to be watered and fertilized regularly.
I just didn’t have that much discretionary energy, today or any day. Besides, I had no fertilizer, no rooting solution, and heaven-forbid I should stick a plant in the ground without knowing the pH and soil composition. Did mums need full sun or would partial do?
Besides, the little nobody-wanted-to-buy-me reject was probably root-bound and harboring spores of powdery mildew.
Seeing my hesitation, Sophie seized the opportunity to press her point.
“Please, Mom. I’ll buy it with my own money.”
“It’s not the money, though a plant like that is just a waste. I don’t have time, honey. I’ve got too many other things to do.”
“But I’ll do all the work myself. You won’t have to do anything. I promise.”
Sophie? Do it all herself? Could she do that? Without my help? Really? Without even my supervision? No way. Reject that silly notion outright. She couldn’t possibly do it right without help. And I didn’t have time to help.
Then again, how hard is it to dig a hole and stick a plant in it? Let’s say she did mess up and the plant failed to thrive or died from neglect. It would be a valuable life lesson for only $1.98 and no investment of time or energy on my part.
Could I do that? Could I turn her loose knowing it wouldn’t be done Right? This required some thought.
“Please?” she repeated. Now she was pressing her hands together in a pleading gesture as well as rocking in hopeful little bounces in front of the table.
Meanwhile, I was still running in mental circles. Did everything always have to be so complicated? If something was worth doing, wasn’t it just worth doing—even if it wasn’t done right? What’s so wrong with “good enough”? Who determines what is good enough anyway? And a mom’s definition of good enough and a child’s are never the same. I might expect Martha Steward but Sophie is perfectly happy with Chef Boyardee. Was I really going to rob her of this little joy just because it didn’t meet my high standards of worth-doing-right-ness?
Why was I so hung up over a plant worth less than a family-sized can of ravioli anyway?
It was the principle of the thing, dang it!
“If you’re going to do something, do it right,” echoed in my mind. I’d heard it hundreds of times growing up. A whole wing of the Perfectionist’s Hall of Fame has been dedicated to my extended family—brilliant, accomplished, get-it-done-right kind of people with an unfortunate propensity for anxiety and one-upmanship. And how could I forget the “Beware of Good Enough” poem my mom clipped from the Lethbridge Herald and taped to the filing cabinet where I studied?
With these deep deliberations leapfrogging in my mind, I realized I was creating a bottleneck of shoppers. People were looking askance. The time for decision was upon me.
It was only $1.98 with a promise of no investment of time or energy on my part. If it all went south, I wouldn’t be out much. And it would make my daughter happy.
In a moment of terrifying, liberating abandon, I released my white-knuckled grip on perfectionism. What the heck.
With a smile I said, “Sure. Go ahead.”
She scooped up the little mum and headed for the checkout before I could change my mind. Once we got home, she jumped out of the van without a word, dug a hole, and planted it all by herself with such enthusiasm you’d think she was driving a flag into the lunar landscape.
She has cared for it faithfully every day since, and that woebegone pot of past-its-prime has—surprise, surprise—thrived. It’s beautiful. It makes me smile every time I see it.
How many beautiful things have never come into my life because of an irrational enslavement to doing things Right? What is the right way to do something anyhow? Says who? According to whose standards? So many worthwhile and enjoyable opportunities pass by while I’m debating whether or not I have the resources to do it “right”. (And I almost always don’t.) That’s stupid.
No longer. What the heck. I’m going for enjoyment and not perfection.
That’s why I said, “Sure. Why not?” when my ten-year-old asked if we could throw a Halloween party. (Now I just have to resist the urge to spend two hours on Pinterest finding the perfect party favor.)
Every day I look at that little mum and marvel. It is the best $1.98 ever spent. In my daughter’s doesn’t-have-to-be-perfect hands, it has brightened a small corner of my life. We won’t be winning yard-of-the-month anytime soon, but I’m so glad I said yes.
Now, nearly two months after planting, the first frost has come and gone, and the mum that I thought wasn’t worth a couple bucks and five minutes of time still blooms happily in a sun-lit corner of our otherwise unremarkable yard. Everything else looks worn out and chilly, but that little mum just keeps blooming. Its white leaves have turned bright purple, a splash of color surrounded by the yellows and browns of autumn.
Sophie still gets out the hose and waters it faithfully, it still has never been fertilized, the bed still hasn’t been weeded…and I still smile every time I see it.
I think that’s just about perfect.
QUESTION: Are you held back by the idea that things have to be “perfect”? How does this attitude affect your children?
CHALLENGE: Choose one project (for you or your children to complete) that you’ve been reluctant to start and decide it doesn’t have to be perfect. Then get started!
Photo courtesy of Mireille Koester
Rachel Nielson says
Love this. Thanks!
Wow, I can identify with this so much. And so beautifully written. Thank-you.
Tasha Bradshaw says
What a sweet story and a great lesson. Great Job!
I SO much identify with this!
This was such a treat to read! Thank you!
This is such a sweet and simple story. But so thought provoking. I hope I can say yes and believe in my son if similar situation arises. I have been guilty off “no, you’ll ruin it anyway” mentality already and that’s need changing!