“This is you,” Bryce said, waving a wrinkled piece of paper clutched in his dirty, toddler hand. In the center of the paper was a large circle with two straight lines extending from the bottom. Filling the circle were two large dots.
“This is a really neat picture, sweetheart. Tell me about it.” I picked him up and he settled into my lap.
“This is you, Mom,” he said again. Pride burst from his eyes. We identified together the parts of the picture I could recognize– the head, legs and eyes.
“But where are my arms?” I teased, giving him a tight squeeze.
He pointed to either side of the circle. Although I couldn’t see them, he knew exactly where they were.
“And, where is my hair?” I was curious now about the different way we saw the picture. He pointed to the top of the circle, as if my short, blond hair was obviously visible to anyone who could see it.
It didn’t take long for me to understand that to my son, his picture was perfect. Nothing was missing and everything was in its place.
To anyone else, his simple drawing would be lacking key elements, incomplete and unfinished. Bryce didn’t care about any of that, nor did I. His perception of perfection was based on a different set of criteria. He saw more than just lines. He saw me.
Time has passed since that discussion, and his portrait has found a permanent place on the fridge. Nearly every day, I pause for a few minutes and look at his “perfect” picture of me. Hidden inside the simple lines of a stick figure are valuable lessons for how to approach the criteria, or idea, of what it means to be perfect.
To be perfect doesn’t mean you need to have or be everything. As mothers, we are asked to wear multiple hats of responsibility each day. We cook and clean for our families. We volunteer in the school and help with homework. We support our children in various activities and sports. Many of us have responsibilities with our community or church, not to mention any personal interests or hobbies.
Each one of these hats comes with its own list of responsibilities and expectations, including an elusive image of perfection for each particular job. The pressure is great to do everything and be everything for everyone.
There are plenty of days when I run at full speed, trying to juggle responsibilities and reach for the image of perfection. I switch hats like a skilled magician and do my best to rise to the expectations.
Unfortunately, in my efforts to meet the expectation of perfection in various mothering obligations, I can’t remember if I took the time to connect with my children. I volunteered in the school, cleaned a bathroom and mended a blouse. I helped the children finished homework, do chores, and get to practice, but I can’t remember if I stopped chasing perfection long enough to say, “I love you.”
To be perfect doesn’t mean I need to be the best at everything that is asked of me as a mother. Just as my son’s drawing didn’t have all the parts one might expect, I don’t have to be perfect under all the different hats I wear. Often, the truest perfection can be found simply in ensuring that my family knows I love them because I slow down long enough to make the time to connect with them and tell them, “I love you.”
To be perfect means you “see.” Considering all the things that were left out of my son’s perfect picture, the eyes were not missing. In fact, they were front and center.
I love looking into my son’s eyes when he talks. His expressions are contagious as he opens his eyes wide with excitement or squints with a question. They sparkle with a joke and tear up when he is sad. I get more than words when I look my child in his eyes as we talk. It is when we are eye to eye, that we truly connect.
The stick figure portrait is a reminder that my kids want to see my eyes and connect with me. It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. When I take the time to look into the eyes of my children and really see them, the exhausting activity level of my grade-schooler becomes enthusiasm and the tireless mess-making of my toddler becomes curiosity.
To be perfect means that I see my children as the amazing individuals they are. I find glimpses of perfection when I connect with my children eye to eye, soul to soul.
To be perfect is a process. My son’s perfect portrait of me, drawn with simple lines, will eventually be tucked away in a special place to be treasured for years to come. As he grows and matures, he will draw other pictures, and they will be different than the first. Surely in later pictures, missing parts will be added as he includes arms, hair and a smile, among other attributes.
As a mother, I too will grow and mature. It is logical and mercifully reassuring that my image of perfection must shift and change as well, becoming more complete with each new phase of growth. I believe motherhood is a living, breathing calling in life–always changing, getting better and better. Should we not allow our image of perfection to do the same?
It is tempting to make our image of perfection complicated, with expectations beyond our reach. What I have learned through my son’s depiction of perfection is that is doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, perfection can really be quite simple because it begins with where you already are and grows with you.
Your picture of perfection will always be uniquely yours. It should be celebrated, appreciated, and treasured for years to come.
QUESTION: Have you allowed your image of perfection grow and change as YOU grow and change as an individual?
CHALLENGE: Simplify your image of “perfection.” Identify a few actions that mean “perfection” to you and focus on doing those things this week. (For example, say “I love you” more often, look your children in the eye, etc.)
Edited by Sarah Monson.
Image from Karin Brown with graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally published on April 30, 2015.