The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work.
– W. B. Yeats, 1933
This past week, Joel went on a fishing trip to Costa Rica (all expenses paid, yeah!), and I had the luxury of just doing as I pleased, when it suited me, with nobody to answer to but myself! This is good for about two days, but honestly, after that, it does get lonesome around here (despite the four-footed creatures that follow me around all day).
I did have a fun night out with my “church lady” girlfriends, and I’ve been helping my mother in law daily, as she was unable to drive for a week. I’ve also been catching up on work that I’ve been neglecting, so it’s not like I’ve been holed up feeling sorry for myself, or anything like that.
So my exciting Saturday night consisted of doing a sneak load of wash (my rule has always been that Monday is wash day, and to heck with it if you need something washed on a different day!). But I had an excellent excuse: today while riding my bike, I encountered a very slobbery Golden Retriever running loose, who drooled all over my exercise outerwear and left muddy paw prints, to boot! (he was obviously not a well trained dog, although he sure was friendly!). Since I need that outerwear daily, I needed to wash it. But since it was just me, who cared if I did it on the wrong day?
I also caught up on my magazine reading with the February issue of Good Housekeeping. I think I’ve been taking this magazine since I was in college… so 30+ years? It IS a good magazine with lots of interesting articles, recipes, etc. The fact that I’m not tired of it after 30 years is a good sign.
However, this month, there was an article that disturbed me greatly. It was their “blogger” feature, in which the mom in question admitted to taking over her child’s assigned Valentine craft project. She was supposed to “help” with it, but she basically pushed her daughter aside in order to make it perfect. To quote this woman, “That’s when I knew there was no way I was going to hand over the job of decorating this box to a 4 year old…. I wanted my child to triumph.” Oh dear!
Back when our daughter was in pre-school, there was a pumpkin-decorating contest at Halloween. I let her do it all, giving her the supplies to embellish the squatty gourd that she had selected. It was obvious that a 4 year old had decorated that pumpkin, and I took her photo of her smiling proudly over this very amusing creation. But it was her creation! And it warmed my heart that her teachers recognized it for what it was and gave her an award. I learned afterwards that some other mothers had just BOUGHT pumpkins that had already been painted and decorated. I’m glad I didn’t know that before (I was a newbie to the competitive private school ‘rules’, and I never abided by them, thankfully!).
I watched this phenomenon over and over again during all our years there, whether it was a Science Fair or a class art project. There was actually one mother who pushed her daughter aside to “finish” painting her quilt square (for the 2nd grade quilt that was to be auctioned at the annual fundraiser). She wanted HER daughter’s square to be PERFECT!
I learned years afterwards that this perfect daughter had been caught shoplifting and had also had some later issues with inappropriate sexual behavior and illegal drugs. I can’t help but think that perhaps her feelings of imperfection were because of a mother who demanded perfection, and were perhaps the catalyst for her later actions?
My own daughter had a really mean mom who made her do everything herself. I remember saying to her, “I’ve already been in the 4th grade (or 7th or 10th) before, and now it’s your turn.” For some reason, we never had a problem struggling with homework issues, maybe because she knew I wasn’t ever going to bail her out?
Once I had our plumber working on a lengthy job, in the middle of which I had to run go pick Shannon up. When we returned, Mike was sitting at our breakfast table, calculating the bill. Shannon walked in, plopped down on the love seat, opened her backpack and began to work on her assignments.
Mike looked at her, and said, “I can’t believe it!” I said, “what?” He asked, “She just does her homework on her own?” Apparently, his sons would only do their homework when forced to. Was I just lucky, or was it something I did? I don’t know the answer to that question.
But I do know that my daughter, who is now very far away at college, has always had to fend for herself and has turned out to be very capable at whatever it is that challenges her. It makes me proud that she turned out not needing her mother to fix everything.
And I will advise all you other moms who may have read that blog in the GH magazine. DON’T DO THAT. Raise your kids up to be proud of THEIR own accomplishments. Not their mother’s vicarious ones.