My son is soulful, compassionate and a deep processor who takes most things very seriously. He's also relentlessly silly, streaking through the house naked or doing a ridiculous dance just to make us laugh. He rarely gets in trouble, and when he does, it surprises us both.
I know him really well. And I cherish that because the time is coming closer that he will have friends I don't know, go more places without me, see the mountains and swim in seas before he even tells me he has hit the road. That is a good thing. Even when he's independent, I hope that lovely epicenter that beats his heart and extends his arms into a hug and inspires curiosity about the history of India's sports and makes reading and drawing and belting out songs into a microphone – I hope it will still be there.
At that core of him, though, is also a rooted and relentless pressure to be perfect. I recognize it in his scrunched-up face when he can't swiftly solve an algebra problem or when I correct the way he's cleaning the bathroom mirror or when he's made a mistake and he knows it. When I see that look, we talk about it. Release, I tell him. You are enough.
He sometimes cries or resists. He occasionally asks how or rants that I am the one who expects him to be perfect. No, I say, do your best. And learn from the lessons.
It's not easy. I want him to do well, but I don't ever want the drive to succeed to become a debilitating stress. I love that he gets straight As and that that he worked and worked and worked to earn a black belt, through pain and discipline and many more months and tries than he anticipated. I don't expect it, and I do want him to pursue it – and also enjoy it.
That pressure to be perfect doesn't come with a lot of moment savoring. Because there's always more, always better, always the encumbrance of doing. What if perfection is a quiet, still moment of reflecting on all you are as a beautiful human?, I've asked. He's nodded but I am not sure he's really understood so much that his thinking has shifted or the weight has lifted.
And so I asked myself the same question, only to feel the same reactive nod. How often do I enjoy all of my own enough-ness? The answer is, of course, not enough. I recognize the look of perfection pressure paints on his face because I've seen it in my own mirror. Why am I not doing more? Why am I failing? – I have felt these questions swirling in my head in some form or another for decades. They are questions and thoughts I'd never have about another beautiful human, but I generously berate myself with, no matter how many accomplishments of my own I rack up or how much I've worked to make myself kinder, calmer, smarter, more confident.
Being a single mom has only added to the pressure of perfection for me. I created a terrible need to show others that one parent and a child can make a fulfilled family, that I could wield power tools adeptly and figure out how to free my toddler after he locked himself in the bathroom. I heard so much criticism about the whys and hows of my divorce that I pushed myself hard to make more friends, find a better relationship, discover greater strength in myself. And while those are not bad motivations, they can be if the ideal does not include any missteps at all.
I didn't want to pass this on to my son. But here it is, and we have it in common. Just like we have a tendency to pile up our clean clothes on the floor instead of putting them away (we do not have tidiness perfection, clearly), share a disdain for mayonnaise and tear up together during America's Got Talent.
I suppose that as I am leading him to release, embrace and enjoy all of his enoughness, I am guiding myself there, too. One scrunched-up face moment, one A-, one job loss, one accidental fender bender, one locksmith call, one ended marriage, one meditation, one deep-breathed release at a time. Hell, for that price, you can wrap your kid's textbooks and wallpaper your office in it.
The "enough" print is also available for purchase and download on Etsy. For $5.80, you can certainly gift them to every single mom and kid of a single mom you love, right?
* Not an ad, simply a big praise-hands for independent sellers on Etsy. *