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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not going to be perfect.

I'm trying to help my son become better at failing.
I want him to be ok with mistakes, with a bit of messiness...
I don't want him to think that if he messes up coloring an assignment correctly that he is a terrible person.
I don't ever again want to see him screaming at himself for being stupid because he picked the wrong crayon to color with.
I hope to never have him hand me another homemade birthday card with his eyes averted from my gaze because he says "I did it myself" with my mother beaming behind him and I can see so clearly by the way that it's perfectly crafted to look 'childish' that my mother did it.
I don't want him to say with shame "Well, Grandma had to fix it because the hearts I drew weren't right".
He's 6 years old and if he gets stuck thinking that things must be perfect in order to have value then he will always be suffering.
I want him to learn this early because I'm only really understanding it now.

I grew up in a family where failure wasn't an option.
As my father put it..."nobody remembers who came in second" so me and my brothers had to be the best at everything.
My mother had my IQ tested when I was 4 years old and I tested high enough that she enrolled me into Kindergarten. Not surprisingly, I proved to be too immature to sit still all day and follow directions (I'm still not good at either of those) so I was kicked out but there was never a mention of me not being ready, it had to do with the school and the teachers. 
Me? 
My mother said I was perfect and if anyone said otherwise they were jealous of me.
I hated that story.
I remember a feeling of intense responsibility being thrust on my shoulders that I had no choice but to be the best at everything that came my way and if I wasn't it was going to be someone else's fault.

When it was Girl Scout Cookie Time, I knew I had to sell the most cookies so I did.
If there was an art project due and I wasn't doing it 'perfect' my mother would take it over and finish it.
The Blue Ribbon I won for Cake Decorating at the County Fair?
My mother proudly showed everyone and bragged about how amazing I was but I can tell you at best...the only thing I did was break the eggs that went into the cake batter. 
I knew I wasn't the best and what I came to learn was that my effort wasn't what was important. I learned that my skills with a frosting tip needed 'help' and at the end of the day what really counted was being perceived as better than the rest.
I couldn't possibly be seen as good at one thing and just 'ok' at something else.
No me. 
Not a Volpe.

So...for years I carried that around. I had to be perfect or at least seem it.
By the 6th Grade as the first signs of puberty appeared as uncomfortably large breasts and chunky thighs, I began hiding out in the bathroom and throwing up every little morsel of food so that I wouldn't feel so awkward. 
So, I could still look like a perfect Ballerina.
I got straight A's. I won awards for my writing. I studied and did well at the things that interested me and spent summers in my bedroom getting better at things I didn't like because the one thing I knew was that I couldn't fail.
But, I did.
Again and again.
I failed to connect with people, I failed to trust anyone and I failed to believe I was good enough.
This was only reaffirmed after my mother pressured me to get a nose job. Months later she commented that I'd be even prettier if I had my ears pinned back.
I remember that being one of those tiny breakthroughs for my brain that said "Holy Shit, this has nothing to do with me. My Mom is literally living through my accomplishments (I don't think being pretty is an accomplishment by the way but she did) just as my father was living through my brother Jon, a football star and Stanford graduate. My parents had decided to play a never ending game where winning was the only goal and we were the game pieces that moved at their whim.
This was something they were taught by their parents, I assume but I don't want to repeat that pattern as a parent.
It's proved to be a difficult habit to break for myself but I don't want that pressure to be put upon my son by me.
He will get it everywhere else but I want him to know that his crooked lines and backward 5s are interesting.
His scrambled eggs with a bit of shell are a first attempt. 
I want my son to know that he can be great at doing things.
He can.
He can be great at whatever he wants to devote his time to but being #1 is worthless if he hates himself in the process.
It is good to master a craft but when it keeps you from being able to smile when you mess up, if it keeps you from becoming a bit more empathetic when others mess up then I really don't know what the point is.
So...as he is finally learning to ride his bike I've let him fall. 
A lot.
And to me the sweetest thing he said was "ok, I'm ok. I'm just learning to fall, right now. I'm going to get back up and try again".





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