Before you have kids, you fantasize a perfect being based on the choicest morsels of the parents’ body and soul: inshalla, my child will have Daddy’s button nose and Mummy’s indestructible teeth, his Calvinistic work ethic and her knack of being given jobs by friends, his talent at Angry Birds and her ability to sprint after a departing bus in platform heels while exceptionally drunk.
What you don’t imagine, is a child made up of all the offcuts: Mummy’s enormous conk grafted onto Daddy’s bowling-ball bonce, his science-baffling foot diseases combined with her shedding toenails, his inability to find his own belongings mixed with her incendiary temper at losing things.
I should make it clear, that this description refers only to an imaginary Frankenstein’s child who has never existed, certainly not in our house. My children are delightful on the in- and outside.
However, I have bequethed to my Curly Girlie a trait that I hoped would go extinct with the current generation: perfectionism.
Perfectionism is not about ‘performing a task diligently until it is the best it can possibly be, given the resources and time to hand’. That would be a useful skill. In common parlance, we admire someone who is ‘a perfectionist’.
“Good for them,” we cry, “when my task isn’t right after five minute’s effort, I just give up and watch Homes Under the Hammer with a piece of cake. I’m fine with that, quite honestly.”
Trouble is, we don’t really understand what it is. When psychologists describe perfectionism, they see a set of behaviours that often impede success and happiness: unwillingness to try new things for fear of failure; setting oneself unrealistic goals; never being satisfied; and the nemesis of every writer, chronic procrastination.
Which brings me to today, standing in the kitchen watching through narrowed eyes as Curly Girlie set up her paints on the easel.
Now I already know she’s a perfectionist, because my local child-development psychologist (everyone should have a neighbour who’s one of those) came round for a cup of tea one day, watched Curly colouring, and after five minutes passed me a note on which she had scribbled in crayon: “Perfektionistin! Total!”, which you can probably translate all by yourself.
Admittedly, Curly was at that moment throwing a stropper because she’d drawn a tiny line on her picture in the wrong colour and wanted a new piece of paper because it was all wrong and she had to start again or die. I pocketed the note and decided to add that to my list of ‘things to worry about in the night’.
So back to today and the paints. You will note in Exhibit A, the photo above, how the red paint has a red paintbrush, the green paint has a green paintbrush, and so on. That was Curly. If there was not a brush to match the paint, then she refused to paint with that colour. Though I say it myself about my own darling one, it was a bit freaky.
Maybe it will turn out that nurture really is stronger than nature. Maybe I’m worrying unnecessarily about the perfectionism and the maternal nose. But just in case, I’m going to post this quote up around the house and leave it there until she can read:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. ANNE LAMOTT