That darn perfection illusion

I apologize for my long hiatus…it has been insanely busy!  Between a post-election trip to Washington D.C., Thanksgiving, Bellie’s third annual round of Nutcracker performances, Christmas preparations and the like, I have been swamped.  But I promise to fill you in on all those adventures in due course.  Life has been good, I have been staying upbeat, but wouldn’t you know it…once the kids finished school for the year and I was finally allowed a break I came down with the flu (flu shot notwithstanding!).  It has been a fun three days of that but I think I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Right when I start feeling better I am sure the rest of the family will follow suit and get sick.  Right around Christmas day, I’m sure:-)  Oh well, c’est la vie.

I think I mentioned earlier that I have befriended a new-to-motherhood and new-to-the-area young lady who is married to a coworker of Hubby.  We’ve been hanging out every few weeks or so; I have been introducing her and her baby daughter to the various activities available in our town for family fun/child enrichment.  My younger kids get a kick out of hanging out with her baby, and I think she is genuinely appreciative to have the companionship.  It is fun for me, too, to experience, through her, how far I’ve come as a mom.  I mean, ten short years ago, I was that new, slightly uncertain and definitely appreciative for friendship – young mom.  Several years later, I don’t know if I would claim that I’m an expert or anything…but I am WAAAAAAAAY more laid back and more confident (sometimes) about my parenting skills.  Still, it made me dissolve in laughter when Hubby called me from work one day.

Hubby: [previously mentioned co-worker] told me his wife is super-jealous of you.

Me: What???!!!!  Why???? (silently thinking, “Did she SEE my four-year-old eat that gum off the bathroom floor at playgroup?”)

Hubby:  Yeah, she thinks you are like the perfect mom.  She thinks the kids are always so well-behaved and you discipline them so well.  And you always are on time and have your makeup and hair done when you guys get together.

Me: (Trying not to choke on my 8th cup of coffee that morning while the kids dump an entire box of cereal onto the floor)  !!!! Oh my gosh!!!  I have TOTALLY mislead her.  That was not my intention.

Thinking back, I really was only trying to not scare her off with my frumpy slovenliness.  Generally I am not on time, anywhere.  And I don’t usually do my hair, but I thought I should put forth a little more of an effort with someone I am getting to know. (It’s weird how friendship with other moms is sort-of like dating.  You want to put on your best face until you know you can relax a little around them in your own skin.)  I certainly did not mean to make her think I was…Perfect.

Hubby to the rescue:  It’s OK.  I set [previously mentioned co-worker] straight.  I told him that generally I come home to a house with cereal all over the floor and no one has gotten dressed for the day.

OK, that was once.  But if it serves to burst the perfection illusion my new-found friend has developed about me, so be it.  I don’t want to be seen as perfect!  That is a lot of pressure.

I think women, moms especially, are set up for failure with the perfectionism thing.  I mean, we start out young, unmarried and childless bombarded during our preteen and teen years with images on Cosmo and Vogue of these gorgeous supermodel/actresses and are convinced that is who we need to be (airbrushing be damned!).  Our images of perfection may also be tied up in being the smartest, getting into the best college, having the most prestigious (and lucrative) career.  We may spend hours on facebook and instagram looking at our friends’ “perfect lives”.  Then, we graduate to the competitive mom-ing.  Oh wow, that mom fits into her size-2 jeans and always looks like a million bucks, with her five beautiful children in tow who look like they stepped out of a Gymboree ad.   And that mom volunteers for Everything at school.  Isn’t she superwoman?  Plus she holds down a full-time job AND is going to grad school at the same time!  How is it possible this other mom keeps her home so immaculate with her two sets of multiples?  I have never seen her with a hair out of place, and she’s always cheery and friendly.  I’m sure her life is so charmed.

The danger in this “Projected perfectionism” thinking is that it tends to be a whole pack of bulls**tPeople, no matter how hard they try to make outsiders believe it is so, are not perfectionistic automatons.  There are happy, hard-working people who are living their best life, sure.  But they will be the first (often) to admit that their lives are not “perfect”.

Just yesterday, my little group of best girlfriends was blindsided out of the blue with some information that left us stunned and devastated.  A marriage we had always viewed as strong, a couple with a strong commitment to their family and community, had suddenly spiraled into a place none of us would have imagined.  Domestic violence, safe houses, and divorce proceedings.  The whole story is not immediately clear, but what an incredible shock for friends who have only ever seen the one face of their relationship.  How could we have missed if something so dangerous was going on with our friend?  Why didn’t she come to us for help before?  I always had (and still do) look up to her for mentoring with my parenting.  She was always so calm, so serene and so capable that I never would have imagined anything like this could happen to her.  And as a couple, they completed our little group that hung out camping and doing fancy dinners.  Our several families of combined children were good friends.  We were all so happy together.  I grieve for my friend and her family in this.  (Prayers greatly appreciated on her behalf)

The lesson?  Well, I could say “Try not to appear too perfect.”  But, in reality, it might be more prescient to say, “Don’t assume anyone’s life is perfect.”  Everyone has challenges.  Everyone has things they keep hidden.  If you suspect something with one of your friends that seems “off”, follow up.  They may not be ready to share, but they might be able to tell you how to help.

Meanwhile, next time I get together with my new-mom friend and her baby, I think I will put her more at ease by showing up 5 minutes late in my sweats, leaving that grape jelly smeared all over my kids’ faces and regale her with the tale of the “Floor Donuts” (that delightful time I let Spike carry the dozen-box of frosted donuts to the register at the grocery store.  He dumped them, the box came open, and all of them plopped juicily to the grubby floor, frosting side down.  And before I could begin cleaning them up, Spike wipes his hand over the frosting-smeared floor and begins eating it the delicious goo.)

Who’s a perfect mom, now?  🙂

that-darn-perfection

 

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A Perfect Marriage

 

ScheuWedding06052004

Hubby showing me his moves on the dance floor.  (And he is doing a bent-leg shimmy here…he is short but not THAT short!)  It’s always a good thing when you can laugh at with your spouse.

I’ve been musing about marriage lately,  and it just so happens today is my Twelfth wedding anniversary!  That seems crazy to me that we’ve been married a dozen years.  It has gone by very quickly, but there are alternately those times where it feels like it has been forev-ah.

Jacob and Nancy Crookse

Marriage means stickin’ it out through thick and thin…and sometimes making do with chicken wire instead of those fancy backdrop thingees.

 

Which leads me to wonder how many marriages, particularly those of my generation,  will end only with the death of a spouse instead of divorce. How many couples will choose “til death do us part” instead of dissolution and lawyers and custody battles and alimony. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to stay in a marriage when you are having problems. It’s hard to “work on it” when your spouse seems indifferent, when you feel neglected or unappreciated or just too dang overwhelmed and frazzled with LIFE to really be willing to focus energy on a marriage you secretly wonder may have been a “mistake”.  Especially when all of your friends and others you respect seem to have their love lives all together…

EECrooks wedding 1936A

You don’t just marry your spouse…you marry their whole family.

Back in the day, when Hubby and I were doing marriage prep classes, I felt like I was mooning around in a hazy rose-colored fog of smugness.  He and I were so “compatible” (the little test they gave at one of the sessions said, apparently, that Hubby and I were an emotionally mature couple who had no unrealistic expectations of marriage.  Which, at the time was entirely true. ) We were both ready to be married and loved and respected each other.  Stupidly, at that time, I also thought (for that reason) we were much better matched and ready for a lifetime of conjugal bliss than the majority of the population.  That we would Never. Have. Problems.  (Well, at least not more concerning than someone leaving clothes on the floor or the toilet seat up.) That simply being “made for each other” as the trite little saying goes, would make us utterly and completely immune to the forces of the world that would try to tear us apart.  That we would be one of those marriages that people looked at, years from now, when we were little old people puttering around in Assisted Living, as “such a Perfect Marriage.”

A and J Lagowski c1950

If it isn’t work, you are not doing it right!

Oh, I realized that marriage was bound to be work.  But I didn’t realize to what magnitude that work would be.  No one really goes into the nitty gritty of how hard life as a spouse gets when you have to face things together you hoped you’d never have to deal with.  Job loss, serious illness, sick children, fights over how to best care for elderly parents.  I didn’t think seriously about what it was going to be like with four young children in the house screaming all day and then the violent, irrational Resentment I would feel when he got home from work and wanted to “relax”.  How it creeps up on you; you start looking at your spouse as that man who “did this to you”, instead of as this wonderful human being who God placed in your path to fulfill your vocation as wife and mother.  How you begin to blame each other for life’s annoyances.  How you begin to question, “would I be happier, really, if I could just leave?”  And, “Do I deserve better?”

Paul Wedding1 1936

For better or for worse.  But never for perfection.

Thank God that marriage is a sacrament.  Thank God for the vows that I exchanged with my Hubby, who really is a good, Godly, honorable man who loves me deeply.  But I honestly don’t believe love alone would have saved our marriage during its dark times.  I meant, very seriously, those words I said twelve years ago.

I promise to love you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

Burvee Marriage 1890

“You want to do what?  Homestead in a barren wasteland?  Yes, please, I’ll follow you anywhere!”  Now that’s love.

The vows I made have gotten me through the tough times.  And the knowledge that Hubby and I am not in this marriage alone.  (God’s definitely got His work cut out for Him.)

Do you like all these wedding/couple pictures?  As I was putting this post together I was thinking how each one of these married couples, my antecedents, made a commitment for the long haul.  They did make it to “til death do us part.”  Did they have perfect marriages?  Did they have blissfully romantic unions chock full of whimsical serendipity and only marred by small inconveniences?  Hell no.  They knew hardship.  They knew loss.  They may have spent more time thinking about how unhappy they were in their marriages than anything else, I don’t know.  They may not have even liked each other very much.  Who knows, some of them (those I have known personally excluded of course) might have been miserable human beings who really weren’t balls of fun to be around.  But they stayed together.  Of course divorce wasn’t as viable an option back then, but maybe they too had some sense that marriage was a fundamental building block of society, that remaining married proved economically smarter, and children retained untold benefits from their parents being and remaining married.

 

momdad89

This photo was taken right before they realized they’d left my little brother at the gas station.

 

One day, in the midst of one of our nastier arguments, I made some snide comment to Hubby about something I felt he had done wrong.  I will never forget the look on his face when he said, very quietly, “I never said I was a perfect person.”  That statement gave me pause and I recognized that I had been expecting him to be.  Why is that?

Years ago, I read the novel Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty.  It was a great book that captured the way I think many of my generation think about marriage: as a fairy tale romance for those lucky souls who meet and marry their “soul mate”.  It comes down to the idea that if you find the “right one” marriage should be a breeze.  Oh, and you should always feel blissfully “in love” most of the time.  If that isn’t the case, you should probably get divorced so you can find someone else who might, this time, satisfy your every emotional need and desire.

In Prunty’s novel, the reader follows the protagonist, Tressa, who is newly married and carries an idealistic view of how marriage works, due, mainly, to her perception of her grandparents’ “perfect” marriage.  When her own marriage isn’t as great as she thinks it ought to be, Tressa wants out.  Little does she know, her grandparents’ marriage was not the magical union she thinks it was.  Tressa learns, as she reads her grandmother’s diary, that her grandfather was a “consolation prize” for her heartbroken grandmother, who refused to show affection for the husband she felt almost forced to marry.  In fact, it wasn’t until years later that love finally began to take root, nurtured by shared experiences and affection.  But even on his deathbed, Tressa’s grandmother struggled to tell her husband she loved him.  Even though she did.  Very much.  Not your typical “romantic” marriage, but it worked.  It was imperfect, but happy.

Why do we want to have that “perfect” union? Our heads are filled with visions of Hollywood romance, usually focusing on the wedding, but also filled with spouses who listen always, criticize never, and always, always know what we want (love means being a mind-reader).  We think we should perpetually feel a deep, sensual and exciting love for our spouse.  We constantly want to feel as though we are “in love”, like we did when we first met.  We don’t want to ever fight.  People who love each other shouldn’t disagree, right?  We also want someone who respects our individuality while remaining completely selfless when it comes to our desires.  Someone to have and to hold who never has a bad day and takes it out on us.  Someone who will uncomplainingly do all the household chores (most particularly the ones we don’t enjoy), go to work, and still have time and energy for long, intimate talks and walks on the beach.

Ha.  This person doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe on someone’s match.com profile) Because this kind of perfection is not attainable by human beings.  So, what do we do?  Give up on marriage as an institution because we can’t make it what we want, because we can’t expect it (and our spouses) to be our end-all, be-all?

No.  We need to realize that God adds that element to our marriages.  Our marriage can be “perfection” but only through God.  I will never be able to be the perfect wife.  Hubby will never be able to be the perfect husband.  But Christ is the Perfect Spouse.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  This includes a loving marriage.

With His help, our marriages can be Holy.  Our marriages can be purposeful.  Our marriages can be Perfect.

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