To Be Perfect
Bryce waved a wrinkled piece of paper clutched in his dirty, toddler hand. In the center of the paper was a large circle with two straight lines extending from the bottom. Inside the circle were two large dots.
“This is a really neat picture, sweetheart. Tell me about it.” I picked him up and he settled into my lap.
“This is you, Mom,” he said, his eyes shone with pride. Together, we identified the parts of the picture I recognized - the head, legs and eyes.
“But where are my arms?” I teased, giving him a tight squeeze.
“Right here.” He pointed to either side of the circle. Although I couldn’t see them, he knew exactly where they were.
“And, where is my hair?” I was curious now about the different way we saw the picture. He pointed to the top of the circle, as if my short, blond hair was obviously visible. To anyone else, this simple drawing would be lacking key elements—incomplete and unfinished. To my son, his picture was perfect. He saw more than just lines—he saw me.
Time has passed since that discussion and his portrait has found a permanent place on the fridge. Nearly every day, I pause for a few minutes and look at my own personalized picture of perfection.
As elusive as perfection is, the world has many outlets that would have me believe they know how to find or create the perfect mom. Pinterest tells me I can find her in the elaborate planning of themed parties. Facebook tells me I can find her by showing off my awesome family dance party or over-the-top fun trip to an exotic location. Instagram and Twitter lead me to believe she’s found in witty words and sarcastic observations.
There are plenty of days when I believe them and add their pictures to the perfect mom image I’ve created all on my own. The one I’ve pieced together from social media, television, magazines, church and seminary lessons and lusting after the perceived perfection of others. Running at full speed, I try to juggle responsibilities, switching hats like a skilled magician and do my best to rise to the expectations.
A few years ago, my teenage daughter snapped a picture of me in the middle of the chase. The scene unfolds as I stand in the kitchen with my back to the camera. Vigorously stirring something on the stove, I am making dinner, healthy and colorful. The kind of dinner my children will eat one bite of and then sneak toast later on when I’m not looking. The phone is strategically balanced between my ear and shoulder as I talk with one of my visiting teaching sisters arranging for appointments for later in the week. So far so good. Perfection in the making.
The cord of the phone is stretched behind me across a pile of dirty dishes ready to be hand washed with homemade detergent. My effort to be earth friendly and environmentally aware. Behind the dishes, up against the wall are zucchini from our home grown garden, ready to be made into bread for the widow down the street. Under the dishes is a notebook filled with ideas for a new chore system that I will unveil at Family Home Evening that night.
The first time I saw that picture I was sitting at the computer, keeping up our family history by blogging. Still chasing the image. I leaned back in my chair and took a big breath. So much of my life was captured in one clear picture. Over and around the stove and the phone, under and behind dishes, I was working so hard to ‘be ye therefore perfect.’ What was missing in the picture were my children.
In my efforts to meet the expectation of all the picture-perfect mothering obligations, I couldn’t remember if I took the time to actually connect with my children. The most important and defining part of mothering. I volunteered in the school, cleaned a bathroom and mended a blouse. I helped the children finish homework, do chores and get to practice but I can’t remember if I stopped chasing perfection long enough to look my children in the eyes and say “I love you.”
Considering all the things that were left out of my son’s portrait of me, the eyes were not missing. In fact, they were front and center—the window to the soul. I love looking into my son’s eyes when he talks. His expressions are contagious as he opens his eyes wide with excitement or squints and his whole face puckers with a question. They sparkle with a joke and tear up when he is sad. I get more than words when I look my child in his eyes as we talk. It is when we are eye to eye, that we truly connect. When I take the time to look into the eyes of my children and really see them, the exhausting activity level of my grade-schooler becomes enthusiasm and the tireless mess-making of my toddler becomes curiosity. Those moments of connection and love are where I find perfection.
My son’s perfect portrait of me, drawn with simple lines, will eventually be tucked away in a special place to be treasured for years to come. As he grows and matures, he will draw other pictures and they will be different than the first. Surely in later pictures, missing parts will be added as he includes arms, hair and a smile among other attributes. It is mercifully reassuring to know that my image of perfection can grow and mature as well, line upon line, precept upon precept.
It is tempting to make my image of perfection complicated, with expectations above and beyond my reach. What I have learned through my son’s artwork is that perfection can really be quite simple because it begins with where I already am, with the people I love most, and grows with me.