A while ago, in a post from my friend Ally Hamilton, I read that much of our suffering comes from realising that our daily reality is far too different from the picture of it that we have painted in our head. We dream of A, B, C, but instead – D happens (what a shocker!) – and there goes our picture!
I had a unique opportunity to observe this painful realisation in front of my own eyes as my six year old daughter broke into tears after making a little mistake (that’s how she referred to it) while colouring/drawing a picture of a kitty from her new pyjamas which I printed on an A4 paper for her. (Basically she liked her kitties pyjama a lot so I made her black and white colouring pages of the kitties from it.)
This is the pyjamas:
Here is the picture as it was given to her:
She started colouring it with a great enthusiasm and I could see her eyes shining. I think she was doing really well and I really liked how she added some nice little flowers onto kitty’s top. As you can see, there is only one flower there now, the rest were covered by black marker pen.
I think it’s a pretty good looking kitty, but it was born of tears and disappointment. Here’s how it happened:
Everything went according to the plan up to the point when one more circle was added to kitty’s shirt to make up a flower. As soon as Anneke realised that she hasn’t placed the circle high enough from the flower below it to be able to add a stem she got really upset. She already had about six flowers done and it looked all great, but somehow the pen slipped, or she lost a bit of her focus and there it was, a mistake that was impossible to unmake.
She started to cry and I sensed she might rip the paper. Huge tears appeared in her eyes and they dropped onto the paper, making her even more upset than she was.
I think she got upset mainly because she was so close to the end of it. It looked so great and I’m pretty sure she was proud of it. But, it all was now gone. At least, that’s what she thought.
It came to me as a real shock to see how attached she already is to the pictures in her head. How hard she is on herself for not being able to replicate her visions on the paper.
Well, I draw and I know how it feels. The disappointment of looking at the paper and seeing something completely different to what you “seen in your head”. I think I even ended up making some animal caricature from what a realistic picture of a human should been originally. But unlike me, Anneke couldn’t decide what to do with her mistake so she just broke into tears.
Of course I tried to comfort her and I even suggested a simple solution of drawing the flower in a slightly different way to the others, but she was having none of it.
Finally she said, she’s gonna fill the shirt with black ink. I thought she meant, she will fill the empty space around all flowers with black marker and cover up the wrong one completely. You know, like in one of those cover up tattoo jobs. So I was colouring my kitty and when I raised my head I was shocked to see that she is covering all the flowers.
Now I was upset.
I think it was partially because I really liked the idea of colouring the shirt in black and partially, because she didn’t accept any of my well meant words of comfort. I felt like I have failed to convince my own daughter that I love what she created. It hurt.
It hurt, because I am exactly like that. The very same day I have tried to write an address on a letter to my friend in a really cool font, and although I didn’t have a specific picture in my head, the idea wasn’t executed very well and I was disappointed from the result.
But when I sent her the picture of it, she replied:
“Great handwriting, as always”
I’m pretty sure she meant it, but I still hesitated to accept that I actually did a good job there. Like if I can only accept praise if I created a masterpiece. Like if anything less than perfect is not worth anything.
Now, I understand where such bullshit might have come into my head, but I couldn’t believe Anneke already struggles with perfectionism.
Is it because of school?
Because she’s told to bring good grades?
Because she can see our faces when she doesn’t do something well?
Because the children in school compete amongst themselves and she isn’t the best and she doesn’t like it?
Because she saw me being upset after I drew something “imperfect”?
Because I didn’t watch my language when I spoke about it with her?
I don’t know. I really don’t know.
I just decided to observe her and watch my language and the way I create stuff in front of her. I’m pretty sure she picked something from me there, but I need to remember this story and be more careful about how I express my disappointment from my own work.
Even this simple story could have been told in much better way. I could have written a better letter to my friend. I could have said better words to Anneke as she started to cry. But, I didn’t. I did what I could in those moments. And that’s fine. It really is.
I think we struggle so much with perfectionism. We’re bombarded with pictures of perfect bodies, holidays, food, cars, phones, mattresses, diets, jobs, the list is endless. But perfect simply isn’t real. You either want one, or the other. The picture of the perfect kitty as imagined by Anneke hasn’t been drawn. Instead, a pretty average picture of kitty made by her exists and I love it to bits. And I’m thinking, maybe it is the ordinary me, her, you that we need to fall in love with to live happy lives. Because can you imagine how difficult it would to be to love someone, something perfect? It would probably end up being worshipping, which I have no intention doing. I would much rather love something, someone imperfect, than worship something perfect.
And I hope that I can let go of trying to be a perfect father. I just need to be me. Imperfect, but real. And that’s what I’ll try to teach my daughter too. I don’t want to crush her creative spirit with perfectionism. There simply must always be joy in creating. That’s what counts the most.
So here’s the only flower that remained. Maybe that’s how it should have been.