Thursday, October 18, 2012

On perfectionism

I cannot tell you how much I miss working part-time. It was such an ego-boost. The walking away from the ineptitude of new mothering and into the competence of perfected roles. Tidy, and even not-so-tidy, piles of Important Things that Other People needed done. In my eclectic life, I've done various jobs: I can plumb and ventilate a building (its plans, at least); I can find host families for exchange students; I can executively assist a small corporation. What I cannot do is delight while anxious, follow through when distracted, engage when tired. And yet, those things, not alphabetizing and collating, are the lion's share of my current job description.

Eighteen days this summer were spent in a thin-walled, small town hotel. Eighteen. With my then five- and one-year olds. My husband was working 8-16 hour shifts, helping people get safely home from unlocking the atmosphere's secrets. Days were spent with rigid structure - you can't go with the flow the same with two as with one - but nights found me sitting in the dark in our open plan suite, reading Flannery O'Connor* by tiny booklight, so as not to wake the tiny ones unaccustomed to sharing a room. We had a mini-fridge and a microwave. I brought along our fondue pot and some kitchen utensils. I had such plans! I still ended up one night piling the kids, shoeless, into the car to use the drive-thru in the adjoining parking lot, to buy burgers and fries.**

Having left my smartphone on the roof of my car as we left home***, structured life with children left me no access to my usual lifelines. No friends to talk to without waking little ones. No internet to drown my sorrows in, no camera to step back, and document, and instagram into beauty the ups and downs of our life. There was nowhere to be, nowhere to go but right there, with myself for company. I was so very tired of myself.

The summer almost broke me. Truth is, I was already broken.

I read a post the other day at Deeper Story, that so captured the ache I have from mothering imperfectly these tiny children that I love. I want so much to be perfect, for them, and for myself.  But perfectionism makes me weight things wrongly. In looking for ideal performances and easy excellence, I miss beauty, and the glory of a hearty, fully-lived life.

This summer, in the midst of what some days felt like an endurance cage match, there was fun and there was wonder - trips to the zoo and the sculpture tour, to the playplace at the mall, to the park and splashpad, to touch-a-truck day. Days spent at "home" because all the going was too much. Secreted naptime tea parties, fancy sugar cubes and all!, with my daughter while my tiny son slept. So much ice cream that my kids didn't want to go to Braum's for a month afterward.

I can't afford to miss the good moments for fear of the imperfect ones.

As much as I crave one to know I'm on track, family doesn't come with a quarterly review, and letting go of unrealistic expectations is one of the best gifts I can give all of us. They are my children. I am their mom. We can't all be Mobutu Sese Seko.****


This recipe was my go-to in our hotel room, one of the gifts of a challenging summer. It's become an easy, from the pantry/freezer favorite at home, too. I have to say, though, that it's much easier to make on a stove. :)

Salina Noodles:

1 lb pasta of your choice (usually shells or rotini)
12-16 oz frozen mixed vegetables
3-4 T butter, cut into chunks
generous teaspoon (or to taste) of pasta seasoning (this or this are great!)

Add-ins we tried this summer:
1-2 finely chopped green onions
3-4 chopped cheese sticks (mozzarella, generally, but experiment!)
diced bell or sweet pepper
or whatever you feel like you want to add :)

Bring fondue pot (or any 3-4qt pot) of salted water to a boil. Add noodles, setting timer for 2 minutes less than suggested time. When timer beeps, add frozen vegetables, then cook for 4 more minutes, or until noodles are done and water has returned to a boil. Strain noodles, then return to pot and add butter, seasoning blend, and any optional add-ins. Serves a family of 4 with little kids. Especially with a salad or fruit on the side!


*Pro-tip: I suggest if you are going on a month-long trip, bring something other than the entire collected short stories of Flannery O'Connor. Her stories are a great choice for pondering the nature of Humanity. They are NOT a great choice for times when you are lonely and facing the fundamental weakness of your nature. 

**I'm not sure I could hit any more of an American stereotype if I tried: harried, slightly overweight white lady piles two kids into minivan to get drive-thru fast food someplace they could have walked to. Maybe if there had been organized sports or TV involved? Our hair was still wet from the hotel swimming pool, if that helps. 

*** #$%#@$!!!!

****In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake."), Mobutu Sese Seko for short. 

1 comment:

annie said...

Oh, I love that you call this Salina Noodles, and that you're naming recipes after these wild adventures.