Even before I knew what the word meant, I remember the effort my parents made to present how “prefect” their family was.
As the oldest child, oldest grandchild and only girl in a rough and tumble group of brothers and cousins, I was expected to be perfect - polite, smart, accomplished, well groomed and the moral compass for a generation of my extended family.
That’s a lot. And I set the bar high.
However, growing up, my life wasn’t perfect. Divorce and other dysfunction paired with financial hardships prepared me well for many aspects of adulthood. And throughout, I made the effort to be, or at least appear, as perfect as I could. And the older I got, the better I became at playing the part.
Those closest to me knew about the struggles, weaknesses and failures – and they loved me anyway. One incident in particular will always stand out to me… after college, when we were all newly married, I was complaining about something to do with the renovation of the house we had bought, when a friend’s sister told me (loudly – at a party) that I didn’t have anything to complain about because my life was “perfect” and I didn’t even know what I had. I was shocked. Had no idea what to say to that (and no A-Game cuz alcohol.) My friend jumped to my defense against her sister. She pointed out that my life had not been perfect. That I had gone through some pretty tough times and was one of the hardest workers she had ever known – that I had earned everything I had.
It wasn’t until then that I realized that maybe I had done too good a job of appearing perfect. There were people who thought I had been handed everything in my life and that everything really was, perfect.
So, I started to rein it in a little.
And as my own imperfect marriage started crumbling, I reverted to what I know best – putting on the show. My job, my house, my children and my marriage looked perfect.
So, when I told my family and friends that we were divorcing, they were stunned. Almost no one had any idea we were having trouble.
The bar had been set high – by me. And the fall was a long way down.
Things were not perfect for a while and I didn’t have the strength to try to convince people it was. I focused on my kids and establishing my new reality. I dropped out of sight for a while. And I reemerged better than I had been in a long time – but not perfect.
The word still makes me bristle. My ears perk up and I pay close attention to who says it and in what context, especially where my children are concerned. Kids today have pressures I never would have dreamed of when I was young. The last thing I want them to worry about it trying to be perfect.
A friend wished me Happy Birthday this week via Facebook. She said, “Happy, Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great year filled with good clients, fun times with your perfect kids and peace for yourself.” I know she meant well, but she said “perfect kids” and reading it took my breath away.