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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Friday
Nov192010

Getting over perfection 

Henry really, really doesn't like to make mistakes. His teachers tell us how carefully he writes, pausing to put a finger between each word to make sure they're evenly spaced. His handwriting is impeccable and his spelling is flawless. He's not finishing any assignments, however, because he's too busy erasing every stray errant line.

I have no idea where he gets that from. (From where he gets that.) No idea.

I've been trying to model anti-perfectionism to him, but it's difficult. I'm not good at being comfortable with mistakes, and I hate doing anything I'm not good at. You see how much of a challenge this presents.

One of the activities Henry always wants to share with me is drawing. I like to draw. I'm a decent artist. With one important catch: I have to be looking at the thing I'm drawing. I mean, I have to. If I can see it, I do okay. Here I am in Paris, sketching a statue. Kind of poorly, in this case, because Scott was taking pictures over my shoulder and I froze.

Nope, I'm just sketching in peace. Can't tell a thing.

If, however, you ask me to draw something from memory, like a dog? Or Scott? Or a ham sandwich? Well, here you go:


All right, not really. But close!

I apparently have no visual memory, because I can't even conjure up an image of one of those things. I get bits and pieces, but they won't come together. I'm pretty sure I've been hit on the head one too many times.

So when Henry and I draw together, I look around and draw whatever I see. This annoys Henry to no end. He wants me to draw something he can incorporate into a story, and how, pray tell, is an eight-year-old boy going to write a comic book using a lovely sketch of a vase and bowl of oranges? No, I have to draw a rabid cougar, or a Civil War soldier riding a farting unicorn. Obviously.

And that's when I hyperventilate. Even if no one else will see the drawing, I resist. I immediately start in. I tell him I can't. I tell him I don't know how. I tell him not to listen to anything I say and to be brave and fearless and not worry about mistakes, and then I shout "look over there!" and when he turns his head I leap out the window.

Henry's teachers told me that they gave him a pen for his writing assignments, so that he couldn't do any more erasing. "I told him something I've never told any of my other students, ever," one of his teachers said. "I told him to be sloppy."

So yesterday I bought a sketch pad, and I got out my Flair pen, and I intend to fill every page of that pad with terrible, terrible drawings. With whatever scrawls I can manage of a dog or a boat, or whatever. I'll even show them to Henry. Hell, maybe I'll even show some of them to you. Because if I want to convince Henry that making mistakes--even being terrible at something--doesn't matter as much as doing it, I'm going to have to follow my own example.

I'm surprised at how much this scares me, which almost certainly indicates that I should do it.



Reader Comments (57)

Yay for you! personal victories!

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDani

Oh my gosh. Henry is the male version of my daughter. Same exacting work. Perfect spelling, perfect printing. But oh so slow...because it's all about every. little. detail. Plus, she must do everything all by herself, without asking for help.

She avoids those things that she can't do perfectly on the first try. So much inner pressure, I would imagine. I've done my best to make her 8 years (so far) as pressure free as possible because I know she generates enough of her own.

I really don't know what else I can do!!

Best of luck to us both!!

December 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTess

Coming to this post late, and loving it. In many respects I'm a "good enough" person married to a "it has to be perfect" person. You may be surprised to discover this difference creates a tad of tension between us. One of our sons is a perfectionist whose writing is so small he could inscribe this entire blog post on a grain of goddamn rice; the other son scrawls, scratches out, scribbles, maybe forgets a word or two. Not sure which is happier - rice-writer excruciates everything & the other sometimes wonders why his stuff doesn't look so good. When they're older (now they're 6 & 10), I will give them all of Anne Lamott's _Bird By Bird_ -- not just for the chapter on shitty first drafts, but also on the dangers of perfectionism -- and (for the scrawler and scribbler) on the importance of revision & polish.
I will say though (full disclosure) that for all my "good enough" attitude, it's taken me four tries to get this comment close to what I wanted to say.

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October 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdfsdfsdf

You know what, I can totally relate with you. I do have something that really is still nagging me until now. When I was still 7 years old (3rd grade) ,my ambition and dream is to become a journalist/broadcaster. Until I passed the entranced examination and as a half paying student at one of the major university here in our country. Sad to say my mother refuses me to go because she is says I'm still too young to be away from the family and besides she say I know nothing of living alone. I have been burdened by that situation in my life,.I didn't the dream I wanted for me to be until now I still have that grudge and when I get to look back I wanted to get drunk.. It really is not a good attitude ..I know..That is why I am glad to have read your post, because I can get more information as to how I have to learn to love myself and accept things which are happening at the present moment.

October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuby

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