>In the midst of all this opera hubbub (what else can I call it) I stumbled into an email conversation with a young downtown mother, who is also a big time Conde Naste editor. She and I are connected through other friends and my daughter, who baby-sits for her. It began as an email in passing, HEY WHAT ABOUT NURSERY SCHOOL? And it segued into being a discussion about the desire of mothers, especially the over-educated, over-wrought, over-worked mothers’ desire to be perfect.
Perfect does not exist, unless it is in the Japanese notion of Wabi Sabi: beautiful ugly. Unless it is in the perfect notion of nature, where things have a moment of pitch perfection and then the leaves fall off, the peach over-ripens and we move to the next season. When did we begin to believe that mothering could be an undertaking where perfection, a no-faults expectation, could be expected or even sought?
My new email friend’s son is just a year old and already she feels she is not enough for him. My son turns 20 next week and he often tells me in vibrant, blue tones how I have failed. I have a litany in my head that ranges from when I zipped his neck in the snowsuit, to making him attend a reading seminar on his birthday before he began High School. I forced him to go to a free summer school program for under reading kids that extended into Saturdays during the fall and spring of second and third grades.
I have embarrassed him endlessly by introducing girls, by asking him to accompany me to theater events. I took him to the Broadway Show The Puppetry of the Penis when he was 13; he tells me he still has nightmares. I have yelled in public, I yell at home. I didn’t push him to be adventuresome in eating, I cooked special meals for everyone because I felt so bad that I had to leave his father and put him and his sister through all that. So I didn’t push enough. Even though we paid for him to live in Los Angles for his junior year of high school, found a tennis coach, a thing he said he wanted, he still feels as if we didn’t visit him enough. Now please remember that this is a very hard working family comprised of two freelancers, with little back-up. We struggle, but have fun doing it. So the fact that his stepdad and sister and I made visits out there, some of us more than once, seems huge to me. But in the end I do very little right.
It is not perfection and it is never enough. This summer he yelled at me, by email, saying I never gave him good advice. This was as he endured two weeks in the South of France. I KID YOU NOT. I have gotten him tutors, helped get him jobs, edited papers, found him a semester abroad in Scotland working at a castle, I have taken him to his driving test again and again and paid for classes. I paid for music lessons and fancy sneakers and I sit up with him on occasion eating Cheetoes after a night of beer drinking. After the LA year, he wanted to drive across country so I contrived to get a story so that the expenses would be off set, and we did drive across country and had a blast. At least I thought we did.
We do enjoy each other from time to time, but underlying it all is the raving notion that I am not perfect, I am so far from perfect and I see it in him. He is gruff and has not learned the dual art of apology and appreciation. I suppose, like my friend with her toddler son, I expect perfection from myself. And when I see my failure at that goal evaporate I am stung and stunned. In fact it happens every time.
I know I am occasionally judgmental and short tempered, but I have tried with all my gumption and power to love this kid, to shower affection on him and to see who he really is and love that, not who I want him to be. BUT . . . he comes home today and I know I will see again my terrible imperfection reflected in his eyes and words. Running away tonight to rehearsal will almost be a respite, a cowardly retreat I know.