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Thursday, August 5, 2010

a perfectionist manifesto

This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” -Saint Augustine

the past few months have been an interesting journey for me. physically, emotionally, spiritually. i've found myself getting pretty mad and overwhelmed, but i haven't known exactly what has frustrating me. i mean, besides the obvious fact that i'm...quite pregnant ;)

being that i am generally not a hormonal, girly, dramatic, or psycho kind of girl, and instead find myself drawn to more logical thinking patterns, being pregnant always reminds me that i am, in fact, a girl. (this always strikes dave as funny. when i get upset at myself for being upset? yeah, he finds that irony hilarious. he'll goad,"michelle, you are a girl. why are mad about being a girl?!")

i think i arrived at a place where motherhood was overwhelming, being a pastor's wife was overwhelming, not being capable of physically doing the things i wanted to do was overwhelming, and feeling like i didn't have an avenue to express it? you guessed it: that was overwhelming.

yes, i'm tired. being pregnant with small children is not particularly easy at times. being taxing, demanding, exhausting, & strenuous.

yes, i'm busy. dave's super-busy. and we have something going on almost all the time here at the strattons and it can be a lot of work.

but none of these things are new to me. they're old hat. i've been living in this world for five years. so articulating and even discovering what this "new" struggle was? it has proved challenging.

let me elaborate further by backing up a couple of weeks, when i stumbled across this show called "the fabulous beekman boys" on discovery; it's about this gay couple who happens upon farming and are building a brand called beekman 1802. more "original" reality television, right?

well, the guy below, on your right, brent, is essentially every stereotype of a gay man in one person. i mean, he worked for martha stewart- need i say more? brent is a perfectionist. he likes things to be a certain way, look a certain way, and presented a certain way.

even pigs.

he's such a perfectionist that in the one episode i saw, he was literally in the pig sty washing the pigs.

now, most people would call that pretty crazy. i, on the other hand, could understand very well the logic behind brent's "philosophy," if you will.

a few examples off the top of my head:
i cut my grass with scissors. (no, seriously. i edge my flower beds with them)
i prefer to serve water in glass pitchers with sliced lemons.
i insist on keeping an extremely clean & tidy home.
i generally will not bring my children places without their hair done and clothes that match.
i like fresh flowers on my table as frequently as possible.
i will not allow wrinkly clothes to be worn out of the house.
i almost cannot walk by something dirty and not clean it. immediately.

and much to my surprise, this approach, this philosophy? has a name.
it's called perfectionism.

most of you understand this word, but i've only jokingly ever referred to myself as a perfectionist. and never have i ever imagined that this can be a problem for people. i only realize now, at 28, that to some degree (66% according to a discovery health quiz), i am, in fact, a perfectionist.

and not because that's what anyone expects from me, or because i have some weird need to impress, or some fear of rejection. i've really tried to think about myself critically and honestly. i am a pretty confident person, i'd say. so i really don't do what i do for other people.
i actually just like it that way.

and i don't know how to do it any other way. does that mean my house must be immaculate at the expense of my children? no. does that mean my yard looks like professionals landscaped it? lol, no. (i only wish that). does this mean my house is never messy or dirty? heck to the no.

it's more like this: i am simply NOT satisfied giving ANYTHING less than my 100% (this is not to be confused with anyone else's 100%). this can be a good thing. in and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with wanting a clean house or a project finished. i find that like brent, presentation is important to me. i like when things look beautiful, and i do not like when things are messy or disorganized or unfinished. in my house. i don't care about anyone else's house. just mine.

on the other hand, this can be a detrimental thing when it gets in the way of your own health, relationships, etc. i tend to work hard in general; a trait in our culture that is considered a positive or admirable characteristic. and i think it certainly can be, and am very glad that i had good role models in this. however, fairly recently, i've realized that it is in fact possible to work too hard. my father, who gave me these crazy bartlett genes in the first place, is a perfect example of this. (imagine: a guy who is 67 and digs ditches, works 12 hour days, climbs trees with chainsaws, and rides ATV's almost every weekend. but most of he time, he works himself so hard that he has to keep moving so he can be distracted from the pain he's in. that's just a glimpse into my gene pool.) in the past couple of months, i've heard myself telling him 'he can't work as hard as he's used to', and 'he has to take care of himself,' and wouldn't you know it,

for me, the frustration i feel is the tension between being able to do what i want to do versus what i actually can do. which translates mostly to the physical work that i enjoy. i like to work around the house and in my yard. you all know this because you tease me all the time :) i get ideas in my head about things i want to do, like "build a brick walkway" or "weed this jungle of a garden" or "plant numerous shrubs" or "paint this room real quick"...and i am determined to not only do them, but do them alone, do them in short amounts of time, and do them with excellence.

this is not always an issue for me when i'm not pregnant, because given enough time (also tricky, but that's a blog for another day), i can get a whole lot done. but being pregnant really exacerbates the frustration i have with not being able to finish things and not being physically able to work as long or as hard as i genuinely want to. i literally just can't. unless i want to have a broken back and contractions every three minutes.
and end up in labor & delivery.
on my birthday.
and have to beg nurses to let me leave.

and i guess...i don't want to have to do that.

i know some of you will identify the thought of not being able to do what you"want" to do. maybe it's not cleaning or digging or projects or excessive exertion, but i think mothers run into this a lot in motherhood. it can feel a little bit like jail (or maybe a lot like jail). motherhood can be isolating. maybe some moms would rather be scrap-booking or reading or journaling or watching television or shopping or baking or taking a class or going to the gym or getting a coffee with a friend (right, lee?!). and maybe you, like me, (although perhaps not a perfectionist, if you're lucky), still have a lot of things you can't finish, or can't start, and maybe, just maybe, you get frustrated too. as i talked about in this post, when you're raising small people, you have to sacrifice little pieces of who you are. and it's an amazing and life-changing experience to know what it means to sacrifice...even just a little. but there is this tension that you come to understand between doing what you have to do for your kids, your family, your spouse, and doing the things that make you who you are.

anyone who knows me would agree that i tend to think in absolutes and i'm prone to overstatement. (somehow, this doesn't madden my husband, and instead he fancies me just the way i am.) the things i "have" to do, i really don't. and the things that "need" to be done "right now,"...they really don't either. dave reminds me of this all the time. and then reminds me that i am, in fact, married, which qualifies me to be eligible for this thing called "help." what i'm learning (and what God has been teaching me, despite every fiber in my body wanting to resist this reality) is that it is okay for me to have "standards" that i think are necessary. as long as i also remember that they're not, in fact, necessary. and although i don't usually want to let certain things go, i can, if i want to.

i think God is using my third pregnancy just to make me have to slow down. he usually has to let me injure my body enough to make me slow down, and when i'm pregnant, he's also made my body to contract a whole heck of a lot if i push it too much. subtle, eh? but i need these (not always so) gentle reminders to expose my tendency to overwork, overexert, overstate, over-everything, so that i can try to learn my limits and embrace them, rather than, say, ignore them until i can't stand up...and then stop.

i guess what i'm beginning to understand is that perfectionism can be a healthy drive to do your best. but it's possible to expect too much from yourself. and that isn't, in fact, a good idea. sometimes just "good" is good enough, and sometimes, you should even ask for help. certain things are reasonable for pregnant people. others things, like anything with a pick axe, my husband insists, are not reasonable. unobtainable objectives just make perfectionists disappointed and mad. so although i wouldn't wash a pig before a party, i've been guilty of similar insanities. (ahem, like laying sod.) so thanks to my dbs and to my friends who tolerate my insanity, who help me with my overzealous undertakings, and love me anyway.

and thus is the beginnings of the epic inner workings of my mind in my blogging absence. thanks for waiting for me to get my mind right; trust me, you wouldn't have wanted to have to read all that angry profanity, senseless drivel, or frustrated prattling anyway :)

any other perfectionists in the house??

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Michelle!
Your post really intrigued me since I am a "former perfectionist". I read it with great interest and great understanding. I say former because since I have gone from raising 4 little people into 4 big people and have entered the working world fulltime I have had to let go of that piece of me. Being ahead of you by a few years I can look back at this time in my life whereas you are in the thick of it. Letting go of my perfectionist mentality has been a loss for me as well as a relief! My kids have noticed how much more relaxed I have become over the last years. And they are not sad to see that part of me go! (Even though there are days that I miss it so much.) For me, I discovered that it was a way to feel in control. If my world was not in control I literally did not function well. This led to frustrations, angry words etc...when I was not physically able to keep up. (like when I was pregnant with Samuel and Paula had just died. Actually it was your mother-in-law who asked me "what can I do Suzanne?" and my reply was "can you help me put my house back in order?" and she did and it was exactly what I needed.) The point of all this is to say there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting everything clean and tidy and that you have a drive to get projects done. It is when all of that becomes more important in the moment than those who surround you. When your focus is so narrow that you are blind to everything but the task before you. I realize now that my nature may not have been all that fun for the people living with me! So if you can somehow find a balance now, rather than much later like myself I think you may avoid a lot of frustration and regrets. : ) And do ask for help! You can't do it all.....thanks for the post it was awesome!

Thursday, August 05, 2010  

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