My inner five year old is showing today. Sometimes life hands you a day (and a blog post) that isn’t meant to be all better at the end, and as a recovering perfectionist, this is making me grumpy. I’ll give a you a snapshot:
Last night my daughter was practicing her piano. The assigned task was to play on the black keys with fingers 2,3, and 4 (index, middle, and ring fingers). The teacher had written, “There is no wrong way” on the homework sheet. She simply wants Haley to run her fingers along the keys with abandon to get the feel of moving her hands across the keys—letting the melody be whatever comes out. Haley spent most of her time pouting in front of the keys rather than playing them. Every time she’d plunk out a few notes, she slumped her shoulders and began to cry. I asked what was the matter.
“I hate the way I play,” she wailed. “It sounds bad. I want it to sound like a song.” I understand how she feels. That’s how I felt when I picked up the guitar for the first time. I had envisioned myself playing songs; my brain could hear and see the music my heart wanted to sing, but my fingers had no idea where to go on the strings to make it happen. (They still don’t.) The learning process can be frustrating. I get it. I also understand Haley is in her own early struggle with perfectionism, so I knew she’d need grace and patience as opposed to a lecture about practice and commitment. After explaining to her that it’s impossible to play a song after only one piano lesson, she agreed to keep practicing even though she hated how it sounded to her ears. However, the practice session put her in a foul mood and failed to ease the angst in her need for perfection.
My son faired no better in his evening. As a new third grader this year, school is getting real now. He’s got a load of homework every night in math, spelling and reading. To boot, he’s got his first book report due in three weeks. Add this to his regularly scheduled baseball practice and Taekwondo training, Sean is experiencing a serious reduction in his play time. Academics and extra-curriculars aside, his social life took a hit this week when two kids he thought were his friends teamed up to turn on him as bullies. Thankfully one kid’s parents got involved and Sean received a genuine apology. By yesterday, though, Sean’s tolerance for all the change hit a wall… literally. After trying to rush through his “stupid” homework, he made several mistakes requiring him to nearly start all over. This sent him spinning into a tantrum like I haven’t seen since he was three years old. He trashed his room, banged on his walls, and screamed as if someone were ripping him away from his family.
My initial reflex was to ground him for overreacting so ridiculously to spelling homework; however, my deeper instinct knew Sean was simply releasing a load of emotional stress. He’s 9. He doesn’t have the skills yet to recognize that he’s stressed let alone cope with it. This is new territory for him as a kid and for me as his mom. He needed grace, not grounding.
Well, the day wasn’t over yet. I had attended my own Taekwondo class in the evening and experienced the revelation that I will likely forever be a clumsy Taekwondo student. This isn’t me being negative but rather me realizing the painful truth that Taekwondo is a training space for my “de-perfectioning.” I won’t be a high-performance black belt like I was striving to be, with high, strong kicks, crisp form, and smart sparring skills. Taekwondo is not training me for perfection, it’s training me to accept my best as awesome. My best is frayed with clumsy awkwardness, but dang it all if I am not an awesome clumsy person. Eventually I am going to be okay with this. I hope. Double this with the realization that I have recently begun to resent that I’m not getting “words of affirmation” from Master Hong about whether or not I am improving and where my performance is actually good. I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels, working my butt off with no recognition for my efforts. How am I supposed to have confidence in myself to keep improving if I am not getting fed affirmation and confirmation from my leader? Talk about a red flag in my attitude department. Looks like there’s another cranny in my heart to clean out. Great.
So, by bedtime emotions were high on all fronts…and my poor husband was just tired. After nearly an hour of crying and whining from Sean about wishing there was a planet called “No Homework Planet,” where he’d spend the rest of his life, my husband and I both lost our patience and our temper. We hurled our frustration in a string of harsh words and lecture at Sean… and a kiss on his forehead when we were done. Poor kid.
I went to bed with a big fat “FAIL” pulsing on my heart. I couldn’t even bring myself to pray because I felt so bad… ashamed on many levels. There’s no lovely way to end this post, friends. It was a hard day that ended poorly. That’s the reality of life sometimes. Today I am having to grab onto the radical acceptance that God’s (unlimited) grace is pouring out over our entire household… each of us getting washed in our own personal waterfall of God’s love and mercy. I can’t feel it yet because I am still pouting, but like any grumpy child with a loving father, my Father knows exactly what I need to feel better.