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Week 37: Redefining Perfection | Everyday Nostalgia

redefining-perfection-Week 37: Redefining Perfection | Everyday Nostalgia | The Nostalgia Diaries Blog-diaries

My daughter Zoey looks up at me, her face a mixture of excitement and anticipation. In her hands she holds a pastry bag, squeezing it just tightly enough that a bit of the rich, dark chocolate, buttercream frosting inside has begun to escape its shiny, silver, open star tip.

“Can I frost it now, Mommy?” Zoey asks hopefully, her voice faintly twinged with impatience.

The cake that sits on the table in front of her—the one on the business end of the buttercream pastry bag—has been our labor of love for the past two days. After Zoey announced that the only thing she wanted to do this weekend was make a “fancy” cake, I made it my mission to make sure I provided the perfect cake-making experience for her. And after hours of baking, making buttercream frosting from scratch, creating colorful flowers out of flavored Tootsie Rolls, and mixing, rolling out, and covering a two-layer chocolate cake with pale turquoise marshmallow fondant, it appears that we have perfectly executed the task at hand.

It looks simply delectable.

But as happy as I am with the result, when I see that frosting precariously perched on the edge of the pastry bag tip, mere centimeters from haphazardly landing on the cake’s perfectly smooth, untouched fondant, I feel a familiar uneasiness settle in.

“Mommy?” Zoey asks again.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and, almost imperceptibly, tilt my head forward in the direction of a yes.

* * *

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a perfectionist.

As a child, I sat at my school desks with my feet crossed at my ankles and my hands clasped together in front of me, silent and determined to be the most perfect student possible for my teachers. I outlined the black edges of the pictures on my coloring pages, determined this extra step would help me stay inside the lines. I beat myself up whenever any letter other than the first one of the alphabet graced my report cards. When I was allowed to start writing with pens instead of pencils, I made sure they were the erasable kind—that way, in case I made a mistake, at least it wouldn’t be a lasting one.

As an adult, my perfectionism still run so deep, I worry I may never be able to escape its pull. Instead of appreciating and enjoying the process of a project, I tend to focus on the end result. I push myself to cross-off a seemingly impossible amount of to-do’s every day, believing that if I’m unable to accomplish them all, I somehow must be failing. It’s hard for me to leave my apartment without making sure the beds are made, the sink is empty, and everything else is put away in its rightful place. And I’m also extremely critical of myself, especially my appearance; recently, I even believed that if I consumed a perfectly-calculated amount of calories each day, my body would eventually achieve that elusive title, too.

In a way, I feel like my entire life has been spent trying to make a series of perfect, little, untouched, fondant-covered cakes.

* * *

I stand here in this flash of a moment, knowing that when I open my eyes, our cake will no longer be perfect. That, most likely, Zoey has placed her buttercream decorations everywhere, and in no particular order.

Given my past, I know those tiny, new ‘imperfections’ placed upon that previously perfect cake will be the first thing I notice. I also know that I don’t want this to be my first instinct anymore.

I know my own thinking is itself so terribly, terribly flawed, because although I might want things a certain way, that’s simply not how life goes. I know I need to let go of that control, to let go of my desire for perfection. It know it will be a tough journey to embark upon, but I know it is one I need to make—for both me and Zoey.

For me, this journey will be about so many things.

It will be about not worrying where haphazardly piped frosting is placed. It will be about enjoying the process and evolution of something. It will be about embracing the messiness of it all. It will be about seeing past all of life’s supposed imperfections and flaws, and seeing the really important, beautiful things in front of me instead.

It will be about learning to let go.

* * *

“Mommy! Mommy!”

Zoey’s little voice snaps me back to the present, and I open my eyes.

“Mommy!” she excitedly proclaims again. “Look! I’m doing it!”

I watch as Zoey decorates the top of that beautiful, pastel fondant. She makes dots and lines and swirls and shapes, and then, side by side, she pipes out our initials.

I avert my gaze from the cake to her, because buttercream isn’t the only thing that is overflowing right now. Zoey also seems to be imperfectly frosting the sweet confection in front of her with heavy helpings of  happiness and joy and excitement and love.

“Look!” she says again. “I’m doing it perfectly!”

I can’t help but smile. Zoey’s radiance in this moment is such a perfect, wonderful, necessary reminder for me: Children don’t have a lifetime of expectations and warped perspectives about what ‘perfect’ means.

To them, what they do is perfect because they simply believe this to be true. I want to believe this, too. Don’t we all?

* * *

“When you’re done, do you think I can I put a few decorations on it, too?” I ask.

Zoey smiles and hands me the pastry bag. I place its tip against the fondant and make a few quick swirls, and then, because I love the way this simple improvisation is making me feel, I add a few more.

“There,” I say as I finish up. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s perfect,” Zoey announces. She places her sticky, sugar-laden hands on my cheeks and gives me a quick little sweet kiss. “Don’t you?”

* * *

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word perfection as the state of being free or as free as possible from all flaws.

To an outsider, one might say that, right now, the two of us are sitting in the midst of imperfection. It seems like there’s a week’s worth of dishes piled up in the sink. There is cocoa powder on the floor, a pool of melted butter on the table, and from the looks of it, a pound of powdered sugar dusting Zoey’s light brown locks. I look at the cake, one that no longer looks like it should grace the cover of a magazine. The warmth of our apartment has caused it to slump a little on the left. I see flecks of butter peeking through the decorations, proof that it wasn’t perfectly mixed into the frosting.

And there, smack dab in the middle of all of this mess, I take stock of the two of us. I look at Zoey’s shining eyes and feel her contentment with this moment. I feel a gentle soreness in my cheeks, and I realize I’ve been smiling all day. I feel a lightness in my heart, one that, in my previous plight for perfection, has often eluded me.

I look at the mess that surrounds us, at these moments—at these memories—that we are creating. It’s a mess and a moment so beautiful, I can’t seem to find any flaws, no matter how hard I look.

It seems we have just developed a brand new recipe for a completely different, renewed definition of perfection.

“Yes, Zoey,” I agree. “You’re right: It’s absolutely perfect.”

* * *

How can you redefine what ‘perfection’ means to you?

Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.

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40 thoughts on “Week 37: Redefining Perfection | Everyday Nostalgia

  1. We are a house of perfectionists and it can be quite trying at times. We know that nothing is perfect in life but those inner anxiety voices like to tell us otherwise. My son has severe OCD so things must be aligned just so. It’s a battle. Sometimes I make mistakes on purpose just to show him that we aren’t perfect – he doesn’t buy it. LOL. We are a work in progress!
    I love those pictures!

  2. Oh, those pictures. She’s just so stinking cute. And SO SO HAPPY. I catch myself trying to interrupt the process a lot when it comes to my students. It’s a conscious effort I have to make – time and time again – because I know, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter where the heck they put their name on a paper. It doesn’t matter that they’re coloring the sky yellow instead of blue. I just have to consciously tell myself to let kids just be…kids.

  3. She looks SO happy! I love the picture of her using the mixer. The cake might not look magazine worthy, but it sounds like you had such a fun day together and I bet it tasted amazing! When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.

  4. I have been a perfectionist most of my life too, but having my son has really helped me to let it go. I wouldn’t say it happened over night though. And goodness those pictures are precious. She simply beams.

  5. This is a beautiful post, and your daughter is adorable! Moments such as these truly are as perfect as we will ever be. Learning to live life on life’s terms is a difficult process.

  6. Perfection is an idea and it will mean something different to each of us. Reading this post, like you I don’t see anything imperfect. Even the “mess” is a perfect mess. 🙂

  7. This is beautiful! All too often, adults have a skewed view on what perfection is and should be. To a child (usually), everything they create, things they worked really hard on, are perfect. Like you said, they don’t see the messiness we see. I have been working on this with my son as well, trying to see the beauty he sees in his work. Good luck to you!

  8. It’s so great to see pictures of the two of you together – whenever I read your stories about her, I always want to see what she looks like so I can picture a real kid saying these amazing things! I’m a lifelong, struggling perfectionist, too. I had a breakdown at work last week that I’m still beating myself up about because I was caving under the pressure that I was putting on myself – not the pressure that anyone else was putting on me. I finally had to go to my manager and ask her, “Are these my own expectations that are driving me crazy, or do you feel like I’m not measuring up?” I just had to separate reality from my own mind in order to get my work done!

  9. So good, friend. So good and so true and so thought-provoking. The messy moments are oftentimes the most beautiful. Thank you for giving us such a special perspective. And your little one is just radiating joy! Love it!

  10. Perfection can be so hard to deal with, since things can’t always be perfect no matter how hard we try. I love that you were able to let go and find a new form of perfection. The pictures of you and your daughter show how amazing your relationship is friend. She is so lucky to have you as her mama (and you are lucky to have her as your little). That look she is giving you while mixing the cake is priceless.

  11. First. You are an amazing writing. I just love how you weave these stories together. Second. Your daughter looks so darn happy with her decorated cake! You are an amazing mom for giving her the best possible fancy cake. (I’d say that’s pretty perfect momming.)

  12. You are speaking my language with these beautiful words, Corey! I so resonate with your description of yourself as a little girl and with your mom instincts on this messy baking day. I am constantly having to put the brakes on perfectionism, especially because this is not something I want my daughter to pick up from me. Also, I just love the pure joy on your daughter’s face in these pictures!

  13. I love this. I have always been a perfectionist too, but I love watching my daughter put her own stamp on our projects. She has changed my description of perfect, because everything she does is perfect to me!

  14. What a WONDERFUL reminder! I too have to consciously step back and allow my kids to create things the way THEY want to, not the way I think they should be. Perfect isn’t about my vision of flawlessness…it’s about focusing on what really matters in a given moment. Sometimes that means embracing “flaws” because they are part of the creation and the discovery.

  15. This is absolutely beautiful! I love how happy she looks! I am so guilty of being a perfectionist and try really hard to let go. I do pretty good when the children are around because I am usually harder on myself.

  16. I feel we spoil the fun of enjoying life as it is, if we run too much behind perfection. And as a parent we should know better that perfection might be an imaginary state of mindthat we set out to achieve.

  17. This is so sweet! Your daughter is a doll. I struggle with wanting things “perfect”, but what a wonderful blessing to have a child to bring perspective.

  18. What a beautiful post <3 it is not going to be an easy journey but that is OKAY, that is why it's called a journey! Your words were so lovely I couldn't stop reading, honestly you need to put this together in a book when you are done, the positives and negatives, for others who can relate to the "perfectionism" bug.

  19. I love this so much! Her cake decorating skills are better than mine! 😉 To me, perfection is when I feel content. It’s so subjective, but it works for me. The perfect day is when I’ve had fun and feel happy. The perfect cup of coffee tastes just right to me. I also find that for my creative endeavors, that’s a great time to let go of feeling like things need to be pefect. Intentional imperfection can be so freeing.

  20. This was such a beautiful story! I don’t have kids yet but I worry about how I will deal with my anxieties and perfectionism when I do. It’s all about shifting your perspective and priorities!

    1. We had such a great time making it together — memory (and cake!) making at its finest 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      Just a reminder, my Everyday Nostalgia posts go up every Sunday. I’d love to have you sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any of my stories. We’re celebrating our one year anniversary this month on the Nostalgia Diaries, and we’re so grateful you have been a part of our journey!

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