Flawed Perfection

My mom was a mess. She’s pretty pulled together now, but when I was a kid, I remember wondering why she was such a flake. Her life was a stupefying Rube Goldberg machine of family life-467px-Cassatt_Mary_At_the_Window_1889 bewildering in its intricacies and number of moving parts. Somehow she managed it with only an occasional dropped ball. As a kid, I didn’t see the complexity. I only knew that she frequently called me by my sister’s name and called my brother by the dog’s.

For years, I thought toast was made by burning it black and then scraping it down over the sink to the desired lightness of char. Mom was always barely remembering snack day, or coming home from the store with sour cream instead of cottage cheese and looking at the carton with an incredulous look that I now recognize as- “What the hell?”

My mom broke a hairbrush hitting it on the counter in frustration while trying to get three little kids, my dad, and herself ready for a professional portrait.  (I’m surprised I got out of the ordeal with only uneven bangs.)

She was tired. She was flustered. She was awesome. She was perfect.

Since becoming a parent of multiple children, my opinion of my mom has gained significant altitude. I understand what it means to be at the mercy of a small tyrant who doesn’t give a fig if I haven’t slept since last Thursday. I struggle to keep my cool when we are late to school and one child is still shoeless.  I understand why so many people drive around with forgotten mugs of coffee on their roofs. (Car companies- do us a solid and put a cup holder up there.) I know how endlessly fragmented parents’ brains are, how no task is ever completed- just started, and how a clean kitchen floor is a magnet for the spiteful side of buttered toast.

399px-Cassatt_Mary_The_Bath_1891-92I yell. I get lazy. I forget all kinds of stuff. I want to quit. I need a vacation. I discipline out of desperation instead of wisdom. I am a flawed, messy human. How fortunate I am to have a flawed mother.

How else would I know that I am okay and not ruining three young lives? Mom did plenty of top-notch things. She fed us healthfully at nightly family dinners. She taught me to cook well, sew poorly, and knit only as a last resort. She made sure I could swim, ride a bike, provided opportunities for me to try a whole slew of activities, even when she knew they would amount to naught. She called bull on me when I needed it, listened when I needed that, and kept her mouth closed when an argument would have served neither of us well and I was too immature to bridle my own tongue.

But it’s her shortcomings that reveal the grace of imperfection. I need her blunders now as much as I needed her successes as a child; they bring me assurance and comfort. If Mom had always kept her temper, remembered all appointments, and remained smiley and well coiffed at all times, I would despair my own shoddy efforts at parenting and adult living in general. I would think my children doomed by having me for a mother, because I am a mess. Her example reveals the lie of perfection- it can’t be true because it isn’t honest. I am faulty. I needed a similarly flawed mother to teach me how to parent well despite my limitations and shortcomings.

1024px-Mary_Cassatt_-_Susan_Comforting_the_Baby_No._1_(c._1881)_detail_01Thanks, Mom, for forgetting to pick me up from sixth grade that one time. I needed that. Thanks for losing your temper and asking for forgiveness. What a good example you set. Thanks for always asking how my soccer game went, even though I played volleyball. You give me hope. Thanks for all the wise and unwise things you said. I only remember the wise ones. Really.

Parenting is a difficult job and the stakes are high, but unless your little dirty-handed booger eater is perfection incarnate, she needs someone like you to show her the way. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in my life. You are inspiring admirable women, imperfect and just right.

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

21 comments on “Flawed Perfection

  1. Emily Kahnert says:

    Cara, this is wonderful – beautifully written and 100% accurate. Thank you so much – you definitely just made my day. Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!

  2. marlowe says:

    Oh, I needed to read this post today! Thank you.

  3. Roxey says:

    You are a fabulous writer! Thank you for such a beautiful and honest perspective; really gave me something to think about. Happy Mother’s Day!

  4. Mel says:

    Oh, how I needed this. It made me cry and giggle at the same time. I’ve spent the week wondering if I’m royally messing up my children but this was a beautiful reminder that maybe I’m not so bad. Thank you and happy Mother’s Day!

  5. Perfection. A touching piece. I was curious about the artwork as well; it is beautiful.

    • The paintings are by Mary Cassatt. She did a lot of portraits of mothers with children. There is a certain tenderness to her work. No? The photo is by a Croatian photographer. If you click on the photo, it will take you to some of his beautiful work.
      Thanks for reading, Jennifer. I hope you will share it with mothers you know who could use a little grace.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for the information. Yes, Mary Cassatt…tenderness. I plan to show my artist daughter with the hope that she’ll be inspired to draw/paint something similar. Thank you again for your post. I shared it, and plan to share it again. Maybe if I read it enough it will inspire me to write down the feelings this mothers holds onto. Grace and tenderness. Thank you Cara.

  6. I really needed to read this today. I didn’t have such an awesome-mom night last night.

  7. marlowe says:

    after sending your post to my own mother and all my sisters and sister in laws, I just had to link it on my blog. Hope you don’t mind! Thanks for stopping by.

    And this is still my favorite mother’s day tribute ever … tell your mom, mine raised nine children in a mess … we’re all a mess … creating children who are a beautiful mess of beautiful people!

  8. Sharea says:

    So, so true and beautiful! Happy Belated Mother’s Day!

    • Thank you, Sharea. The same to you! I got a chance to check out your blog. What a beautiful handful you’ve got. I have never had a sock stuck to my fireplace, but that is only for want of fireplace;)

  9. tiptoebay says:

    Thank you for this post. It’s utterly hilarious, refreshing and just what I needed to hear. xx

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