Careful The Things You Say

I had to run an errand at lunch yesterday, and decided after it was finished to take a little detour to the local yarn shop (LYS) downtown to see if they had anything exciting in their sale bin. Generally I buy yarn at Michaels because the LYS I prefer is a good haul from my house, and the truth is my yarn budget isn’t large and Michaels has coupons.

But there’s another reason I tend to stay away from the two LYS’s that are closer to my house. They’re mean. I know, that sounds very jr. high of me to say. But it’s true. The fact of the matter is there is some unwritten war between crocheters and knitters and holy cow it seems off the wall to even type that. The LYS I DO like actually has stickers in the window that say “Crochet Friendly Yarn Shop,” that’s how bad it is. The other two, while carrying yarn, do not carry any supplies for crocheters beyond a few hooks hidden amongst the racks and racks of knitting needles, and if you find a book of crochet patterns it’s likely something they ordered for someone who never came to pick it up. I actually went into one of them and asked for a specific crochet hook and you would have thought I’d asked for someone’s head on a knitting needle because not only did they act like I was defiling their store by asking about crochet supplies, nobody in there even knew what I was asking for.

Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Today, while I was in the LYS downtown, I could hear the two women at the counter talking about a novice knitter who’d come in asking for assistance. This is a common occurrence in LYS’s, because unlike places like Michaels, generally the owners and staff at LYS’s knit or crochet, or both. The one woman was going on and on about the kind of pattern the woman was doing and how she was using yarn completely incompatible with the pattern and basically ended up telling the woman that if she wanted help she could sign up for a class (that the store offers, at a fee of course). Then apparently she proceeded to tell the woman that the class had already started and while she could sign up now, they wouldn’t pro-rate her registration fee.

Ok, so what we have here are two issues. One is an issue of seeing one activity as superior to another different but similar activity. I think this happens in lots of disciplines, such as in the Equestrian world, where some learn English riding and others learn Western. The other issue is one of disdain for the novice. If you aren’t at advanced or expert level, you aren’t worth our time, and in fact we’ll mock you after you’re gone. Certainly all of this is bad for business. The downtown LYS that I went to today has plenty of negative reviews on Yelp.com about how rude and unhelpful the salespeople are and how knitting-centric they are as well. So I’m sure they’ve lost customers over it.

My point (I know I’m taking forever to get there) goes back to something I talked about yesterday with respect to embracing imperfection. Stay with me here. If we don’t embrace our own imperfections, how on earth can we embrace the imperfections in others? And if we can’t embrace the imperfections in others, how on earth do they do anything but continually disappoint us? Because who is perfect?

If we don’t allow ourselves to be a novice at something – to make mistakes – how do we make others feel about their mistakes, their imperfections? And truly where I see this mattering for the long haul in my own life – what lessons will my children learn as a result of how I approach these things? Because it’s clear that there are plenty of people out there in the world who are ready to make someone feel “less than” or inferior because they aren’t good at something or because they make a mistake. And I really do believe that people do that out of their own fear of their own inadequacies. We don’t tolerate other’s imperfections because we can’t tolerate our own.

What happens when my daughter wants to take dance class but can’t master a step in the routine for the recital? Should I be embarrassed because she can’t get it? Drill her at home until she gets it perfect? Tell her after the recital that she did really well except that one step we worked on? It sounds almost ridiculous doesn’t it? Of course we will talk about how to practice and I’ll help her so she can be successful, but how do I define success? Is success executing the dance perfectly? Or is success getting up on stage and doing her very best?

What happens when my son is the last out of a game where his team is down by one and the bases are loaded and he swings at a bad pitch? Do I get him loaded up in the car and ask him what he was thinking by swinging at that pitch? Or do I tell him even the guys in the big leagues swing at ones that aren’t in the right spot, and the lesson is to learn how to recognize those pitches and swing at them less and less? Do I chastise him for missing that catch in the outfield that let the other team bring in two runs? Sure, there are those parents out there who are like this. Who scream and yell and belittle their children when they don’t perform perfectly.

But even if you aren’t one of those parents, and I hope you aren’t, what messages do we send our children when we don’t even realize they’re watching? What do they learn when we tell them, “it’s ok honey, you did your best that’s all that matters” but they watch us give up on something we start because it just “isn’t right”? What lessons are learned from our quests for perfection?

I don’t believe we take competition out of competitive sports by not keeping score, or that we don’t encourage our children (and ourselves) to push for mastery of an activity we choose to engage in. But the last thing I want is for my child to learn that it’s ok to belittle another person because they aren’t as good of a ball player or because they failed a math test. I don’t want my children to feel like they can’t come to me when they’ve done something “imperfect” like forget their homework or broken the lamp in the playroom, because they’ve learned that Mommy expects things to be a certain way. I know my starting example is a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s a small way in which this intolerance for imperfection comes out in the “real world.”

Let your children see you fail. Let them see you cry. Let them watch you try something, get frustrated with it, and see it through, even if the end result isn’t great. Burn dinner. Make a crooked scarf. Fall off your bike (don’t forget to wear your helmet!). Write about something and hit Publish while wondering if it makes any sense at all.

Sure we live in a world where imperfect means less than, but isn’t it only going to continue to be that way as long as we continue to perpetuate it in our own spheres of influence? What sort of revolution can we start by honoring our imperfections?

Careful the things you say Children will listen
Careful the things you do Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be…
~Stephen Sondheim, “Into The Woods”

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4 thoughts on “Careful The Things You Say

  1. Thank-you for this post. As someone who struggles with perfectionism, and who is currently in grad school where the pressure to do well, and competition with others is high, it is good to be reminded that being imperfect is okay! And also that it is okay, and even good, to show our loved ones our imperfections, and above all, sometimes we fail. And that’s okay too.

  2. Accepting nominations for Creme? This is a real contender. You have really tapped back into yourself with this post. Always love learning about parenting that comes down the road from you. Classic example.

    My first LYS was on Oak Street in downtown Chicago, the high end shop where the real money shops, not Michigan Ave. I had a heart attack every time I went in there, yet I still think Hunter/jumper is preferable to Western. So much room for improvement in this mind of mine….

    Much love heading your way.

  3. Pingback: The Perfection Gene « Where Love and Chaos Reign

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