Perfection


When my kids moved out, I read a lot of advice and information about the Empty Nest Syndrome.   I learned that I should look forward, not back, and that I should take on new challenges to help me grow.

So, as part of my “Get over it” therapy I am learning to bake cakes.  Its fun!

Fattening, but fun.  I made a chocolate cake during the blizzard, and when my daughter and her boyfriend were here for dinner, I made a really tasty peanut butter and chocolate cake.  They were good!

Except that they were a little lopsided, which bugged me.  And the frosting was great…fluffy, sweet, swirly….but the cakes were a little on the tough side, since I probably beat the batter too much.  I’m working toward fluffier cake, with a more tender texture.  I’m working toward cakes that stand up straighter.  Better, more perfect cakes.

Crooked, yet tasty.

Crooked, yet tasty.

And I’m not only learning to bake, I’m teaching myself how to knit, too!  Aren’t you impressed?

For my first project, I bought some yarn and some needles, and found a YouTube knitting video.  I cast on way too many stitches, with no idea of what I was going to make.  Two weeks later, I had a little lap blanket!  TaDa!!  Soft, blue and white, pretty warm.  It is draped over my nice blue couch right now.

Where every dropped stitch, knot and hole catches my eye a hundred times a day. I’ll keep it, of course, and use it to garner some laughs.  But it irritates me to see such imperfection.

Now I am on to my next project. I bought a skein of multicolored yarn, just because it was so lurid and eye popping.  Perfect for knitting with a group of fifth graders, right? I thought maybe I’d make a hat for one of my sons (Don’t cringe! They actually like crazy colored knit hats. They do!)

So I bought some “round needles” and tried to learn how to “knit in the round.”  H’m.

I tried to keep count of the stitches, but they were really tight and they didn’t slide the way they should.  So I pulled them off and started over.  Now they were too loose, and they kept slipping off the end, even though they were theoretically knit together.  I pulled them off and tried again.  Lopsided, lumpy, not even looking like a hat at all.  Pulled them off and rewound all that colorful yarn.

OK, I thought, I’ll knit a scarf! So I cast on 50 stitches and got started.  The stitches were just right!  Stretchy, neat, they kept popping out in beautiful little rows. And the yarn made an incredible pattern! Like a stretchy, kitchy Navaho blanket. I loved it!

Except that it was going to turn out to be a big rectangle, not a scarf.  Oops! Too wide, too short.

I pulled them all out and started over.  Again.

Now I am almost finished with a nicely shaped, good sized, supremely colorful scarf. But this time there is no lovely pattern. Just a random sprinkling of colors.  It looks like this:

Yikes. My eyes are melting.

Yikes. My eyes are melting.

I am absolutely not going to start over again.  But I’m not sure that anyone will ever wear this…..scarf.

So here I am in my empty nest, baking and knitting. And neither endeavor has produced perfection.

And that’s bugging me.

And the fact that its bugging me is kind of bugging me, you know?

Why do women do this?

We have a funny little habit, we women.  We seem to think that if we just try hard enough to eliminate every tiny imperfection in everything that we do, we will gain control over this messy, unpredictable world.

We watch commercials that tell us to clean deeper and more often so that we can wipe out every speck of dust, piece of dirt and invisible germ. They tell us to buy make-up that will “erase tiny imperfections” on our faces.  We use “Magic Erasers” to wipe out every smudge or smear that might indicate the presence of actual life in our homes.

And what I’ve noticed, after all these years, is that the harder we work to achieve perfection, the more anxious we become about every tiny flaw. The more we clean the floor, the more each muddy dog print impacts our peace of mind. We get caught in a spiral of chasing the impossible, believing that just one more burst of effort will get us  to a place that does not exist.

There is no perfect. There is only real. Humans are flawed, life is messy, we actually don’t have control.

So its time for me to embrace the dropped stitches and the crooked cake. Its time to wrap up in the patternless, randomized scarf and just go with it.

Right after I wipe the muddy paw prints off the floor.

31 thoughts on “Perfection

  1. After you wipe up the muddy paw prints at your place, wanna come over and do it at ours. Oh, and they are on the seats of my car as well as floor, couches, etc. Being married to a vet is an endless odyssey of exotic messes and smells….

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  2. Karen, I wish you lived closer to me so I could help you with your knitting! Its my favorite thing to do while I am empty nesting!
    This empty nesting thing is really hard to get used to in some ways. Its like we were on a roller coaster the last few years with the kids with all their activities and then it all just stops! I look at my husband some days and I feel like “who are you?” Its truely starting over….

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    • Man, I wish you could help me, too!
      Truly, though, I have three good friends who are master knitters. I’m partly too faked out to ask them for help….But I will before I tackle a hat, that’s for sure!

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  3. This is such an interesting post to me. I was just saying to someone recently I wish I took the time to have my mother (who knit beautiful things) to teach me to knit before she died:( I don’t know why but I’ve been feeling like teaching myself to knit recently too. How hard is it to start? Maybe I’ll go to Joanne’s Fabrics and see if there’s any little projects for the novice knitter.

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    • Hey, Jean!
      I know what you mean! My mom used to knit, and Paul’s Aunt Terry is an expert. I never wanted to do it before, but the kids in my class inspired me because they knit every chance they get. I found a whole bunch of web sites, and I was able to learn the basics really fast. We need to get together and knit….holy crap. We’re officially old…….

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      • That is so cool that the kids in your class knit!! I was afraid it was becoming a dying art. Sounds good to me and no we’re not officially old were just more creative than we were when we were younger:)

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  4. My mother used to knit and crochet all the time. Although she taught me how to cook and sew, she never taught me how to knit. However, I took up knitting when my arthritis progressed to the point where I couldn’t play my violin or guitar any more. Because I needed SOMEthing to do with my hands, so I bought a “how to” book and a few simple patterns, and went to work. After awhile I noticed that I was stripping out more lines than I was knitting (mostly because those dropped stitches drove me crazy). Since I wasn’t particularly interested in a finished product, I decided to just knit for practice and then unravel everything and start over on something else. Worked great! I didn’t wind up giving a bunch of junk to my friends, and I stayed just as busy.

    Besides, I’m a cheap SOB, and the money I saved made me smile…

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    • Haha! I am definitely heading in the same direction! Its weird how knitting makes me feel like I am accomplishing something (and WHY do I always need to feel like I am?) even if I’m just going to unravel it later.

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  5. Recently we were in need of a new bath mat, and I decided to knit one instead of buying one. It’s a super easy project for beginners. I used two strands of Lily’s Sugar ‘n Cream (cotton) on size 11 needles so it would be quick and kind of chunky. (I often use 50% off coupons at AC Moore to get the Big Ball skeins. $4.50 for that much knitting therapy is a great deal!) The gauge was about three stitches per inch. Knit every row (garter stitch), and slip the last stitch purlwise on each row (or slip the first stitch purlwise if you prefer). Use the number of stitches and rows needed for the size desired. Bind off loosely (I find using a needle one size larger helps keep me from binding off too tightly.) Happy knitting!

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  6. Great post and such wise words. Since I am in the middle of moving madness all the mess and lack of control is making me absolutely crazy. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy the imperfections!! 🙂

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  7. The cake looks delicious. And I like the scarf. If you don’t want it, I’ll wear it when I get to NH. And this column is a keeper. Gather them up and just self-publish an e-book over at Amazon. We don’t need no stinking agents and publishers anymore.

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  8. As part of my annual mid-winter blahs self-improvement drive, I read The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin (who is way more intense than I am!)… But the research apparently says that a sense of internal order is bolstered by the reassertion of external order. So when I am in a manic mood, and re-organizing my closet, I have decided it is therapy! It is not that we achieve perfection, but that we make the attempt!

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    • Hi, Sarah
      I agree with the research, as little as I know! I know for a fact that my internal disorder is what pushes my tendency to organize the outside world. I totally get it! And I’m glad that it feels therapeutic for you. The organization part is great (I clean when I worry!), but it is the idea of seeking actual “perfection” that I think can catch us up and trap us in eternal angst. I have a sign hanging in my classroom that says, “There is no perfect.” We have to give ourselves a pat on the back for “my best” rather than “perfect”. You know what I mean?

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  9. Don’t you think being a perfectionist has more to do with temperment than gender? My husband’s temperment get’s bugged by any little thing out of place. I could care less. I must have order, but a random mayhem or chaos is allowed to flow within those boundaries just so long as I know that things will go back into their assigned places by the end of the day. Knitting is “wonderful” and the fun part is knowing where the dropped stiches are. Have fun! Crocheting is even better in my book.

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    • Good point, Eleanor, about the gender question. I know some boys (and men!) who are perfectionists, too. I guess I was just thinking about women I know who are completely focused on the perfect color matches and the perfect arrangement of candles….I get that! I do. And I wonder if our yearning for perfection (whether we are male or female) increases our sense of anxiety.
      What do I know? I’m a fifth grade teacher! It just sort of struck me as I was unravelling my yarn.
      And crocheting scares me to death! I guess that’s my next personal challenge, huh?
      Thanks for commenting; I always love to hear from you!

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  10. Moms, you should avoid my place if you are a perfectionist in training. Unless you want to be “scared straight” that is. I am embracing my imperfections along with the bacteria they harbor.

    (Oh, how I wish this were less close to the truth)

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    • Oh, my dear, I should totally come by and admire the dust with you!
      I am SO far from a perfectionist housekeeper: I’m sure that my sisters and Mom got a huge laugh out of that post. Yesterday I took down my bedroom curtains when I noticed that the piles of dust on top of the valance were starting to tip over and land on my bed…..

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