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Mom to Mom: The Perfection Fetish

The Williams-Sonoma catalog sends me into an irrational rage.

Who has a playroom like this? Not the author of this piece. Photo by eren {sea+prairie} on Flickr.That wasn’t always the case. I loved perusing the glossy pages laden with gorgeously set tables and photographs of food I could almost smell.

I would sit on a Sunday morning with a pile of catalogs, drinking coffee and earmarking pages featuring items I would never buy. Christmas was my favorite time, when each trip to the mailbox resulted in another armload of aspirations.

Now I can’t stand the sight of them.

This constant influx of perfection started to make me me feel … exhausted. It made me feel inadequate. It made the stains on my carpet and sofa stand out in stark relief.

Who are these people? Who has the time to spend hours perfecting their homemade pasta? I know I don’t. I barely have time to hit McDonald’s for a drive-thru run, and I know I’m not alone.

So why can’t I remember that when I’m looking at playrooms in the Land of Nod catalog so well organized that they look more like a ROTC project?

There’s nothing more perfectly imperfect than the home of a busy family, one with both parents working hard to make a better life. For a long time it was hard to accept that my family room is what real life looks like, what my life looks like.

I had a vision in my head (and don’t we all?) of what parenthood would look like. It looked a lot like the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Sunny rooms with chalkboard walls, kids neatly clad in designer duds and toys displayed like a carefully curated gallery exhibit.

The reality is more like a mash-up of Hoarders and Intervention. That shocked me, partially because my own childhood memories include a spic-and-span house with homemade treats in a jar on the kitchen counter.

I once asked my mother how she did it. I wanted to know how she got a hot meal with at least one vegetable on the table every night and how our carpet always had vacuum-cleaner tracks.

She told me that she cleaned like a madwoman after we went to bed, sometimes until midnight.

I was astonished. Some part of me believed she just made it happen, as effortlessly as she made perfect chocolate-chip cookies.

I will never be able to achieve that veneer of perfection, the images of which I was hopelessly addicted to.

There is absolutely nothing effortless about being a parent. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing effortless about being a human being. We all have flaws and we all want to wish them away with images of a whitewashed room featuring a bed draped in white.

Now when the catalogs come, I walk directly to the recycling bin and dump my perfection fetish right in.

Amy L. Hatch is a co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com, a resource for families in the area around Champaign-Urbana. She hardly ever empties the recycling bin. 

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Reader Comments (2)

Great article!!! I'm a bit of a slob, slattern, whatever you want to call it. My husband is the cleaner so I'm really lucky, but he'd like the house to look like a catalogue every night so as soon as the kids go to bed he runs around and straightens. I go hide out in my bedroom and read. I never judge another family's house so please don't judge mine!!!

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen E.

"Slattern" ... why that's a word you don't hear much outside of novels written during the 19th century. Love it! And by the way, Jen E ... feel free to send your neatnik husband over to my house anytime he's done straightening yours. I'll be glad to reward him with a juice box and goldfish crackers.

May 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterTara Burghart

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