Perfect, Almost – Why Having Things Just So is Never Good Enough

I need to tell you something and it isn’t easy.

Are you ready?

Brace yourselves.

Here it goes.

I’m a failure at being perfect.

Whew. That was tougher than I thought.

It has only taken me three decades to admit this. If I could go back to my sixth grade self, I would tell little Chelsea to pay more attention in science class. Yes, if only I had heeded the advice given within the walls of that petri dish of a classroom, I wouldn’t have premature gray hair sprouting from this 31-year-old head of mine.

This is not the part where I tell you a story about an inspirational teacher who spoke in clichés about “reaching for the stars” and “if you believe it, you can achieve it” junk. Yes, you can thank the generation BEFORE Millennials for ingraining those words of wisdom in us, thank you very much.

Nope. My inspiration came in 2-D. See, my sixth grade science teacher liked a break from teaching every now and then. Who doesn’t? We had no complaints. On mornings like these, she would wheel in that bulky Magnavox TV, rewind the VCR, and sit back in her chair as we sang along to The Magic School Bus.

Who needs to read from a science book when you can be instructed by the show’s fire-headed, quirkily dressed teacher, Miss Frizzle? Ever wonder what happens to Cheetos after you eat them? (Probably not, but stick with me here.) Miss Frizzle had her students travel through Arnold’s digestive system in a microscopic bus to find the answer. It was the Magic School Bus that also took them through Ralphie’s nasal cavity when he had a cold. Aboard that bus, the students explored the cosmos in space, cruised through the deserts and rainforests, and traveled through time to discover how T-Rex could eat with those tiny arms of his.

Yes, The Magic School Bus was swarming with lessons about the world we live in. And today, it is Miss Frizzle’s advice that rings in my head every morning when I see the sun shining through my window. I only wish I had listened to those words sooner than later. So if you’re reading this and you’re in sixth grade, you can thank me for all the time you’re about to save banging your head against the wall to reach that point where you feel okay with yourselves.

Here’s what she said. Write this down, kids, and don’t forget it:

Take chances. Make mistakes.

When I was in grade school,mistakes were the worst things you could make. It was a dirty word. Almost downright taboo. I cringed if I saw anything less than a perfect score on a spelling test. In high school and college, I spent countless hours reading and re-reading my essays until the papers furled around my fingers.

At seventeen, I shed half my body weight, but still couldn’t reach that point where I felt okay with how I looked in the mirror.

When I became a mom, that drive to be perfect became unmanageable. It’s what I like to call the “mom bomb.” Ever heard of it? It’s the fear of a widespread explosion should you drop the ball on any aspect of life. Who’s going to fill out the paperwork correctly for your kid’s school enrollment? Who’s going to remember all the questions you need to ask at the next check-up appointment? Who’s going to ensure you see all the landmarks on your next vacation? Or what about stacking the dishes in a somewhat orderly fashion in the dishwasher? P.S., those towels aren’t going to fold themselves, hot dog style, then hamburger, hamburger.

 Obviously if it’s got to be done right, it’s got to be you who does it.

Right?

I mean, of course a lot of times it STILL has to be you doing all this stuff (how would it get done otherwise) . . . but does it have to be right, or your version of right, all the time?

In the past couple of years, I’ve learned of former classmates and young acquaintances dying suddenly. It’s the story of “she was fine one minute, then gone the next.” I wonder what, if anything, they felt they had perfected in their own lives before they departed this world. Did they have regrets? I’m sure if they did, it wouldn’t include the shape of their freshly-laundered towels.

I look back at the minutes, the hours, the days, the years wasted trying to get myself to that point where I felt fulfilled and worthy to join the masses. Truth is, I never really knew where I wanted to be in the first place. With stories of early death coming at me from several friend groups of mine, I have realized Miss Frizzle’s advice is two-fold:

Take Chances. Drink unfiltered water. Wear crazy socks to work. Put your phone down and look your partner in the eyes. Take the job you love. Leave that job you hate. Tell your kid you don’t know everything. Seek a new answer. Travel to some place you’ve never been before. Drive a new route home. Use a different coffee mug. Mix your peas with your mashed potatoes. Mend your bridges. Tear down your walls. Say what’s been welling up inside of you. Tell him. Tell her. Lasso the moon and pull it down. Don’t say you never tried.

Make mistakes. Know it’s okay. Learn from them. Repeat.

While you can take chances and make mistakes, you can also make mistakes by not taking chances. The most regrettable moments I have are those when I was too afraid. Too afraid of what others would think. Too afraid of what would happen. Too afraid of breaking out of this cocoon of security.

Friends out there, heed my beloved, two-dimensional friend’s advice. Miss Frizzle the hell out of your day, and don’t comb it out afterwards. That may just be your new kind of perfect.

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