Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Perfects


I see them around sometimes.

It might be at the supermarket where she is pushing a cart full of fresh fruit, organic vegetables, and wheat bread. She looks cool and comfortable in her designer boots while the Baby Gap ad-worthy infant coos sweetly and the pink-cheeked toddler walks quietly by her side.

Sometimes they are at church where the whole pew of them look pressed and polished and no one sniffs, sighs or slumps. I can't help spying as they leave and am not surprised when they climb into a late-model SUV that is free of dirt, scratches and "wash me" graffiti on the tailgate.

My husband tells me they show up frequently at 5Ks around town. Apparently they get a kick out of getting up early on a Saturday morning to compete with each other--all smiles and cooperation in their quest for fitness and together time.

They are the perfect family. And, frankly, they bug me. I think they should just take it down a notch or two so the rest of us can feel a little better about our attempts at being a successful family. I mean "successful" is a very worthy goal. "Perfect" is just over the top.

Every now and then someone will refer to us as being the Perfects. We usually look at each other with a mixture of confusion and discomfort. "How in the heck are they getting that vibe?" we wonder to each other as we pile into our own road-weary, scratched and dusty SUV. On the ride home, the baby squawks, the brothers punch, the oil light blinks on again, and someone needs a tissue to stop the bleeding. Parents sigh, little ones whine, and older ones zone out with earbuds. How could anyone see perfection amongst this circus?

But I think I might understand what's going on.

We all put on our best face for the outside world. I think that's a good thing. (I mean, do we really want to walk through town constantly seeing our neighbors at their worst?). I consider that a gift we give to each other. We mow our lawn and sweep our front porch because it makes us feel better and we don't want to subject others to ugly just because we're feeling lazy. That same thinking makes me brush the hair, tie the shoes, and do my best to make sure the faces of my offspring are scrubbed clean before we head out. And that same thinking keeps me from ragging on about my children's shortcomings with people who don't know me, or them, very well. I'm not so enthralled with the idea of presenting an uncensored, reality-show version of our life to the world at large.

I think most of us feel the same way (peopleofwalmart.com notwithstanding). Is it fudging on the truth to smile and say, "Everyone's fine!" when someone asks about the family? Do I have to share the details of clogged toilets, detention notices, cavities, and unexpected bills with all my Facebook friends? Sometimes people look pretty perfect on the surface, but we have to remember--for our own mental health--that no one is immune to the ickiness of human reality. The fact that someone's life looks photo-shopped at any given moment is really just a happy accident. 

This is what I am going to remind myself the next time I glimpse someone I'm tempted to envy: Nobody's actually a Perfect. Some days we just manage to clean up better than others.

In fact, the next time I see Mrs. Perfect and her cherubic children at the store, I just might give her a thumbs up and say, "Way to put a shine on it for the public. I love your boots and, here, have a tissue. Someone is bound to need it on the ride home."




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