Humorous Quick Reads About Families With Kids

Perils of the Perfectionist Babysitter

Published August 9, 2018 in Perfectionist - 0 Comments
The Perfectionist Babysitter

I’m a perfectionist. That term is a misnomer. It implies everything I do is completed with no mistakes. What it really means is I have a lot of experience completing a small amount of a task with precision while leaving the remainder of the task undone. A variation on the theme is finishing an entire task long after anyone else cares about it or even remembers.

As a kid, Mom had us take turns washing dishes. My brother was responsible for cleanup one week and I was the bottle washer the next. You think this chore generated responsibility and discipline? No. It inspired procrastination and denial. During my tour of duty, I found counters and crannies to hold dirty utensils. I layered platter upon bowl until the result resembled a certain tower in Pisa. My creativity knew no limits as I discovered new way stations for the unwashed.

Unfortunately, the end of the seven days came and I had to face up to my postponed duty. Then my perfectionist tendencies really kicked into action. I couldn’t just start washing that haphazard pile of debris. I was compelled to arrange it into categories. I stacked plates near the sink, followed by bowls. Next I lined up the glasses, ranked by size. Last of all, I arranged the silverware. These were ordered by usefulness. Spoons came first, being the most common utensil used for both cereal and ice cream. Forks, necessary for lunch and dinner, but not usually breakfast, ranked a close second. Last of all came the knives which were only needed when we had roast or chicken at dinner.

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After everything was classified, I washed the dishes. This multi-step process required three hours. Never mind that I could have spent 20 minutes each day and had a clean kitchen throughout the week. I wanted both the joy of irritating my mother all week and the satisfaction of cleaning up in an orderly fashion at the end of it.

As an adult, I continued to obsess over the details of my duties. Now I had a dishwasher, but I washed every dish before I loaded it. I didn’t want caked-on, sanitized dirt to be the result of my efforts. I made my bed every day, just as I had as a child. I pulled up the top sheet, ensuring it covered the pillows. Then I slid on the bedspread, walking from side to side checking for uneven edges or the sheet sticking out. As I cooked, I read one step at a time and completed the instruction. Each time I returned to the book, I reread all of the previous instructions. If a dish required five steps, I read the recipe five times.

I didn’t realize that other people were observing my compulsive behavior. Even friends at work picked up on my perfectionism. When I asked the administrative assistant for batteries for my camera, she reached into the pile of batteries and gave me the only ones in a package. “I know that you like to keep your things neat,” she said. I never mentioned to her that I preferred neatness. How did she know? Also, my future husband noticed me in the breakroom. He said, “When I saw you rearranging the contents of the refrigerator, I questioned if I could ever live with someone who was that neat.” Doesn’t every one want their sodas grouped by type?

Something changed in my fifties. I noticed chunks of my time were spent on trivia. Did it matter if the papers entering the shredder were vertically aligned? Did the sanitation workers care if the recycling was sorted by color? The remaining hours in my life were decreasing every day. I resolved to spend less of my time on tasks that were instantly insignificant. I read that for most jobs, hitting 80% of the goal was good enough. I had my new standard.

I can’t say that I reformed completely. Papers laying on my desk didn’t have to be parallel, yet it bugged the daylights out of me if they weren’t. If I couldn’t stand a crooked picture, I straightened it, otherwise, I determined to do a haphazard job, if sloppy accomplished the goal.

I still made my bed every day, but I learned to stand on one side and throw the covers across. If the comforter was askew, I turned my head. Cooking went much faster when I read the recipe once. Also, I saved time putting away groceries when I didn’t insist on organizing the shelves as I went. Yes, I was saving some important minutes in my life by letting go of my perfectionism.

Everything has it limits, though. One Sunday, we returned our granddaughters to their mother after taking them out for church and lunch. As we opened the car doors, the girls ran into the house. My daughter watched them go in and turned to me. “Did the teenagers in the nursery change the baby’s diaper?” “No, I did it,” I said. “I just wondered,” she replied. “because Dakota’s butt cheek is hanging out.”

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