Hannah and I watch Project Runway together. It’s our “date” on Friday after I Tivo it on Thursday night. We cuddle on the couch together and we watch the contestants create clothes from hardware, potato sacks, and old wedding dresses or outfits inspired by the Elements of Nature or kids her own age. She has memorized all of the contestants names, their ages and all of their past creations. She knows the judges names, talks daily about Tim Gunn and loves that her pediatrician looks Just Like Michael Kors.
And she cries at the end of each show. Because someone loses and needs to go home. She worries when she gets into bed after watching the show that the person is So Sad that they won’t ever have the chance to win.
At the same time, she also loves that Project Runway has a winner each week. She cheers and wants to watch them be told they won over and over. She talks endlessly about the hugs that they get from the other contestants after they’ve won. How wonderful for them that they are the winner. They must be so so so excited. And their “mommies must be so proud of them”.
Winners and Losers. Happy and Sad. Black and White. No gray. No happy medium.
In these difficult days I’ve been having with Hannah I’ve been seeing that I really don’t notice the “medium” days. I’m either thrilled with the days she’s wonderful – communicative, helpful, sweet, polite and reasonable or distraught over the days where she’s just the opposite. And I’ve found that I either scold her for being awful or praise her for her perfection. But the normal days? The days where she has her moments but for the most part behaves herself… those pass us by without note.
And I think that’s a problem. I think the days where she acts her age, acts in the manner that I’d expect a five year old to act should be praised or at least mentioned. Maybe she’d then realize that those days are ok too and not put so much pressure on herself to be So Good.
Last week when I went through one of the worst days I can recall with her, a day that ended in both of us breaking down in tears, I lay next to her in bed and whispered to her that I didn’t expect her to be perfect. That no one is perfect. I’m not. Daddy is not. Luke is not. And she is not. And I told her I don’t WANT her to be perfect. I thought she was near sleep but she bolted upright in bed and dramatically exhaled. And then she said, “Mommy, you just took away so much of my sadness. Because I always think you want me to be perfect. I always think you’re upset with me if I’m not.” This comment struck me. I wonder if she just said that because it seemed like the “right” thing to say, or if she really feels this way. Because I really don’t think I seem to expect perfection. I never scold her for small mistakes she makes and I definitely don’t portray a perfectionist attitude (because I’m far from being one).
But I don’t praise her for the little things either. I expect so much from her because she’s shown me she has it in her to far exceed my expectations. But exceeding expectations shouldn’t be the norm. Spilling her milk, accidentally writing on the kitchen table, complaining when Luke grabs her toy, jumping on her bed even when I’ve asked her not to… is normal for a five year old. And she should be told at the end of the days where all of these things occur, that it was a good day.
Hannah and I also watch American Idol together. (Please don’t judge me that I’m raising a Reality Show junky). She loves watching them sing. Loves hearing what the judges have to say (after I’ve translated from Randy/Simon speak to words she actually understands) and most of all, is interested in seeing who has to go home. But she does not understand why there is not a Winner each week. Only a loser. She insists that someone must have won and it’s “Not Fair” that they only share bad news, not good news. I have tried to explain that the good news for the contestants is that they DON’T have to go home, that they can stay for another week. And at the VERY end, there is a winner. I’ve also tried to explain that each week there is not a LOSER, the person going home is just not the WINNER.
“Well mommy, if they didn’t win, then they lost. That’s just how it works.” she said last week.
And as hard as it is to explain to her the lesson that you aren’t a loser if you don’t win, I am desperate to find the way to have it make sense to her. I want her to feel pride and joy from trying. From having fun in the process. From cheering on those who may have done “better” than she did.
One of Hannah’s favorite board games is Candyland. But only since she made up her new Hannah rule. The rule that if she picks a card that sends her back to the beginning of the trail, the person she’s playing with has to go back too. “So I’m not lonely at the beginning”, she explains. If she isn’t going to win, neither is anyone else. The good news, is that if her opponent gets sent back to the beginning, she’s happy to join them as well. So in the end, it’s a neverending game of Candy Land where no one wins and no one loses. It’s just a fun journey.
I wish more of life could just be about the journey. Without winners and losers. Without first place and last place. Without perfect vs horrible. Without huge smiles vs hysterical sadness. With more gray. More normal. More middle of the road. I think so many of us would feel better about ourselves if more cheer was given to the Okay. I’ve always hated the word “Fine”. It’s neither here nor there. I always want someone to give a better description than Fine. And because they use that nondescript word, I always assume it’s a negative description. But really, fine is fine. Fine is regular.
I know that Fine won’t get anyone to the Olympics, High Honors at an Ivy League school or even onto the stage of American Idol, but that’s ok isn’t it? Can’t we be proud of those who just get through each day, being mostly happy and not making any drastic mistakes? I want to be able to say my day was Fine and have that be a good thing. It means no one got screamed at. It means no one got punished. It means I didn’t want to Walk Out. And even though we may not have built the perfect snowman, made delicious cupcakes, laughed hysterically or covered the refrigerator in artwork, I still got through the day. Just Fine.
I think I’m going to be the advocate for Normal and Fine. I want to be proud of my kids for the regular days. And I want to be be proud of myself for not getting the Boot off my “show”, sticking around for another week and not killing anyone along the way.
Is that Fine?