Over the past few months now Mother’s continued to send scrappy packets of childhood memorabilia and rediscovered photographs hewn from old family albums. And each time I respond with a simple “thank you” token of appreciation for the gifted materials. But sometimes I’m tempted to write a longer letter.
I’ve written many such letters over the years and decades. Never sent any of them. None of them were ever good enough. But if I could calibrate my words just right, my message would be received, acknowledged and resonate with her. Or so I’d tell myself. However, failure would result in another stinging rebuke. And so I’d endlessly revise these letters in a futile pursuit of perfection until I inevitably succumbed to exhaustion. Disgusted that I’d wasted my time, yet again, on someone for whom my thoughts and feelings simply do not register for consideration, I’d remind myself not to do this again … only to ride a fresh wave of fool hardy can-do optimism into the same cliff again later anyway.
The fear stands out to me. Not just mine but everyone’s. From the anxious look in my neighbor’s eyes imploring me as to why he and his family hadn’t received their usual Christmas card from Mother one year to the panic in Sister’s voice that it wasn’t too late to send Mother a birthday card if I got it out in the mail that day. In spite of such a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, bubbly lil’ blond girl image Mother gives off, everyone in her life is absolutely terrified that she’ll drop them on a whim if they somehow stop being worthy to her because that’s what she really does to people, regardless of who they are.
And though the rejection I feared would come to pass has, relationships with Family forever transformed, and though my emotional connections to these events have been muted (thanks to EMDR), the paralyzing perfectionism remains nonetheless. It’s a deep and pervasive pattern to change whilst learning to embrace failure, the opportunities and insights that unplanned, spontaneous acts so often afford us.