Nobody’s perfect. Things happen. We make mistakes. So, what makes a five-year-old little girl strive so hard for perfection? One would think a five-year-old’s life would be full of imagination, baby dolls, and Barbies—not anxiety, worry, and the need for everything to be “just so.” But for me, everything had to be perfect. I had to be perfect.
My first memory regarding this notion of perfection took place at West Elementary School in Ms. Clayton’s kindergarten class during naptime.
The carpeted area in the corner of the classroom was reserved for watching Sesame Street in the mornings and taking short naps in the afternoons. Each of us kids brought either a small blanket or a large beach towel to lie on. Those who were serious about naptime also had pillows. Not me, though. I recall my bedding looking different from the others. Mine resembled a roped throw rug but was softer and more flexible. I thought the thick woven threads of bright red, green, yellow, and purple were pretty. The texture was unusual, but I didn’t care.
I was always the last one down. One by one, the other kids would toss their bedding to the floor, curl up, and drift off to sleep … but not me. While everyone else was enjoying a siesta, I was busy fanning my throw rug. I needed it to lay flat and straight before I could lie on it. Most days, it took many attempts to get it right, but every now and then, I would get it right the first time. This was my daily ritual.
Ms. Clayton exercised great patience with me, so the day she snapped came as a total shock. Perhaps I had fanned my rug one too many times or maybe she was just having a bad day. Regardless, her tone that day suggested she was in no mood to put up with me or my ritual. From across the room, Ms. Clayton called out my name and said, “You do that one more time, and you are going to get a spanking!”
What?? Spanking? What had I done wrong? Embarrassed and confused, I let the rug fall to the floor and climbed on top of it. I tried to straighten it with my arms and legs, but it was difficult to do from a horizontal position. Less than satisfied, I felt my embarrassment and confusion quickly turning to anger toward Ms. Clayton—not because she yelled at me in front of the other kids but because she forced me to accept mediocrity.
Did you know perfectionism in children is common? According to child development researcher Katie Rasmussen, as many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists. The good news is there is a plethora of resources available to parents nowadays. For instance, check out this article on How to Help Your Perfectionist Kid. It is a good, easy read.
For those of you who may be wondering … no, that incident did not stop my ritual. I just worked harder at getting my rug to lay flat the first time. And yes, I still struggle with perfectionism, but I have learned a lot over the years. I am a work in progress. In fact, I only rewrote this story three times instead of four!