Sunday, November 11, 2012

Only a precisionist would understand

The bus pulled up at our corner on Monday afternoon and instead of bounding down the stairs of the bus with a smile on her face and her hair flapping wildly behind her, Rachel shuffled slowly out of her seat, down the aisle, and out the door. Her lips were trembling and tears were welling up in her eyes but she was trying very hard to remain poised.

"Are you alright, sweetie?" I asked the inevitable ice-breaking question.

"No!" she wailed. "I have to show you something. Something terrible!"

She dropped her backpack on the ground and sank to her knees. Fumbling with the zipper for a few seconds she eventually managed to calm her nerves and open her backpack. She pulled out her daily folder and thrust it at me.

"I lost an eagle!" she sobbed.

I looked at "today's" date. "A little too chatty," it read. "Lost 1 eagle."

"Oh, baby. It's okay..." I started.

"No, Mom! It's not!" she interrupted.

"It really is though. Look, do we have to do this on the side of the road or can we move this conversation inside—maybe calm down, get a snack, talk it over?"

We made our way inside and I talked with Rachel about not having to be perfect. She talked too much and obviously didn't heed her teacher's warnings to settle down but that hadn't started down an unalterable path to a life of crime and violence. She just made a mistake and mistakes are wonderful things that help us become better people if we let them be learning opportunities.

She was a little unconsolable so I chatted (on IM) to Andrew (who was still at school) for some advice because he so often is better at quelling her emotions than I am.

"Rachel lost an eagle at school today," I said. "She is devastated."

"I knew it would happen sometime. Tell her that that happened to me once."

So I told her that and she was immediately interested in hearing how Daddy had failed to meet the expectations of a teacher. I didn't know the story but assured her that Daddy would tell her about it later. Then I told her of the one time I got put in timeout in kindergarten and the one time I had a two-minute "detention" before I could go out to recess when I was in grade four (also for being too chatty) and the one time I was sent to the principal's office in junior high for throwing a pen lid at a peer (in my defense I was put in a "group work" situation with a number of girls who hated my guts; I only had the pen lid in the first place because it had been thrown at my face and I couldn't see to give it back to the owner when she demanded it back because another girl had thrown a mixture of MSG and beef flavouring in my eyes (she had been eating oriental/ichiban/ramen noodles dry and dumped the last bit of the sauce and chunks of noodles too small to bother eating and chucked it in my face)). The vice-principal, who I had been called in to see, was very disappointed and said that at my age I should know that we don't throw things in the classroom, blah, blah, blah. So I told her my side of the story and she said, "Well, you should have come to me first. From my experience the victim usually approaches authority before the bullies so I suppose we can both see who the bully is in this story."

And I was like, "You are a stupid person."

Only I didn't say that aloud.

Let's just say that I hated junior high. I had a few good friends but feel that on the whole the student body was comprised of...jerks.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

There was also the one time I got a B- on a math test and my teacher waved my paper in the air and sang out as she delivered the paper to my desk, "You're not going to like this!"

Really?! So tell the whole class I didn't get a perfect score because that will make me feel awesome. And smart. But mostly awesome.


The point is that even the teacher's pet/goody-two-shoes/straight A student is not always perfect. That's just the way life is. No one can be perfect all the time, everyone falls short some of the time—life is about picking yourself up when you fall and being wise enough not to beat yourself up too badly on the way up.

I'm not sure how much of that message got through to Rachel because she has inherited the lovely trait of perfectionism. Many people in our family suffer from it. My cousin Elizabeth is known to say, "I'm not a perfectionist, I'm a precisionist," which basically amounts to the same thing but without the negative psychological connotation. Either way you slice it, we like to never fail. We're doomed to be hyper-aware of our shortcomings—perhaps not all of them, but many of them—because we feel, deeply, whenever we fail.

Have you ever tried to criticize a perfectionist? Even if done kindly it destroys them, mostly because they've already been beating themselves up about it.

It's kind of a shame really, but that's just how some people are made.

Rachel's been sensitive about the subject of "eagles" all week. I even explained to her that losing 1 green eagle wasn't bad because in order to go to "Fun Friday" it's only requisite to keep at least one (out of two) green eagle each day.

"No, Mom," she told me. "You have to keep both eagles every day and I didn't do it. I messed up."

"True; but I promise your teacher still loves you and thinks you're a good student. And you'll still get to go to the Blue Eagle party or Fun Friday thing or whatever it is..."

"No, I won't."

"You will."

"I won't."

When we picked her up from school on Thursday before going to our doctor appointment she exclaimed, "I do get to go to the blue eagle party! I don't know how because I lost an eagle on Monday! But I still get to go!"

"That's wonderful! I told you you'd still get to go, silly goose! They don't expect you to be perfect, just good enough."

If only I could remember that, myself. Life is not about being perfect; it's about being good enough and as long as you're trying your hardest, that's good enough. (I feel like I'm channeling my mom here.)

Getting to go to the Blue Eagle party helped Rachel recover from the horror that losing 1 green eagle was but what really helped her overcome her disappointment in herself was watching her mother do a really silly thing.

We went to that basketball on Friday and, I'll admit it, watching sports isn't really my "thing," so I brought a book along—The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I joined a book club (my first one) back in August but, uh, this is my first time actually finding a copy of the book and also finding time to read it. I was cruising through it and thought a basketball game would be a perfect place to get a bit of reading done (because, frankly, a 121.3 dB basketball court is infinitely less distracting than hearing my children whine (and has the added benefit of drowning out their whining should they choose to do so)).

I got quite a bit of reading done, truthfully, in the hour and a half we were stuck in the stadium prior to game time and the whole fifteen minutes I spent "watching" the game.

Finally, I thought, I'll get to go to book club and have something to contribute to the conversation.

The game ended while I was wandering around in the lobby with Benjamin. Our team won—yay—and I was surprised how quickly the fans filed out of the stadium considering how chaotically energetic they were throughout the game. While everyone else made their way out, I made my way in and stood by the bleachers to wait for my family.

Andrew had an arm around each girl and they huddled together, bunkering down against the surrounding stampede of people rushing to exit the stadium (because apparently the only thing more exciting than getting into Cameron Indoor Stadium is getting out). Once the crowd had dispersed, he sent the girls over to me and I helped them off the bleachers while Andrew collected the contents of our diaper bag from the floor and shoveled it back inside.

Taking a quick check to see if he'd left anything laying around, and satisfied that he hadn't, we left.

We were about halfway to our car when I mentioned something about the book.

Andrew and I both stopped dead in our tracks.


The diaper bag felt curiously unbulky. Andrew didn't recall picking up a book.

I immediately dropped the diaper bag to the ground and began pawing through it, searching through the dark with my fingertips, hoping to find something hard. My heart began pounding and my forehead started sweating. Where was the book? Where was the book?

I emptied the diaper bag onto the sidewalk: diaper, diaper, diaper, keys, crackers, fruit snacks, chap stick, burp cloth, kleenex, dirty diaper (tied in a plastic bag, guys...not as gross as it sounds), nursing cover, soother, extra pair of underwear for Miriam, camera, baby socks, old receipts, no book. No book?!

"It's not here!" I gasped.

We made a quick plan: I hightailed it back to the stadium to look for the book while Andrew walked the girls to the car and drove it up closer to the stadium (we'd parked a full lightyear away from campus because so many lots were closed for the basketball game and we didn't feel like paying $10 to park).

The doors had already been closed and locked but fortunately I'd gotten to know the security detail rather well during my lobby-pacing and they allowed me back inside to look for the book.

"It's brown," I said and traced the shape of the book in the air, "About this size. It's The Last Lecture by...oh, what's his name?!"

"Randy," the security guard reminded me. "Randy Pausch. Have you checked out his lecture on YouTube? You should."

Together the security guard and I scoured the bleachers. We found a lot of garbage...but no book. The security guard went under the bleachers to look for it. It wasn't there. No one had turned it into the lost and found, either.

Sadly, I made my way out of the stadium and headed out to meet Andrew and the girls. I was as devastated about this book as Rachel was about her green eagle. I don't loose books and above all I don't loose library books! Andrew had worked so hard to help me find a copy—he checked it out on his university library card because all the copies in the public library were checked out—and then I go and mar his pristine library record with a big fat LOST BOOK notice. What would the evil librarians do to him? Tie his shoe laces together while he was studying? Superglue his laptop to his desk? Revoke his library card? Give him a dirty look every time he tried to check out a new book?

I was almost crying when I ran into Andrew, towing our two little girls behind him. Clearly I was overreacting. I know many librarians, none of whom are evil or mean-spirited (Hi, Mom!), but I couldn't help it. Maybe it was because I had the jeering taunts of the crazy Duke fans in my head but I couldn't help but feel that I'd let myself down, that I'd let Andrew down, that I'd let the library down, that I'd let the whole world down. It was easy to hear and see them in my mind, pointing at me and chanting, "You let the whole world down! You let the whole world down! You let the whole world down!"

I didn't. I just lost a book, okay!

"I just wanted to go to book club having read the book for once!" I moaned to Andrew.

He's a good husband, a good friend, a good person. He found a Kindle version of the book at the Orem Library and checked it out with our old library card (which might be only slightly dishonest but I don't know because the last time we moved away and then moved back to Orem they said that our cards never really get taken away and we could just use our old account and cards without having to prove that we'd moved back or anything, so...consider that duly justified) and just as I was getting into it I realized that I won't even be able to go to book club this month.

All that drama about finding a copy of the book, twice, for nothing! Except, as Andrew pointed out, the simple luxury of reading a book from beginning to end.

I'm still not entirely over the agony of losing that book. Technically we have six months to find it since Andrew has mega checkout privileges as a PhD student. We're hoping that some honest soul will happen upon it and either return it to the library or get in contact with us (I was using Andrew's request paper as a bookmark—it has his email address and office (read: cubicle) number on it). In the meantime, Miriam has said I can borrow one of her books.

At least she still trusts me enough to loan me books.

If we can't find it we're hoping they'll just let us buy a copy and swap it out instead of having to pay for the book plus restocking fees. I worked in the acquisitions department at the BYU library for years—I could offer to process the book in the system, stamp it, put the barcode on, and everything...

You have no idea how embarrassing this is for me—I don't lose books!—but it was incredibly healing for Rachel to see me fall flat on my face, be insanely upset and frustrated over a seemingly benign event, and then take a deep breath and move on (more or less (perhaps a little bit less than more given how I'm obsessing over it)).

"It's okay, Mom," Rachel told me, echoing the words I told her earlier this week. "You don't have to be perfect all the time!"

Thanks, little one. My bathroom counters and unmade bed are testimony that I've accepted that principle (at least when it comes to the cleanliness of my home) now I need to apply it to the library-user facet of my life.

Everyone racks up late fees or loses a book or has a child draw in a book at some point, right?


  1. Thanks for a laugh--mingled with tears.

    About a month ago, I had to pay a huge fine--$7.80 -- to OPL because I got the due date for a whole pile of books mixed up by a week! I was embarrassed and upset, and then realized that I LOVE LIBRARIES. And I don't mind at all donating money to them. But still. So hard to lose a book. It drives me nuts until I find it.

    I am imagining a librarian leaving the game. S/he sees the book lying there in the post-game debris. Sees that it is a library book. Returns it to the library...reasoning that the student can always check it out again...

    Maybe my imagination will come true?

  2. You want to hear my biggest library fine? Imagine 50 books checked out on one card (we always have that many out nowadays... I remember finding out that the limit was 50 books when McKenzie was just a year old or so and thinking 'what!? who would ever, ever have that many books out at a time!?' now here I am frequently wanting more than I can check out. Hooray for kids who read, I guess.) and returning them just 4 measly days after their due date. At $.25/day/book the total came to $50.00. FIFTY DOLLARS! Thankfully the librarian who was processing my transaction was a compassionate human being and (after dropping his jaw at the amount and searching around for some mistake) said, "Why don't you just pay $10.00 and we'll call it even." Why, thank you.

    We've also lost a book before, and Miles ate one once. Being a perfectionist myself, I understand your feelings completely! Thankfully time eases the panic and you end up carrying a funny story away in the end. (Even if you wallet IS a bit lighter) :)

  3. We sent fifty dollars on library fines as well. What is with this 25 cents a day thing. It is completely unreasonable when you are checking out thirty children books at a time. I got my card signed in 6th grade and seriously cried for four days. It was the one and only time I got in trouble and it was because some idiot was goofing off during a spelling test and I burst out laughing. For crying out loud I wasn't even talking. So depressing. I didn't get to go bowling that quarter and then at the end of eight grade there were like three kids that got awards for never being in trouble and I thought...I should have been up there. Man I hated that kid and that teacher. So because of that I always thought my children would be like me, but they aren't. They are stubborn and opinionated and they respect their teachers about as much as they respect me...which isn't a whole lot. So they don't actually mind telling the teacher when they don't agree with stuff...which I never would have done. When Ezra was in kindergarten I used to pay him not to get into trouble. A dollar a day for every day his teacher didn't send a note home. Looking back on the situation she was ridiculous. I mean who sends a note home, "your sons was not doing a good job of keeping his pencil on his table today." I should have put him in with someone else but you know me, not the type to disappoint a teacher. Hope she can get over this whole owl experience, but if she is anything like the rest of us, she'll probably remember it forever :)

  4. This reminds me of a story about my mom. I don't know if it is in her book, but if it isn't I think I will tell it on my blog for today's post...

  5. Thanks, guys, for your sympathetic stories. Our public library here has a maximum fine of $25 per card (so you were lucky to get off with $10, Lindsay!) which is reassuring in case I ever make the same mistake, which is highly probable.

    And thanks for telling that story about Grandma, Mom. I remember you telling it to me years ago but I'm glad that you wrote it down so I could share it with my girls!

    And, guys!!! They found the book! It's at the lost and found at the stadium! I called today and left a message and they called back and left me a message. I am SO HAPPY!

  6. I didn't know that I was a precisionist until my heart rate quadrupled and I breathed heavy just reading this. Because "I don't lose books!" I'm so relieved it is found, and glad I didn't have to wait to know it.