Here’s what I’d like you to think: My life is perfect. My children are perfect. Everything is perfect.
My household practically runs itself. We all do what is expected of us. The place sparkles with floors so clean you could picnic on them. There’s no dust, no pet hair, no papers scattered on the kitchen counter. The laundry is fluffed and folded. The dishes are done and the newspapers are stacked in the recycling bin.
I’m on top of the yard work, the bills and the schedule.
Buttons don’t fall off my blouse on the way to work and disappear in the car, the hem of my skirt doesn’t come unstitched at the worst possible moment and my shoes don’t get scuffed and muddy. My purse is never full of crumpled paper, leaking pens and a rogue lipstick that has lost its cap and smeared all the checks in my checkbook.
I can eat a salad without getting lettuce in my teeth or vinaigrette on my dress. I’m the picture of fitness and self confidence.
I’m on track and on time, all of the time. I don’t make mistakes or get it wrong.
That’s what I’d like you to think. But, like most people, the truth is a little more complicated.
My life isn’t even close to perfect. It’s kind of a mess, actually.
There’s the divorce. You can’t sweep that under the rug. And my four children are, each in their own way, as all children are destined to do eventually, struggling to find their footing on a shifting landscape.
One is working hard at independence, another is fighting it furiously. One is searching the horizon for a glimpse of the future; one is clinging to what’s left of a childhood.
Like I said, right now my life isn’t neat and tidy. But, if we’re honest, really, whose is?
When I was a teenager I had a crush on the family down the street. Not just the boy my age, but the entire family. They were all, I was so sure, absolutely perfect.
They had the nicest house on the street. The daughter, who was several years older than I, wore pretty clothes. The boys were talented and popular.
Mooning over the middle son, I spent hours at my bedroom window. From my perch I could see his house and occasionally spot him as he came in and out. Some nights he sat by his window and played the flute. I could just make him out, silhouetted by the light in his bedroom, through the branches of the tall oak tree that grew beside his house. The music came to me on the breeze.
I wanted everything I could see from my window. I wanted him. I wanted his house, his parents and his life.
Eventually, because I made myself so available he couldn’t take a step without tripping over me, I got the boy’s attention. I started spending a lot of time in his house. At first, it all looked so good. Everything was clean and orderly. It was a quiet place, unlike my chaotic house. It was a place you could count on to be exactly the same each time you walked in the door.
I dated the boy for three years. Until it finally dawned on me that I was still working as hard to keep his attention as I had worked to get it in the first place. By graduation, we were headed for different schools. I’d realized by that time that his world wasn’t as it had appeared. Behind his elegant front door were big problems. They were just put away where you couldn’t see them. His parents never spoke to one another, the boys spent as much time as possible out of the house, and the sister went wild. She was defiantly pregnant when she graduated from high school and abandoned the baby shortly after giving birth, leaving a son to be raised by her silent parents.
It didn’t take long to see through the scrim of perfection that softened the view of the interior I’d longed for, but it’s taken a lifetime to understand the lesson I learned.
People are people. We do the best we can, but we’re inherently flawed. We leave clumsy human fingerprints on everything we touch.
Open the door on any life and you won’t find a perfect person, a perfect place or family. More likely, you’ll see what most of us have in common.
A perfect mess.