Or, Tales of Perfectionism…
A few months ago, purchasing new bedsheets to fit over a tall mattress pad, I unwisely purchased some with a “boxer fit hem”.
Now, fitted sheets are no picnic to fold, as every householder knows (or there would not be so many YouTube videos explaining the process). How in the hell new sheets come out of the package in such perfectly smooth, even rectangles is beyond comprehension. The manufacturers must employ elves or gnomes or something of that ilk to tuck and fold and smooth them into pristine perfection. But years of practice had given me the knack of at least getting regular fitted sheets into a semblance of order that would fit into the linen cupboard.
But these damn sheets with the “boxer fit” hem were my Folding Waterloo. No matter what reiteration of “how to fold fitted sheets” I looked up, they came out into a messy pile of fabric that looked as if it had been wadded up any old way and then just shoved into the closet.
And this, as anyone who knows me, knows well–this is not me. So not me. If you look up “perfectionist” in the dictionary, my photo will be prominently displayed.
Never was my tendency to perfectionism more evident than during the preparations for my daughter’s wedding, when I became heavily invested in making centerpieces for the reception tables. We’d chosen miniature lanterns with violet flameless candles, the lantern handles bedecked with bouquets of tiny ribbon roses and ferns and jeweled net butterflies, paired with tiny white birdcages filled with my daughter’s favorite miniature sunflowers, then tied with white organza ribbons and topped more of the butterflies. I worked on those centerpieces for weeks during the summer preceding my daughter’s fall wedding. Every bouquet, I believed, had to be just so. Picture-perfect. The exact mix of roses, babies’ breath, ferns, wire-and-net butterfly, and slender purple ribbons in impeccable bows. I genuinely spent hours of my life making each of those bouquets absolutely flawless. I tied and re-tied the organza ribbons on the birdcages, carefully positioning each sunflower, gluing the butterflies to just that perfect position on the handles…
On the evening of the wedding reception, I watched as countless little girl guests untied the bouquets from the lanterns and carried them about or slid them onto their wrists as corsages, or festooned their hair and dresses with the flowers. They plucked the butterflies off the lanterns to fling them into the air, laughing as they glided gently through the air before swooping and scooting across the dance floor.
Fortunately, my obstinate perfectionism does not extend so far as to prevent children from having a good time. I found myself laughing aloud as happy little girls raced by me clutching flowers and butterflies—laughing at their joy, and laughing at myself, for the hours of slaving over those faultless miniature bouquets and ribbons.
And that, I suppose, is the rational divide between the innate perfectionism which so often trips me up, overtaking my common sense, and my ability to laugh at myself as I catch a glimpse of the larger picture. No one, glancing at those centerpieces on the reception tables, would have seen anything more than they did: a sea of lavender light, glowing in the darkness, punctuated by the bright yellow of sunflowers. All the blood, sweat and tears I poured into making those darned centerpieces so utterly flawless was quite unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was justifiably proud of them. Also nevertheless, I could not be put out when the centerpieces were disassembled by a tribe of rampaging children who were discovering the innate joy of making toys from of unexpected items; who were finding that this could be every bit as fun, or more so, than staring at a computer screen, no matter how new the game.
Despite what I learned on the evening of my daughter’s wedding reception, I don’t expect my OCD behavior to vanish anytime soon. My house will continue to be a shining visage of cleanliness and order, so long as my strength to keep it so holds out. I will still stress unnecessarily over all manner of tasks, and assign myself onerous responsibilities.
But I really don’t think I will ever learn how to fold those damn boxer-hem sheets.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Controlling the Rainbow”, which can be found in the Archives from October 5, 2018.