My Fitted Sheet Waterloo

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. LanternBasket  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.

The Lopsided Tree

I have been watching (for, give me strength, months—literally months!) commercials lauding a particular brand of “perfect”, extraordinarily realistic Christmas tree. Each time I’ve been subjected to the commercial, I’ve thought to myself, “If you want a tree that perfectly realistic, for heaven’s sake, buy a live tree!”

But that isn’t true, either, is it? I recall the live trees of my early childhood, before artificial trees became common. They were never perfect. One always turned the “not so good” side to the wall. They sat crookedly in the tree stand, requiring endless work to straighten them and keep them straight. They shed needles no matter how much water was added to the stand. The top branch keeled over under the weight of the angel. But they smelled heavenly, and once the heavy glass colored bulbs were lit, they looked like a little piece of heaven, too.

They were a lot of trouble, those live trees, and I don’t precisely miss them, having used the artificial variety for most of my lifetime now. But I had reason to think about them as I set up my tree this year.

Two holiday seasons past, I had to purchase a new tree, doing so during the after-Christmas sales. I choose a prelit “umbrella” tree, one with folding branches that didn’t have to be frustratingly inserted following a complicated pattern. As I checked out with my tree at the counter, the sales clerk warned me that returns could only be processed within 30 days; be sure, she advised me, once I arrived home, that the lights on the tree were working. I swiped my credit card and laughed. “My dear,” I chuckled, “this baby is staying in the box until next Christmas. And if the lights don’t work, well, that’s why God invented strings of lights!’

But the lights did work, as I found out the following year. Although sparse (I prefer my trees simply laden with twinkling white lights), the tree blossomed into brilliance once plugged in. It was taller than I’d anticipated, but fit nicely into the narrow area available after the aggravation of moving the furniture. And, once decorated, it was just breathtaking.

Fast forward to January 2nd. There was simply NO WAY that tree was going back into the box. Finally I covered it with big trash bags and propped it into the corner of my tiny, single-car garage…where, a few months later, it crashed to the ground one evening as I pulled my car into the space, snapping the weld that held the bushy top branch in place so that it broke completely from the tree.

Ever the optimist, I decided to put it aside until the holiday season, sure it would be easy to repair. If the upper lights didn’t work now, I thought, I’d just get a string. No big deal.

Sigh. A week prior to Thanksgiving, I decided it might be best to repair that treetop. But after a frustrating two hours of attempting multiple mends, it became clear to me that the broken treetop was not going to be repaired. Oh, the lights still worked. But no way was that treetop ever going to slide into place in the trunk once again.

Finally, on the night before Thanksgiving, I brought the damaged tree into the house. Deciding that if duct tape had been good enough for Apollo 13, it was good enough for my Christmas tree, I taped the broken tree top to the trunk portion of the tree. It was lopsided as all get-out, and it wobbled ever so slightly, but it worked. I wound some ribbon about the trunk to disguise the mend, and settled the tree into its spot by the living room window.

The Lopsideded Tree Crop

And now, I realize, I like the tree better.

It was a little too tall before; now, perhaps four inches shorter, it is just the right size. It’s lopsided, just like the beloved trees of my childhood. The side where the mend shows most has been turned to the wall. It lost a few needles in the repair process, especially where I discovered that one umbrella-fold branch had also been a victim of that topple to the garage floor.

It is a perfectly imperfect tree.

Perhaps that is a metaphor for Christmas itself—for all the holidays celebrated by all the families of many cultures throughout the lands of this earth. We strive to make everything perfect—the food, the gathering, the gifts, the lights. But no matter how hard we try, perfection never happens. Married children cannot split their time between two families; grandchildren can’t make it home from distant colleges. The turkey burns; the mashed potatoes turn out runny. Someone starts a political discussion that ends up in shouting and quarrels. The smokers are angry at banishment to the porch. All the men escape to the TV for football, while the women, resentfully, clear tables and wash dishes. The kids scorn the gifts that their parents worked so hard to provide.

Perfection never happens. But, nonetheless, the lights burn brilliantly on the lopsided tree, reminding us that perfection isn’t a necessary component to joy. Satisfaction, acceptance, and “good enough” are all we truly need for happiness.