We walk along the sidewalk together on the way home from school, and I can almost see the dark cloud of worry swirling above your head. You are silent for a few moments, and then, when you are sure we are alone, you look at me with misty eyes and quivering lips and open up your heart: you made a mistake on a question you wrote an answer to at school. This one, tiny mistake in the midst of so many things you've done right and suddenly forgotten about has become an enormous weight you now carry on your small shoulders. You are certain that we are going to be upset with you, that your report card is now going to somehow be a disappointment, that the school is going to think you're no longer gifted. I want to hug you and cry with you because I understand exactly how an honest, insignificant mistake can quickly grow into something monstrous that wants to swallow you whole.
Perfectionism is a beast sometimes; it can sneak up even on the unsuspecting young. Once when I was a child, I came home from school with a picture where my colourful crayon marks had slipped out of the lines. I showed it to my mom and wailed inconsolably, "You're not going to like this!". This moment was only one in a long line of life situations where I've been relentless and unforgiving with myself whenever I've made a mistake. So many times I have set unrealistic standards for myself at school, in work, in motherhood, as a human being, and have felt like an utter disappointment to everyone when I've felt that I've failed to live up to them.
This is not the kind of worry I wish for you in life, my sweet boy. I want you to see yourself for the amazing person you are, to believe that you are every bit as smart and funny and thoughtful and kindhearted as I know you to be. I want you to feel free to delve deeply into that wonderfully creative mind of yours to explore and share what you find there, without being afraid that others will think you're somehow wrong. I want you to accept that trying your best at what you do is always something to be proud of, even if you don't succeed right away. I want you to learn from experience that sometimes colouring outside of the lines and making mistakes is exactly what allows you to grow and to eventually see the world in a new and exciting way. I want you to know that you are your own worst critic, and that if you can love yourself with all of your imperfections, you will realize just how those who know and care deeply for you really feel about you, too.
Life will be full of challenges that will inevitably lead to you making mistakes; that is a certainty. But if you come to see your mistakes as necessary, even welcome, stepping stones on the path to deeper experience, understanding, and feeling, they will suddenly seem much less huge and fearsome. I hope you'll come to me whenever you need a reminder of this. I believe you and I can learn to tame the beast together.