Monday, January 11, 2010

Perfectionism and the art of beating yourself up

Those of you who know me, know I am no perfectionist. Jake - undoubtedly but not me.

So when I see that tendency in my middle school child, WSRN (who shall remain nameless) I am at a loss.

Usually she just flits happily through life, not settling too heavily on any one thing. All things are pretty interesting and entertaining and she enjoys tons of activities and pursuits to fill her time.

Last night (Sunday night) she remembered she had a band quiz on Monday morning. She literally panicked. Whipping out her flute, she tried to bang out the tune, had trouble, more trouble, just couldn't get it. Tears, worry, bleak heavy sighs. She wanted to miss school today because of this.

Hormones much?

I said, "It's just band! You have an A in the class. One bad quiz is not going to derail you. Do your best. If it is a hard song then others are going to have trouble too. You will not be the only one!" Insert all those practical, mom-ish type comments that come out of our mouths at time such as these.

With real tears welling in her huge brown eyes, she says "But we have to play it in front of everyone while they listen and people laugh and snicker if you make a mistake."

Ouch! Now, frankly I can relate to this anxiety! It sounds like a bad dream. I never liked being put on the spot like this but I guess this band instructor has a real "trial by fire" attitude and he wants the goods or else.

I ask, "Have you ever laughed when someone makes a mistake?" Internally cringing, knowing the answer.

"I try not to." she says sniffling pathetically.

OK. I am not trying to make light of this. In fact, I am sort of frightened that she is having such a strong reaction and beating herself up so expertly. My mind boggles at all the times in life stuff like this comes up. Miserable, uncomfortable moments when you feel like a complete jerk and/or loser. Unfortunately, you sort of have to go through a few of those before you realize, "Sheesh. I am never going to be that unprepared again!" And, really mean it.

Jake, perhaps because he recognizes this perfectionist trait, says "Just do your best, honey, and then we'll make sure this never happens again. I will help you. I promise." Good advise but, of course, it didn't make her feel any better.

This morning her mood was not much better. I guess it was particularly hard to see her like that because she is literally never like that! She is always boinging around and giggling, hassling the cat, yackity yacking, bouncing out the door. It is painful to see her drag herself around.

Hormones much?

As she nibbled her toast, I said, "I can't let you blow this quiz off. I would be teaching you a bad lesson and it would be really irresponsible of me. No, you can't stay home from school."

"But, will you let me "accidentally" forget my flute today?" she interjects hopefully.

"No, baby, that's bad mommy stuff. No can do."

So, we did a little scheming and she decided she would ask the instructor if she could be quizzed on the song in private. Without the bevy of gigglers laughing at her. I took her to school, encouraged her to go straight to the band room to talk with the instructor and see what he says.

I can't imagine any middle school band instructor no being softened by my kid with her big eyes full of tears, totally stressed out about a stupid song. But, I haven't heard the outcome yet. Who know, maybe it is all about weeding them out the first year.

But, that brings me back to my fears for her and this blasted perfectionism. This is a kid where everything has been pretty easy so far. She really takes to things quickly and can pull good grades without a herculean effort. If something is hard she wants to quit and go back to something she is good at. Therefore not being prepared for a quiz can throw her into a spiral?

That just seems to not bode well. I am not going to make a big deal out of this, I say over and over to myself. I expect her to bounce through the door, her normal chirpy self. Maybe we were right. It won't be as bad as she thought. Let's hope.

Update to come...

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