Guest Post: Adapting
by Christina Taber-Kewene
When I was a young teenager, I cut off a flap from a cardboard box in my basement, painted a rainbow of colors as a backdrop, and then printed in large white block letters my chosen slogan: “PERFECTION IS NOT OPTIONAL.” I hung the sign up on my bedroom door feeling content that if I simply abided by that precept, life would fall nicely into place. I would keep my grades up, excel in my music performances, run eight miles every morning, and look, well, “perfect.” I spent many years of my life striving to live up to those ideals and, by some definitions, succeeding, at least outwardly.
The dark side to perfectionism is that it can too soon grow into rigidity. When we feel out of control, we develop habits that create a semblance of control, but they often box us in. Seeking self-improvement is useful; clinging to outmoded approaches that don’t serve any longer can impede real growth. When our first son was born, my husband became the expert swaddler in the family. He is a true baby whisperer, and this was one of the techniques that kept our colicky child calm, or at least calmer. But after a while, as that baby grew, he started fighting so hard to get out of the swaddle that he was keeping himself—and us—up for hours each night. I begged my husband to stop the swaddling, but he, a rigid first-time dad, struggled to drop a habit that wasn’t working anymore because, in his mind, if it had worked before, it should still work now. Four kids and many years later, we have learned a few things about letting go.
The nice thing about life is that, if we are paying attention, it forces change. Although I often have practices I want to grow out of, I find it hard to take the steps to improve unless I really have to. Twenty years into my daily running practice, I knew it had become unhealthy for me, but I couldn’t kick the habit until my back and joints became so damaged that I couldn’t physically run anymore. I finally learned my lesson after too many years of chronic pain and two back surgeries, but some people might not have been so obtuse as I was. When I worked full time at a job I hated but wanted desperately to spend more time with my young kids, it took me years to let go of the career I had built so I could pursue other things. It was hard. It didn’t work very well for several years. We didn’t have enough money or help. But eventually, both my spouse and I evolved into better careers with more time for our kids and each other, and enough money to survive. We learned that if we didn’t flex, we would break, so we kept flexing and flexing until we took on a more perfect form.
As we face the reality today of a global pandemic, we are being required to change numerous habits. Life is re-ordered, and that is painful and difficult for us all. I do not relish the idea of running my business online while also homeschooling my kids, staying away from friends, and worrying about my husband’s job security and how much toilet paper we have left. Friends all through my town are losing their livelihoods as small business owners, actors and artists, and it is only a matter of time before many of us fall sick. On the other hand, we all have an opportunity today to let go of our daily practices and think about how we want to live the next weeks and months in this altered existence. I’m sure that the optimism I feel in the early days of self-distancing will on other days be replaced by fear, panic, and even greater challenges. But as we held our family meeting this morning, we asked our kids two questions: How can we use this time to grow? What can we do to help others? Those are my focuses as we head into the eye of this storm.
Christina describes herself as a writer, mother, admissions coach, and recovering lawyer.