Today I received an invitation to Young Women in Excellence. There will be tables spread out in the gym with displays that represent something the girls have mastered or accomplished. There will be quilts and flutes, paintings and trophies. When you are Type B folk living in a Type A town, events like this are stressful. Not everyone’s talents are easy to display. Thankfully we remembered that my 15 year old took a lifeguard course this spring and can count that as her skill. She is indeed an excellent swimmer. I’m not exactly sure what to put on her corner of the table. A pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses? A whistle? A picture of David Hasslehoff? We’ll figure it out.
As I scramble to make sure she feels validated, I am relieved that there isn’t an equivalent in Relief Society. How awful if we had to put our lives on display! Can you imagine feeling like you had to make perfect meals, perfectly presented? Or have one’s house immaculate and on display, every throw pillow just so? But the worst would be for those with kids. Imagine how awful it would be to have to watch other, more together moms present their children as if they were always spot free and adorably dressed? And you in turn would need to orchestrate perfect pumpkin patch pix! You know where I’m going here because we do this. Every. Single. Day. With Instagram and Facebook, we live in a virtual World of Excellence. Instead of displays on tables in gyms, we watch it on our computers and phones. It is always with us.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I love celebrating the talents of the girls in my ward. Some of them have mad skills and I’m glad for an excuse to celebrate them. And I spend way too much time online obsessing over my adorable nieces and nephews and liking the gorgeous pork tenderloin with a balsamic glaze that my chef friend makes. While I get that it’s important to set goals, to work hard, to do one’s best, it can sometimes feel competitive and oppressive. Often we make the mistake of looking at the “displays” presented by others and believing that is the reality. I worry that some young women will look at the symbols of accomplishment and feel they fall short. I worry that young moms will mistake the inability to turn one’s toddler into a perfect accessory as a character flaw.
On my crazier days I want to send out invitations to a celebration of Full Grown Women of Mediocrity. Sister Gourmet might display the cheesecake where she accidentally used corn flakes instead of graham cracker crumbs for the crust. Mmmmm greasy…. Sister Hannah Andersen would show up with kids in tow, outfits mismatched and ill fitting. Sister Calm and Collected would confess to locking herself in the bathroom to eat chocolate while the Lords of the Flies rampage through the house. And Sister Scholar might admit that she Shmooped the last novel for book group because it was too boring to read.
The truth is, we all fall short. We have all been fools. No one gets through this life with total excellence. As someone whose flaws have tended to end up on display fairly frequently, I have tried to not just make peace with my screw ups, but to embrace them as the things that make me me. For example, there was a period when my family and the family of my BFF Denise kept getting lice. Like 3 times in one winter. It was a nightmare. The shame. The nitpicking. The itching. But instead of shaving our kids’ heads and pretending it was a fashion statement, we owned the hell out of it. We did research. We sent warning emails to other families. We taught a class on lice prevention and elimination. We freaking wrote a song about it. And now when someone in the ward thinks they or their kid may have the creepy crawlies, they know they can call me and I will come and comb through their hair, section at a time. Judgment free.
My kids are amazing and hilarious and everyone’s favorite babysitters. But they also have anxiety disorders and faith transitions and all sorts of other not fun things. And I am not ashamed. My hope is that the people who also find their realities are less than picture perfect know they can come to me and be embraced, as I have been by the women who were brave enough to let me see past the displays. I’m not saying we have to wear tee shirts that advertise our pain (“Four Miscarriages and Counting!!” or “Failed the Bar Exam”), but along with celebrating and displaying our triumphs, the Savior has taught me to see value in sharing our brokenness and pain. There is healing to be found in displaying our vulnerabilities. To me, this is the embodiment of excellence.