Updated: Feb 6, 2020
It’s not that I think I need to be perfect. It’s not even that I strive for close to perfection. But, a passing grade would be a little nice from time to time.
It was Friday afternoon. A surprise boil water advisory had closed the school of my oldest child, while my two younger ones braved it with bottled water and hand sanitizer. My unexpected companion at home that day had knocked me off my game. The kid was talking to me when no one usually does, requesting hot dogs and mango juice, and complaining about the Wi-Fi. These distractions were enough to flip my Friday upside down.
By 2:30 I was on the elliptical, about five hours later than usual. By 3:30 I was late picking up the younger set who had survived said bottled water and hand sanitizer with confounded grit. I hadn’t showered yet. But it being Friday, that nugget of solitude could take the place of the second grade math homework that typically dominates 4:00. I snagged what was left of the blueberry smoothie I’d made to accompany the hot dogs and mango juice for my boil water refugee and was on my way upstairs when the doorbell rang. The panic that always follows the announcement of unexpected visitors ensued. Who is it? How quickly could I hide the three laundry baskets in front of the couch, the fruit gummy wrappers on the floor, and the myriad La Croix cans littering every surface? And what about me? I’d tossed my sports bra the minute I got off the machine. There was a puddle of perspiration on my chest. My hair was sweat-mussed, too. Then there were the dogs, losing it.
I pawned the responsibility off on Fiona.
“Look through the window and tell me who it is,” I whispered.
“It’s some lady with baskets,” she yelled back.
Thanks, Kid. Your subtlety astounds me.
A lady with baskets, I think. Oh, crap. I’d completely forgotten that a new mom at school had offered to drop off baskets for teacher appreciation week. Of course, I’d volunteered to head up that train wreck.
I threw on a sweatshirt from the laundry baskets to hide my braless upper body. I stuck nearby sunglasses on my head to attempt an intentional sleek hairdo. I grabbed the maniac dog ready to attack the ankles of New Mom, opened the door, and promptly closed it behind me. This would be a front porch affair only. The dog wrestled under my arm like a baby wolverine lunging for a muskrat, but New Mom was already back in her car, my scrambling having taken too long. I tossed Baby Wolverine back in the house and ran to New Mom’s SUV window. Her car was white, tan interior--both honorable options, insinuating a demand for cleanliness to which I aspire. New Mom was gracious to my disastrous state, pointed out the baskets on the porch, and didn’t require idle chatter. Perfect! She was driving away in less than two minutes.
Back inside, I took a much needed breath before climbing the stairs to my bathroom where I finally peeled off my clothes in front of the mirror. That’s when I saw everything: the mascara from the night before that had probably oozed down my cheek during my workout, the hair that didn’t look intentional, but worse, was held back by Fiona’s blue unicorn sunglasses and not my teal shades, and then the humdinger. There was a humongous glob of blueberry not just stuck in my teeth but covering a canine so greedily that it looked like I had a black tooth. I gaped at my gloopiness, my belly button that droops after three babies, my roots beckoning attention, scattered toiletries across my counter, used cotton balls that missed the trash can, and my black tooth.
These things never happen to the “Sheryls” of the world. We all know Sheryl. She began as the girl next door with whom we were lucky to share a sandbox. Boys fell in line to dance with her at the middle school sock hop. She was sweet as bubble gum. We loved her even when she was homecoming queen a record three times. But Sheryl grew up and reminded us why we wanted to be in her sandbox in the first place. Sheryl always has her shit together. Sheryl can open her front door without first scoping out her living room. Sheryl has a meticulously groomed dog that obeys commands. Sheryl doesn’t get thrown off by hot dogs and mango juice. Sheryl probably doesn’t ask for baskets for teacher appreciation because Sheryl likely has a nice craft room with a shelf just for empty baskets. I hate bubble gum...always have. And, Sheryl, I never really liked you either.
My first thought was to call New Mom and explain myself--make a joke of it in my typical I’m such a hot mess way. I picked up my phone. Then I looked back at my black tooth and guffawed. Alone in my steamy, messy bathroom after an entire day basically wasted, I broke into side-splitting laughter. Sheryl, you’re pretty damn fabulous. There’s no denying that your kids’ mom has got it going on. But, Sheryl, you’re not my people.
In the past I have wrestled with explaining my ineptness to everyone within shouting distance--family, best friends, work friends, social friends, mom friends, and of course, the Sheryls. This digital hub of my anxiety has logged several accounts of my inadequacies, like that time I spilled red wine on my white glove at a fancy masquerade and followed up such grace by initiating every conversation with an explanation of my stained handwear so that, if nothing else, everyone would know that I’m not ignorant to my awkwardness. I’m sure everyone was impressed and slept easier that night.
Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s pent up anger, or maybe it’s pent up exhaustion, but I’m done. I’m through explaining myself away--away to smithereens, so vastly far from the core of my own darling fault-filled self. And for what? So that people--Sheryl--will think I’m some kind of perfection? So that I can remind others just how imperfect they are? Deuces, Sheryl. You’re kicked out of the group.
This isn’t some smart-tongued diatribe for moms only. Every age, every phase, every categorical choice in life comes with a persona symbolizing just how far we have to go. I’m not sure what we’re all going toward, but come on, people. Game over. While I do believe that sometimes winning is underrated in a society that pats backs just for squeezing in five minutes of meditation, we’re overrating our ability to be something we don’t need to be. I do need to get my priorities right. I do need to make money, provide my kids with nutrition, and wash the damn socks and underwear on time. I do need to hustle my ass to do a good job on the work I’ve been handed, whether I like all the work or not. Sometimes we have to finish the mundane before we start the exciting. But I don’t need to explain any of it, least of all to Sheryl.
I could have Sheryl’s winning accuracy if I really, really wanted it. I could wake up early and clean every day before my baby wolverine begs to be let out. I could run my kids and husband ragged so that our house is always just so. I could hustle and make every sale, every dollar, and win every damn time. I’m “perfectly” capable. Or maybe, I can just do a damn good job and put my shit away...including my explanations. If I’m actually trying my hardest, is there anything to explain?
I know enough to know that maybe I explain myself so much because I don’t try my hardest every time. I hate Sheryl mostly when Sheryl is right. Everything that led up to that black tooth, from laundry traded for another episode of RHONY to that missed magazine pitch because I gave into the royal baby watch, is how a boil water advisory was able to break me. My hysterical cackling in the bathroom was warranted because this is all a joke--all of us vying for some perfect life while in reality hiding that we’re on the brink of cracking, even Sheryl. When Martha Stewart went to jail, it might have been one of the best things to have happened to women because we finally saw her eye to eye. Suddenly her perfect meringue every time seemed a lot less perfect when whipped up from the slammer. Then she got buddy buddy with Snoop Dogg and we saw the queen of domesticity as a homegirl. Something about that transition inspired me.
I don’t want a passing grade in life. I want an A+. I don’t need perfection, but I do want inspiration. Maybe inspiring others myself would be a little nice from time to time, too.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.