27 July 2008

Ode to Iteration

I have been thinking a great deal lately about perfect. I hang out online in lots of Mommy dominant groups. I see such a focus on getting everything perfect. It is an obsession, every facet of parenting must be executed with unerring precision, each child must have exactly the right behavior/diet/stuff/activities or the whole thing was a failure.

Take my kids and my food sensitivities. I figured all of the sensitivities out using trial and error. Even if I had much faith left in allopathic medicine, we don't have the classic IgE allergies. Those are the kind you can go get skin pricked for and, barring the all too common false negatives, you get an answer. So I eliminate suspects, then when the reactions go away we trial one thing at a time to see what is causing the problem. Sure, it takes a while. Sure, you do need to be careful if the reaction is a serious one, and take the necessary precautions. But even allergists, good ones anyway, will tell you elimination and trial is the only way to really know the answer.

Maybe it is because I am a scientist, but it amazes me that most people can't do this. I have lost count of the discussion board threads where a parent goes from doctor to doctor with their sick child. Test after test, appointment after appointment. Weeks and months go by. There is great consternation and frustration, and the child is not getting better. All that trouble for nothing, yet when you suggest keeping a food diary, eliminating a few common food allergens, and maybe switching out a few of the chemical cleaners for more natural items, you might as well be a purple Martian. Folks act like you are absolutely out of your mind, because it is way too hard and besides, you can't possibly take away such and such wonderful healthy food without PROOF that it is causing harm! And how can you kill all those horrible germs without the heavy duty toxic cleaning products!

Even in the wonderful food group I am in you see this. Folks obsess over eliminating just the right things. Spend more time planning the elimination diet than the time it takes on the diet to improve things. Or when things improve, even dramatically, they can't see the forest for the trees. Instead of rejoicing that the eliminations fixed the stomach problems and the eczema and the crazy behavior, they constantly tweak and switch things up and go crazy figuring out if they are getting enough of this or that vitamin. Not only do they rob themselves of the enjoyment of all the improvements, they never get the job done because they can't stop tweaking long enough to actually figure out what is going on. They focus so much on the "mistakes" they made in the diet that they lose focus on the goal, a healthy child.

Every aspect of parenting today is like this. Teach kids readin, ritin, and rithmetic. Forget the joy of a good book, the love of penning a kind letter to a friend, the absolutely nifty a-HA! moment of figuring out that four full 1/4 measure cups fill the 1 measure cup exactly to the top. Make the kids behave, instantaneous obedience and aquiesence to the adult. Forget communicating with the child, helping the child make good decisions, and setting the example. Build the resume to get into the right college (or high school, or PREschool!!). Forget following interests, building on strengths, or heck just letting them be kids and build a fort in the back yard.

I don't know all the answers, our family is far from (that word again) perfect. I yell at my kids sometimes. They misbehave. I forget that a certain food is not safe. They don't always pick up their toys. Horror of horrors, we all watch television. We also play, make messes in the kitchen in pursuit of the yummy cookie, take afternoons to hang out by the pool, sit together reading books, and take long walks after dinner in the evening. We let ourselves have fun and enjoy, even when we have not been perfect.

Yup, I admit, I don't know if I am doing this right. But I DO know, with iron clad, 100% certainty what perfect is.

Perfect is the enemy of all that is good.