The Fairly OddParents

He was my mother’s first love. At twenty-one, she joined my father in the adventurous life of an itinerant oceanographer that took them from Boston to Miami, San Diego and finally, a return to the Maine island where they’d first met.

I grew up on that island, attended the tiny three-room schoolhouse, built a treehouse in the apple orchard of my backyard.

We were the odd family from “away”: two intellectuals and their only child. My mother, a stay-at-home graphic artist, and my father, a marine scientist who had worked with Jacques Cousteau. Their divorce, when I was eleven, came as a shock to all of us.

Eventually, my mother remarried and became a local celebrity, writing a monthly newsletter and cookbook. My father’s wanderlust continued as he moved through locations and relationships.

And I was a wild child for a quarter-century.

Our roles have reversed now, and I’m the parent to my parents. I became the stay-at-home-mom to a mother with Alzheimer’s. She’s the toddler who needs help getting dressed; my father’s the wild child who fancies himself a young Casanova.

And we are still the odd family.

Progress, not Perfection

My name is Amie and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

It started at an early age. I was a rule-follower even at the age of four, dutifully memorizing every book of the Old Testament, reciting my gratitude list each evening, playing the piano with the frenzy of a virtuoso.

In the faith-healing religion of my childhood, we were taught to be “God’s Perfect Children,” the odd combination of what author Caroline Fraser calls “self reliance and human perfectionism,” just one more ambiguity in a faith-healing world where disease is denied.

It was a standard impossible to attain.

In the lifelong quest for perfection, I subconsciously emulated my mother, whose need to excel in everything from the braided lattice crust on a peach pie to the intricate footwork of Greek folk dancing was just one of the many religious paradoxes she refused to discuss. “Why do I need to master the piano,” I pleaded, not wanting to practice my scales, “if I’m already perfect?”

Still, it seemed crucial to be the expert in everything. For years, I wore perfectionism like a badge. I consistently won top performer sales awards, placing impossible demands upon my team and myself. “No one can live up to your standards,” one of my sales reps told me. “We can’t all be perfect.”

Today, as a writer, I teeter between the endless process of revision and what editor Dorothea Brande describes as “silences in which not one idea seems to arise. . . [often] the result of such ideals of perfectionism as can hardly bear the light of day.”

And as I witness my mother’s slow deflation because she can no longer “master” telling time or button her blouse or remember my name, I realize perfectionism—that pesky need to always be the best—is the ultimate form of self-abuse.

Letting go is a slow process. Now, I often catch myself as I tunnel down the rabbit hole of perfection. I don’t have to vacuum the hardwood floors twice in my quest to capture every speck of dirt from the dogs’ daily backyard journeys. My hair will never look as good as it does in the salon. If I miss a day of yoga, the sun will still rise tomorrow.

For weeks, I’ve struggled with the compulsion to make this post perfect, to convey exactly the right message. It isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. And it’s well beyond the self-imposed constraints of my customary 140-word blog post. But guess what? Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

And although I may have neither, in this moment that’s progress.

Spousal Support

I’ve been immersed in caring for my mother for the past four years, and with her recent move across country to a memory care home five minutes from my house, life  slowly comes back into focus. She’s safely nestled in her new place, and this brings me the peace to move forward.

I write daily now and bond with my dogs on morning runs. My schedule’s filled with volunteering and petsitting, trail runs and lunches with girlfriends.

And in the frenzy of resuscitating my life, I overlooked the most important relationship of all: my marriage.

“Hearing about your mother stresses me out,” he admitted last night, as I told him about my latest visit. “None of this has been easy for me.”

Hearing him vocalize his feelings, as rare as rain in our desert digs, hit me with the impact of a summer monsoon. He’s a no-nonsense, bottom-line guy, the kind who solves a problem and immediately moves on. The raw emotion in his voice was a wake-up call.

The mother-daughter bond is stronger than it’s ever been, and my marriage is solid. But some reassembly is required. So we’re planning a long-needed summer vacation. Booking movie dates and going out to dinner.

He was there for me in my early sobriety. He was there for me when I quit my job and moved to Maine with my mom. Now, it’s time for me to be there for him.