God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt.
That was the philosophy in my neighborhood. Pick that Dorito up, dust it right off, and start all over again. Candy was trickier. You needed water; a fountain or a hose, and if there were ants on, forget it. City kids and bugs don’t mix. But dirt? Dirt don’t hurt.
My mother, a Catholic, reared by nuns ie a perfectionist, didn’t see it that way.
Every spring, my sisters and I, were assigned with any task, short of automotive repair, pertaining to the refreshment of the family environment, and everything had to be done the way a Catholic mother likes it ie the hard way ie to perfection.
We mowed lawns (push mower – not electric), edged lawns (manual, not electric), did laundry, dishes, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, vacuumed, mopped, cleaned out closets, and cupboards, and even painted the interior of our 4 bedroom house, or at least we tried. Walls had to be dry washed, which took more muscle power than we had. Then, wet washed, twice. Then we had to spackle any crack, and sand it to seamless undetectability. Then, we could paint. Two cotes. She watched us like a hawk. Perfection at that scale meant the process went on, literally, for years. In fact, we never finished it. Unfinished, often unattempted, perfection, was my mother’s forte.
But the spring cleaning task that really epitomized the futility of perfectionism, was weeding.
God made dandelions, so dandelions didn’t hurt.
That was my philosophy.
Mom didn’t see it that way.
According to her, the prolific wild flower was the enemy of beauty. Unlike tulips, or lily of the valley, which also returned every spring, the dandelion was a weed. Weeds were unwanted. Weeds had to be eradicated, not just minimized. Wiped out.
Just when cold Chicago winters were giving way to spring, and ice cream trucks were getting an early start on summer, my sisters and I were put to work in the backyard. If we wanted to go to play with our friends, we had better get digging, you dig?
God doesn’t like short cuts. You can’t cut. You can’t mow. Weeds will only grow back stronger. They had to be pulled from the root. Like evil. This was the way of the Lord. It was the way of our mother, anyway, and it took the fun right out of spring fever. What choice did we have?
We’d head out to the back yard on Saturday mornings, while other “less fortunate” kids jumped double dutch, and ate Now and Laters for breakfast, and we worked. Once we got to the bottom of the root, we just had to pull, but getting to the bottom of even one dandelion, was hard. It took a lot out of us, and there were a lot of dandelions.
My mother oversaw, and inspected. She knew when we hadn’t dug deep enough, when we’d broken a root, or pulled stems, leaves, hoping she wouldn’t notice. She always did. She always noticed imperfection. Oh well. At least she didn’t yell. Or hit. And we could sit in grass, out in the sun, out of the house. Away from her. Slacking off. Daydreaming. Complaining, and consoling each other.
It was part work, part waiting game.
Finally, she’d say, “You can go,” and we’d be off, out until dark, out until she shrieked our names so loud, even the “less fortunate” kids looked a little scared, and sorry for us.
Looking back, I see now she taught us some important lessons on those Saturday mornings.
Like, how to avoid unnecessary work, and work the system, when possible.
And how “the right way” is often fear-based bullshit that aims to break your spirit.
Yes, I learned to be thorough in my work.
I also learned the value of letting some things be.
Bees are essential to human survival.
Dandelions are good for bees.
Just like dirt.
They don’t hurt.
People are another story.
God made them, too.
Clearly, He is not a perfectionist.