Striving for Mediocrity
Each Halloween a group of our neighborhood friends gather in our driveway to eat, visit, and assign trick or treating tasks (this means the dads go while the moms stay back with the candy and the fire pit – score one for the moms!) Halloween is usually a pretty big deal in our neighborhood and since our house is on the main street it’s just become a tradition. I always have a great time catching up with these friends who I don’t get to see but once or twice a year even though we live right down the street from each other. Life is so busy and it seems like the years are peeling away like a block of post it notes.
I’ve been celebrating Halloween with my kids since 1988 – think about that, just let it soak on in for a second. 25 years worth of hand made costumes, walking up and down neighborhoods, chasing runaway masks and costume parts that have been shed along the route. 25 years worth of photographing the first house while it’s still light enough to see, 25 years worth of checking candy for razor blades and poison apples, 25 years worth of, “How much have you eaten? No more candy!” 25 years worth of Halloween decorations to put out and put away. The list goes on and on.
So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to hear that this year I’ve been feeling pretty bah-humbug about the whole affair, probably because of our insane travel schedule and the fact that I’m just plain burned out. I really hadn’t had time to think about it anyway, and since the weather wasn’t supposed to cooperate, I thought I would just let the whole thing go. That was until my 9 year old invited everyone again and the phone calls started. I didn’t realize how much he looks forward to this each year. My first thought was to say no, I can’t do it this year. My anxiety shot up just thinking about everything that had to be done – lug tables and chairs to the front, costumes, fire pit, food, decorations – and with my husband out of town, it would fall to me, again. Did I mention I’ve done this for 25 years? I’m tired.
But here’s the thing – the friends who would be coming over and I have made a pact. We would shoot for the middle, aim for mediocrity. We don’t want our kids to have the worst costumes in the neighborhood, but we certainly don’t want to have the best. This has been a really hard concept to grasp for the past 6 years because I have always striven for perfection. I would have never considered buying my kids’ costumes from Walmart – are you kidding me? Trick or treat buckets were monogrammed and costumes were hand made or purchased from a designer store. Decorations were perfect, including a smoke machine and strobe lights for the front porch. But why did I do that to myself? The kids wanted to dress as Spiderman or a football player – why did I make them into robots and astronauts? The hours spent on the costumes were second to the money I spent. For what? Two hours worth of Trick or Treating, or more likely 10 minutes of full costume until the pieces started to come off. So this year, my son wanted to be a box head character from Minecraft. I have no idea what this is, but I was game. The costume was a Minecraft t-shirt, shorts and a box. On his head. That was it. And he was thrilled. Instead of making a bunch of Halloween cookies, home made truffles shaped like ghosts, and chili that cooked for 8 hours with fresh cornbread, I made soup and served chips. Paper bowls (NOT HALLOWEEN) and left over plates from his birthday party made up my culinary masterpiece. I stuck a pumpkin on the table and used an old trick or treat bucket for the “silverware” – plastic. I threw some pumpkin lights around the table affixed with scotch tape and called it a night.
I felt a little guilty before everyone came over, but when they did, they were relieved. The kids played basketball while the adults visited and waited for dark. The kids’ costumes were a mishmash of football players, purple Canadian kid (their nickname for him, which he loved), and my box head. The kids were happy and the adults were relaxed. And I wasn’t stressed.
Why had I spent all those years shooting for perfection when mediocrity is all the kids really want anyway? The kids do not care if the decorations are perfect or if their bucket is monogrammed. The kids only want to walk around the neighborhood after dark begging for candy. What an epiphany! And it only took me 25 years to figure it out!
Why do we as moms do that to ourselves? Why do I pour over the Thanksgiving menu for weeks planning the perfect meal? Why do I spend hours making homemade cornbread dressing that nobody eats and I end up throwing out? Why does everything have to be perfect? I think we feel responsible for recreating the happy childhood memories we have or for reinventing what we wish were our childhood memories. Plus I blame Martha Stewart and Pinterest for making us all feel unworthy. But when I think about my childhood memories, I never remember the amazing food served on Halloween night or even Thanksgiving, I remember the trick or treating and the candy. I remember the pie and the turkey – the pie that was probably frozen and the turkey could have been store bought, I have no idea. I remember the events, not the decorations. I remember the people, not the gourmet food.
I think I work so hard for me, not them. I do it for the wrong reasons. I do it so everyone can see how hard I work. I think in my mind, it’s an act of service and sacrifice for the people I love. Isn’t that a little like the Pharisees who made sure everyone could hear them pray and see what they were giving? I’m no Biblical scholar, but it feels a little hypocritical to me when I think about how hard I’ve worked over the years. I do it for the people I love, but I also do it for me, sort of a martyrdom thing I have. Please watch me carry this giant cross for you and marvel at my sacrifice. While I enjoy making things for the people I love, when it becomes something other than what it was originally intended to be, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? When the experiences I’m trying to create become something that I dread, something needs to change. Who is Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas about anyway? Me? No. I think we as moms need to stop creating perfection – there’s no such thing anyway – and start enjoying the experiences ourselves, stress free (or less stress).
So for my friends who have made the pact with me to shoot for the middle, I think we’re onto something. Who really benefits when I make my family wait for the food to be perfectly plated? Well, okay, I like my food to look pretty, but maybe I should only do mine.