A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
When Imperfection Looks More Like Love
by Dominique Dobson
I feel like I’m in rehab. I have spent the last 16 years convincing everyone, myself included, that my husband and I lived a near-flawless life. Oh, we struggled with the standard first world problems… “Frontier can’t get out fast enough to repair our Fios,” “Dance and soccer have practice at the same time,” “I don’t want to do Thanksgiving with your mom – she always burns the turkey.” But as far as those around us knew (and as far as I did, for many years), our relationship was idyllic. It never occurred to me that the bumps in our road were any bigger or different than those of any couple around us – those bumps were just something you don’t share with friends and family. You keep them hidden away in the dark and put on a shining face for those around you.
And then came the day. The day my husband called my son a fucking idiot. He’d been under strain, so when he’d previously referred to our son as a moron, or a loser like his dad (yes, my husband is my son’s father), I took it as a sign that he was struggling with himself. But when he said our son was a fucking idiot, I told him to get help…and, long story short, the help wasn’t sought and we eventually moved out. And the perfect life I thought we’d been leading was left shattered on the side of the road.
My life with my kids now is far from perfect – we’re broke after a $50,000 divorce; we live in a much smaller “fixer-upper,” a house built in 1988 by a woman who was apparently color blind or madly in love with Dusty Rose (and who wasn’t in ’88?). The house, which was previously supposed to be kept tidy at all times, is consistently in disarray while I paint, remodel, and change out light fixtures. We’ve added two hamsters and a dog to our family (or to our zoo, as I now like to think of it…) Our whole life has changed in ways I never saw coming.
But as I tell the kids on a regular basis…our life is now perfectly imperfect. Whereas before I was “white trash” if I left things in disarray, now those messes are a sign to me that my priorities are in the right place. Each little pile signifies time I spent with my children instead of on menial tasks. And every time I hear one of my kids talk about things they can’t do right – things that might, for example, make my son “a loser like his father,” it’s another chance to talk about how those imperfections are what makes him the whole human being that I absolutely adore.
At one point, I believed I held perfection in my hand. We had perfect jobs, the perfect home, perfect finances, and the perfect relationship (from the outside). And yet, every month, I had to endure a spouse who gave me the silent treatment, who adored one child and seemed to despise the other; one with whom we walked on eggshells for fear of setting off the hair trigger. The perfect shell was cracked and flawed where no one could see. Now, with our (rather messy) divorce behind us and our mistakes and flaws out where everyone can see, I find I’m happier now. I’m no longer trying to keep up that “Facebook image” of the perfect family; no longer trying to convince everyone that we were perfectly compatible at all times (we never fought, but that didn’t make us perfectly compatible).
Most importantly, though, through this process, I have taught my children that it’s okay to be imperfect…to color outside the lines, to swear sometimes, to be noisy when you play, to defend, loudly and vehemently, those things you most value – like your child’s self-esteem – and to stand up for yourself when someone demands a false perfection of you. If nothing else, I hope that when they have children, they can see in them the value of being “perfectly imperfect,” and teach their own children the value in being yourself…flaws and all.
My daughter asked today if we divorced because of that time that Daddy said the mean things to big brother. I told her no – there were a lot of things that contributed, but they were NOT to blame. She said, “you know…if anyone else ever talks to E like that, I’ll kick their butts. He might drive me nuts, but he’s MY family.” I’m glad to know she’s learned the importance of loving your not-so-perfect family.
Dominique Dobson is a writer, brand manager, and most importantly, a mom, in Portland, Oregon. She loves pressure-cooking, good coffee, and the idea of packing up and moving to France with her kids…although she’s not sure how well her sarcasm would translate. Dominique blogs at Entertaining Morsels.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the honorable mention entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Dominique’s story:
Korie: “What a courageous person you are. Your story is inspiring; thank you for writing.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “The vulnerability and bravery here is inspiring and touching. I feel like this is so many people – living a life meant to look perfect and terrified to have that fall apart. Bravo for telling it like it is, and loving where life has brought you.”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: ““At one point, I believed I held perfection in my hand.””
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
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One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
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Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net