Archive for December, 2008

Success vs Failure

So it’s Christmas, and I just had an odd sort of moment when a lot of little things all came together into something bigger. (I’m sure there’s a word for that, but I’m a little too wacked out on decongestants and scary antibiotics to think of it right now – please forgive me.)

Anyway, so the day has ended with both my 4-year-old boys weeping themselves to sleep, one of them after melting down like something out of a ’70s disaster movie. And as I cuddled young Mr. Chernobyl, letting him sob into my shirt and trying to reassure him that everything would be fine, I had a strange sort of thought. It went like this:

“I bet a lot of parents out there would see Christmas day ending in a flood of tears, and call the day a failure.”

Certainly I can recall Christmases from my childhood, when my sister or I would flip out under the pressure of all that excitement, and my parents would seem… well, not just frustrated, but actually hurt by our outbursts.

And looking back, I sure understand why:  They’d worked their butts off finding all the right presents, keeping them hidden, wrapping them up, getting the tree up, baking the cookies and all those other Christmas traditions. And chances are money had been tight or relationships had been strained or work hadn’t been going well, which can make those “traditions” seem more like obligations sometimes. So they’d worked their butts off,  all in the hopes of achieving this picture-perfect Christmas day – children smiling and well-behaved and nicely dressed, everyone thrilled to pieces with their gifts, all the food delicious and perfectly cooked/baked/served, the tree gorgeous, etc. etc.

And to have a kid melt down in the middle of it, wailing about something dumb like a cookie falling on the floor, and never mind the plate full of perfectly good cookies just like it – it was the last one with green AND red sugar on it, and that made it SPECIAL… well, I’m sure it must have felt like a kick in the teeth to my folks.

So I thought of this, as I held my weeping son and realized that despite the weeping, I was calling the day a success.

Both boys loved the presents Santa had brought them, both boys loved the gifts Grandpa had shipped to us, they played with their new toys all day, Mr. Thorn cooked a delicious, simple dinner, and everything had worked out just fine.

Had the boys fought like weasels in a sack over one of the toys we’d thought they would be able to share well? Yep, they sure had. And had they screamed blue murder when we told them it was time to eat dinner? Yep. They sure did.

But I still call the day a success. And I realized that, just like fat acceptance, it all comes down to realistic expectations.

Would it have been nice if my kids hadn’t fought once today? Would it have been nice if I hadn’t been hang-dog sick for two days before Christmas? Would it have been nice if the day had NOT ended in young boys sobbing over nothing? Sure!

But actually expecting all that? That’s like the parenting equivalent of the Fantasy of Being Thin.

And just like the FOBT, those kinds of unrealistic expectations make us unable to see the successes in our lives when they do occur. Instead of seeing the wonderful things in our lives as wonderful, the FOBT creates this idea that nothing we do can be counted as a success UNTIL we are thin.

How many times have we fatties downplayed our accomplishments, because we didn’t want attention for them until we were thin? The FOBT says it’s not enough just to win an award, or earn a degree, or whatever. You have to do it, AND look like a supermodel at the awards ceremony, otherwise it just doesn’t count.

I remember, back before my kids came along and made me a SAHM for a few years, that the question I used to hate the absolute MOST in job interviews was, “What do you think is your greatest accomplishment?”

Y’all, I never had an answer. Never. Once, I actually told an interviewer that my greatest accomplishment to that point was “surviving.” To the ripe old age of 24. I wish I was kidding.

Now, having discarded my old FOBT, I look back on my life to that point and see lots of great things I’d done. I wrote an article for my local newspaper while in high school. I’d spent several summers as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp, where my duties included “facing off with raccoons gnawing on campers’ luggage.” I’d canoed down rivers (small, slow ones, but rivers just the same), I’d been the chief copy editor of my college newspaper, I’d competed in a slew of outdoorsy things, and won a few of them.

Y’all, I had cooked bacon, in a shovel, over an open fire, and not only were there no catastrophes, but that bacon was goooood.

But I’d never been thin doing any of those things, and so those accomplishments? They just never seemed to count. And so interviewers would ask me what achievement I was most proud of, and I’d just gape at them and feel like the world’s biggest failure.

Because the FOBT told me that until I was thin, I could never succeed. At anything. Even things that should have been unequivocal successes. Until I was thin, they fell onto the Failure side of my tally sheet.

So tonight, as I counted my not-perfect Christmas day as a success? I realized that it comes down to the same thing – having realistic expectations. It’s about deciding that “good enough” is actually, y’know… Good. Enough.

I had a good Christmas, regardless of the imperfections. And I learned some things about my kids and myself, and Mr. Thorn and I talked about what we might like to try to make next year even more enjoyable (note: NOT “better” in some freaky Competitive Christmasing kind of way, but actually more relaxed and y’know, enjoyable). And I found another reason to be glad that I’ve learned to make peace with myself, and another reason to be grateful for FA and the FA community (I lurk, even if I don’t comment much!). Which kind of makes it a pretty great Christmas, all in all.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope everyone had a Good Enough day today.

Cheers, y’all.

December 25, 2008 at 11:09 pm 5 comments


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