Sunday, May 20, 2018

Gems with Imperfections

We were in the car and Chloe was playing with a toy the teacher had just given to her -- some kind of cute, stretchy pink bunny; kind of Gumby-like. After a few minutes, she stopped her squeals of joy and the backseat got quiet.

"'s broken," she said softly.

When we stopped the car I took a look and had to squint to see the teensy-weensy little part of the pink rubber material that had come off one pink leg.

"You mean THIS?" I asked. Chloe handed the bunny to me. She didn't even want to look at it. "It's broken now. I don't want to play with it anymore," she said sadly.

This has been a somewhat infuriating theme for several months now. While Chloe is not meticulous about things like her room, her clothes, or her appearance, if a toy shows the slightest sign of defect, she's done with it.

So when she misplaces one of her toys from the "Octonauts" set...or breaks a string on her little guitar...or notices paint wearing away in one spot on one of her bath toys, that's it. She loses interest. Well, except if we turn the house up and down to find the Octonaut toy. But that's an exhausting endeavor that seems fruitless when she loses it again two days later. If not two hours.

I have tried to figure out this whole thing, wondering if it has to do with some shades of perfectionism. Again, that word doesn't seem to fit quite right because this is a girl who steps all over the books on her floor wearing red rain boots and a blue winter coat with a rainbow dress -- with dirt on her face, "ready" for school.

"Chloe, the toy has just a tiny little mark," I'll say. "Nothing is absolutely perfect. You know, we still love you and play with you even though you're not perfect."

Of course this idea is lost on her. She just shakes her head when we say that and hands the toy back.

But it got ME thinking. An inanimate toy is one thing. People are another. Especially people that aren't your own flesh and blood, that you aren't kind of obligated to do life with. People who do things like talk too loudly; are always late; have interests completely opposite to mine; interrupt; read different kinds of books. And so on.

I live in a family of introverts. I'm probably the most extraverted of the introverts, but still prefer quiet...books...a cup of coffee and a blanket on a rainy day...deep conversation with one other person. We introverts tend to be sensitive, and we tend to be idealistic and maybe, yes, lean toward perfectionism. At least some of us.

We find it easy, I couldn't help but think, to discard people not unlike the way Chloe prefers to eschew a toy once she discovers a flaw.

Oh, how we love order. The friend that is always where she says she'll be when she says she'll be. The person who speaks thoughtfully without accidentally blurting a backhanded compliment. The one who doesn't act rashly or try to draw attention to herself.

We love people who are like us, when sometimes we need people to refine us.

If I give Chloe back a toy with an obvious imperfection, I can see how much it bugs her. She'll keep stealing glances at the black mark on the doll's arm or the missing piece. It's a subtle kind of nails-on-chalkboard feeling. But I think if she would give it awhile and allow herself to see the toy as a whole, maybe, just maybe after a little while she'd stop honing in on the imperfection and start having a little more fun again.

I saw that this morning when she picked up the guitar with one string broken and started strumming it once again. She began singing the simple song that I had taught her. She could still do that, even with the broken string.

The Velveteen Rabbit has always been one of my favorite stories. It's about what a boy's love does for a toy bunny. But what does loving that ragged rabbit do for the boy? It softens him in the same way the rabbit softens with age and years of play. He loves better.

I would like Chloe to be less picky about toys, but more than that, I'd love her to love better. I'd like ME to love better. Before we can truly "love our enemies," as the Bible tells us, we need to start by practicing with the people who maybe just irritate us sometimes.

Maybe we can remember that we all, even us, have our own unique set of annoying faults. Yes, we actually do!

We will never find the perfect friend, or spouse, or social group. We're going to have to do a bit of bearing with each other. Or else our other choice is to do Alone. Alone is not so bad sometimes -- especially for us introverts. But sometimes we need to take the plunge and do life with people. Life with people can be messy and infuriating and even heartbreaking. Also beautiful.