I don't know if it's ALL nature vs nurture or vice versa. But I DO know that perfectionism is genetic. Rissa got her perfectionist streak directly from her father's side of the family... from her paternal grandmother to her father to her. From the ages of two to about seven, Rissa would melt down when she couldn't complete a task. She was unwilling to fail at anything. If she couldn't get it on the first try, that child imploded. She wasn't much of a tantrum thrower, but man that kid could simply refuse to communicate. She would hide behind chairs, tables, simply close her eyes to shut you out. The stubborn crossing of the arms stance was a staple reaction for my kid.
I remember her, age four, at AirZone. AirZone was one of those party places with jumpy castles, big slides and obstacle courses. Rissa was determined to go down the 20 foot slide. DETERMINED. It was a big frickin' slide. She got all excited and climbed to the top of that monster slide. Then she looked down the slide and understandably panicked. It was a LONG way down. She sat at the top of that slide for a good 15 minutes, letting child after child after child in front of her.
"Rissa sweetie, you don't have to go down honey. Just climb down the ladder. It's okay hon."
"Sweetie, it's okay. Just climb down the ladder..."
"No Mummy! NOOOOOOOO!"
I couldn't take it any more. My heart was about to burst. There was my little girl sitting up at the top of that slide quietly sobbing, mumbling to herself like some some sort of JK schizophrenic. I climbed up and went down with her - even though it was against the rules. The minute we reached the bottom, she climbed up again to the top, still determined that she would go down on her own.
"Sweetie, you don't have to do this. This is a big kids' slide..."
"Mummy I want to!"
"Then just go ahead and do it!"
"I want to!"
"You can do it!" I put on my best RAH! RAH! voice.
"I want to... "
"I want to... BUT I CAN'T!!!!!"
There might as well have been a pit of rabid, slathering Hounds of Hell, covered in barbed wire at the bottom of that slide, instead of a safe, bouncy landing - she was petrified. Desperate to go down, but terrified of the drop. Other parents in the joint looking at me like I'm torturing my kid. Don't look at me! I don't need her to go down the slide! This is ALL her. I am just a terrified bystander.
45 minutes we waited it out. Her yelling occasionally from the top, me doing my best to keep my voice calm and give her support. The backs of my legs were bruised from where I had wedged them so firmly under my chair seat to stop me from leaping up to rescue her. See, I'd said that I wouldn't come get her again. I'd drawn the line in the sand. Was it the wrong line in the sand? Probably. I should have probably climbed up again, hefted her under one arm and left the building, but for whatever reason, this rite of passage seemed to mean more to her than being the focus of attention for all the patrons of AirZone, so I was all in.
And sure enough after that 45 minutes and countless "I WANT TO... BUT I CAN'TS!!!", she went down. ONCE.
"I'm so proud of you sweetie! Good for you!!" How was I supposed to play this now? Do I encourage a second trip down? Do I just zip my lip? Zipping the lip is never really my thing. "Do you want to....?" I left the end of the sentence hanging there, my tone ambiguous.
"No, Mummy. I'm good. I know I can do it now." Then she ran off to be a four year old again.