Rissa may look like me, but she gets her perfectionist streak from David. David comes from a long line of perfectionists. On his worst days, David will despair, "I'm not good at anything!!!" David is on crack when he says this.
"I'm a Jack of all trades and master of none," he huffs.
"Okay, first off, you're a David of all trades and master of most of them." And then I shoot him an angry eyeball, warning him that he doesn't want me to itemize the myriad of ways he is much, much better than your average bear at almost anything he sets his mind to. What he is not, is PERFECT at all of them. But he comes pretty frickin' close.
Rissa, since she began to move, has had the highest of expectations for her performance. I remember her wailing at Air Zone, at the top of the 30 foot inflatable slide saying, "I want to but I can't." Which makes sense, because her 3.5 year old gaze was on the 30 foot downward slope of primary-coloured plasticized fabric that I, at the age of 35, would have had to work up my nerve to propel myself down. I went up and carried her down, but she squared her shoulders and climbed up again and sat there, working herself up to it - all the while crying, as child after child went past her and down the 30 foot drop. All the parents in Air Zone, looking at me like I had set this Herculean task upon her toddler shoulders, when it was ALL her.
"Rissa, honey, you don't have to do this!"
"I want to but I can't!!!"
Cut to 11 years later... Dancing. Rissa has always danced. We have the obligatory naked baby dancing videos where she bounces to bagpipes and taiko drums from a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack. Like her father, she understands music and tempo. It's always served her well. As she gets taller and taller, her physical centre has shifted and the dance turns she had accomplished so easily last year, are, in her mind, now causing her grief. Lately, she comes home in near tears, having practiced her turns at the end of an already long day. David brings her home from the dance studio, throws me a sidelong, wide-eyed 'I don't know how to deal with this' look and shakes his head slightly in warning as he brings her into the house.
"I can't turn," says Rissa. It is obvious that one mislaid comment could send her headlong into hysteria...
"Tonight," I reply.
"You can't turn tonight. You're probably tired. Go have a shower."
Her face crumples.
"Okay, let's head upstairs," I say.
We flop onto the bed together. I smooth the tears off her face. My heart aches for my perfectionist child.
"I'll never be able to turn!!"
"Well that's patently untrue."
"You already have. I've seen you do it. You can't say that you'll never be able to do it, because you've already done it."
Her breath hitches in with fresh sobs. We're on the precipice of of true irrationality here... What I say next could make or break the situation.
"It's times like these," I say, "where you really need a shoulder gnome."
"A..." sniff, sniff... "What?"
"Shoulder gnome. It's a little gnome who sits on your shoulder and tells you when you should continue with something... or not."
Rissa's eyebrows meet in a scowl.
"So... you know... if you were... say, attempting to do something physically taxing at the end of a very long day, the shoulder gnome would grab you by the chin and say, 'Dude. Now. Is. NOT. The. Time.' And then if you try to ignore the shoulder gnome, it will slap you upside the face and say, 'Seriously. I'm. NOT. Kidding. Around. THIS. IS. A. BAD. IDEA.' "
The beginnings of smile touch the corners of her mouth. Then she frowns again as she glances at the clock.
"It's SO late! I still have to shower and I need to shave my legs."
"Why do you need to shave your legs tonight?"
"Because it's spring and I'm wearing capris now to school..."
"I can promise you that no one is going to notice your hairy ankles. Besides, no one should be close enough to your ankles," I give her a pointed look, "to know that they're hairy. Wait, unless they are the shoulder gnomes who have jumped down, then yes they will notice...They are notorious for noticing leg hair. 'Jerome - you won't believe the undergrowth this gal has on her stems!' Then they'll come at you with their miniature scythes and cut down your crop of leg hair, carting it off for sale in the local shoulder gnome black market, where all things human go for ridiculous amounts of gold."
And there it is, a real smile.
"Wait! How is the shoulder gnome going to hold onto my chin? They're just little."
I demonstrate with two of my fingers, indicating a shoulder gnome's arm length. I move her chin from side to side. "Do not underestimate the grasp of the shoulder gnome."
She laughs. The tension in my chest eases. She is back. My pessimistic perfectionist has retreated. I hug her, pressing my cheek to hers imparting through osmosis that our love is not dependent upon how well she turns, or whether she has an above 90 average or if her hair is straight - I can't say all that right now in case it sends her spiralling once more. So instead I say,
"Love you hon."
"Love you too Mummy."