The Perfectionist and her Violin

by | Dec 3, 2013 | Defining Success | 36 comments

T here are certain days when we feel our lives change profoundly, days we remember for a lifetime.

Listening to my daughter practice in the other room, I could tell something wasn’t right.

It wasn’t just the scratch and whine of the notes. Something wasn’t right emotionally. I felt an uncomfortable tickle in my stomach. My muscles tightened.

“It’s just violin practice!” I chided myself. “What could possibly be wrong?”

As a scientist, I don’t really believe in a sixth sense or the ability to read minds–unless you’re talking about mothers.

Maybe fathers have it too, but mothers definitely have a special connection to their children. We cut one cord at birth, but maybe there is another cord that remains. I don’t know. But this was one of those moments.

I walked in, trying to appear casual. I’m pretty sure I was shaking. “What’s going on?”

“My nose hurts.”

Her nose? How do you hurt your nose playing a violin? “Do you have a cold?” I asked.

“No. I hit myself in the nose because I was angry I couldn’t get the notes right.”

My heart dropped and only a great deal of will kept me standing. This was serious. Left unchecked, this could increase her risk of cutting or anorexia later in life. I remember how surprised I was to learn most anorexics are straight-A students. Anorexia is less about body image than it is control.

I felt a mixture of sadness and anger—anger at myself for causing this, sadness for failing to protect her … from herself. I thought we’d made so much progress on dealing with her perfectionism.

And there it was: expecting perfection in the fight against perfectionism. What I was trying to cure in my daughter was still alive and well in me. She worries about monsters under the bed, I worry about the monster inside.

So we talked about kindness, how she would never hit a friend simply because they couldn’t play a song on the violin. Why do to herself what would be unacceptable to someone else?

This seemed to make an impact. She got that surprised look on her face, perhaps realizing the world doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.

Of course I’ve been at this long enough to know there is no cure, only a consciousness that allows us to catch ourselves in the act and minimize the damage. While I hope she won’t hit her herself again, chances are we’ll both be needing this discussion again.

But when have words ended any feud?

I hugged her. I tried to infuse her with love through my embrace, as if it could permeate the skin and cross the blood-brain barrier.

And she, with the special wisdom all children seem to possess, tried to do the same for me.

Then she picked up her violin and started to play: still scratchy, but sweet.