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My daughter is learning to overcome perfection—through tie-dye

mother and young daughter at home
Tanya Yatsenko/Stocksy

I’m a worrier.

I’m high-strung.

I can be an alarmist.

I fret about expiration dates and food poisoning.

I panic about black ice and running out of gas in the cold.

I stress about overdrawing from my bank account,  what my boss thinks of me and if I’m forgetting an important tax form.

And I worry about my kids, of course.

I try to go with the flow. I try to be chill. I try to be laid-back. And, honestly? I really am. When it comes to their general well-being and their moral upbringing, I am conscientious, conservative and careful. But when it comes to parenting, overall, I’m pretty cool. I’m surprisingly easygoing.

My kids sleep when they’re tired, eat when they’re hungry and bathe only when they need to. We don’t have strict routines. We don’t do flashcards to train for kindergarten. We don’t have chore charts. They sit on the table and fall asleep on the couch and watch YouTube Kids and, upon request, sometimes have mac and cheese at 9 am (sometimes even while watching YouTube Kids).

My lackadaisical approach, then, as you can infer, is actually quite deliberate. You see, I’ve known since my daughter was tiny that not only did she inherit my migraines, but my whole hypersensitive nervous system. The whole mess of it. All children can be worriers, but I imagine she will tend to be on the anxious side. Shortly after turning three, as we were packing for a beach trip, she asked, “Mom, will there be paper towels there? What if there are no paper towels there?” Last week, she woke up from a nightmare and told me she was never EVER sleeping again. (She is so stubborn that this somewhat terrified me, but I’m happy to report she has since slept.) Last evening she asked what she should do if the sleeve of her coat ever ends up inside-out at school and she can’t fix it herself. Relaxed as I try to be around her, her own mind takes her in this direction, just like my own mind tends to do the same. She gets embarrassed easily. She is a perfectionist. Her curiosity is so persistent that it spirals into frustration. For me, it’s like looking in a mirror. Sometimes, this makes me feel sad and scared.

What is it even called when you worry about how much your child worries? Should I be worried I’m overthinking it, or that I’m not worrying enough?

Yesterday, though, brought me peace. She spilled a little hot chocolate on her white shirt. It was a play shirt, but white nonetheless, immediately noticeable. And do you know what she said? “It’s okay. We’ll just tie-dye it.”

Tie-dye? Ahh—of course.

This past July, when my best friend Amanda came to stay with us for the week over my birthday, we spent one glorious summer afternoon tie-dying everything we could get our hands on. We agreed this must become an annual occurrence and vowed to begin collecting white items sooner rather than later. So yes, my daughter has heard me say: “That can go in the tie-dye pile” or “We’ll just tie-dye that when Aunt Amanda visits” or “Oh look, you got a jump-start on tie-dying that.”

But see, while she’s heard me say it, I don’t know that I’ve said it recently. I think this means she’s taken it to heart.

Talk about small victories. I got something right. I’m going to go ahead and celebrate that I got something right.

Now I just need to take it to heart.

For as many chocolate milk spills as we’ll have this year, there will be opportunities to tie-dye. Chances for do-overs and for making amends. For growth. For the comfort and healing we find in creativity. For second chances that lead to more beauty than we could have imagined. For flaws turned into art and the joy we find in the transformation.

Of all the things my little girl has ever said, this has brought me, perhaps, the most happiness.

So let’s do it. Let’s tie-dye our play shirts this year. Let’s tie-dye our professional projects and friendships and our journey through motherhood. Let’s tie-dye our hearts this year. If at first you don’t succeed—if at first everything is too messy, just dye it, dye it again. Tie-dye is always prettier than perfection anyway.