I attended the latter half of grammar school at St. Casimir’s, a not-very-prestigious Catholic school that was so poor that (as far as I can tell) it was run almost entirely on the take of a weekly bingo night at St. Hedwig’s. And as you might have already guessed, the first time I heard about Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I got a good chuckle at the expense of my old alma mater.
Anyhow, one of the ways the school saved money was by having teams of four 6th graders do the dishes at lunch time. We rotated through weekly and were forced to sacrifice our half hour lunchtime recess to scrape plates, soak silverware, fill the dishwasher and put them away, like some kind of fucking orphanage. My mother was not thrilled with this arrangement, and was even decidedly vocal on the subject at home, but she wished us to have a private education and this was the best she and my father could afford. So every few weeks I was on dish detail, but then the health inspector came through on my off week, and the lunch ladies sent up the kids scheduled that week to trade them for the best dishwashers that week so the kitchen would pass inspection.
As it turned out, I was a crack Dish Rinser, so I was sent down with the other future bus boys. And that day I came home beaming and boasting about what a great sink operator I was. My mom listens, has a short quiet think and says to me “Well listen, if you want to go to recess instead of doing dishes, here’s what you do: just don’t do a very good job of the dishes.”
I paused, which did not happen often to Little Aleta. “But . . . I’m really good at doing dishes.”
“Yes, but wouldn’t you rather have recess?”
“I mean, yeah, but otherwise who is going to do a good job of the dishes?”
I (obviously) did not get it and was so good at a shit job that I got to do it all the time. Lucky me.
The school also saved money by having their 8th graders monitor the other grades on both recesses, because you know, teachers need breaks more than 13-year-olds, so two years later I was monitoring the 7th grade. Having 7th grader duty was kind of a treat because they were more or less my age, so I basically got to hang out with them AND be in charge. Rock star for an 8th grader. But after a small, rather bland act of rebellion, my teacher decided that I was not going to be monitoring at all any more because of the discord I had sown with my charges. So instead I had to stay in the empty 8th grade classroom all by myself at recesses as a punishment.
This time I came home, dejected, and explained to my mother what happened, all the while cringing at her inevitable condemnation of my misbehavior. She blinks and says, “So you don’t have to monitor any more? That’s great, now you don’t have to!”
“But! I’m in trouble!”
“I mean, I guess, except you got what you wanted. Is that the only punishment?”
“Well yeah, but…”
A few weeks later that same teacher, probably just then realizing what an idiotic punishment that is, started having me correct my classmates’ homework. She would correct mine and then I would use it as the key to grade everybody else’s.
This time I came home groaning. “Ugh, now I have to correct papers.”
“You know what you do, if you don’t want to correct papers…?”
I recalled this tale to my mom in a phone call the other night, and she said, laughing, “Well, you’re just such a perfectionist that you couldn’t imagine doing a bad job of anything!”
And that, there, was the moment of realization. Finally. I’m . . . a perfectionist? I mean, I knew I was an overachiever, but perfectionist?? I prefer to look a little messy, my car always needs to be vacuumed, and I don’t even understand why one would bother to make their bed, so this came as quite a surprise. But as it turns out, I am as much a perfectionist as ever, and now that I actually realize that I’ve been seeing my life through a different lens. Instead of feeling guilty for all the things I don’t get to because I have to do everything I actually get to exactly right, maybe I can just send that care package even though the box isn’t quite full, and that way I will have time to pick up some pastries rather than making them, but at least I brought something to the party instead of skipping it because I was out all night filling up a box.
Just gotta remember to slow down a little bit, breathe a little more, not read that email a fourth time before sending it just to make sure I didn’t reference the wrong person. Nothing wrong with doing a job right, but not every job requires the same level of energy.