Several years ago, Daniel and I went to Paris. It was our first time, and predictably, I fell in love with the City of Lights. I remember the first time I tried that famous French confection, the macaron. We had taken the train from Paris out to Versailles, the country estate of the kings of France, and in the entrance of Versailles, there was an outlet of Laduree, the most famous of French macarons provisioners. This jewel-box of a store was a vision of pastels, with elegant tiered displays of the most beautiful macarons you’ve ever seen. We indulged by purchasing a small box. After lunch that day, sitting by one of Versailles’ many gilded fountains, we opened the signature mint green box and feasted our eyes on the jewel-toned macarons: raspberry, mango, lemon, pistachio, hazelnut, chocolate. We each took a bite and savored the delicate crunch of the macaron against its soft buttercream filling. It was a perfect Paris moment.
When we got back to the States, I sought to recreate that macaron moment for Dragon and Hannah. We looked up a recipe and read it out loud. We found a Fine Cooking video of pasty chef Joanne Chang making classic French macarons: beat the egg whites until PERFECTLY fluffy, FOLD the almond meal into the egg whites, but don’t OVERFOLD or you’ll deflate them. With a pastry bag, pipe PERFECT circles onto a baking sheet… the instructions went on and on, with lots of warnings and caveats. We watched that video half a dozen times, but instead of making me more confident, the voluminous instructions started to overwhelm me. I didn’t have any of the equipment to make this easy — no stand mixer to whip the eggs, no pastry bag. So before I started, I had already given up.
But by this time, I had filled my kids with promises of the colorful cookies made in all their favorite flavors, and they were ready to take this on. Dragon, who was about 11, came up and put his arm around me. “Mom,” he said, “we can do this. We’ve watched the video, we know what to do. It’s a cookie. It’ll be fine.”
And so it was. With his quiet confidence, Dragon was able to sweep away my perfectionism, my fear of wanting so badly to get it right. It’s not that perfectionism is terrible — holding yourself to high standards can be a good thing. To be honest, I used to be kind of proud that I was a perfectionist. But as I got older, I realized that perfectionism is a straight path to fear — fear of not doing it right, fear of the embarrassment of failing — and that’s all a fear of judgment. Perfectionism isn’t a good thing — it’s a handicap. It’s an impediment to trying new things.
Dragon always had an easy-going self confidence about him. It’s not that he feared failing, it was more that he was unafraid to try. You didn’t have to do things perfectly, not the first time around. What was the worse that could happen? You’d scrap what you started and just start again! It’s a trait and a belief that I have to credit Daniel for instilling in our children: Don’t be afraid of looking silly. No one’s looking at you anyway. Just try, and learn. And so, Dragon and Hannah tried a lot of new things — public speaking, lego robotics, Tae Kwon Do, computer programming, jazz trombone, swimming an ocean mile. Some things stuck, some things didn’t. But Dragon didn’t get hung up on whether he would excel, and because of that attitude, he often did.
As parents, we don’t normally think that we learn from our children. It’s our job, we believe, to teach them, not the other way around. But, in raising Dragon and Hannah, we’ve had to come to terms with deficiencies in ourselves. Sometimes we’re lucky and can correct our behavior before passing along our faults. Other times, we see our faults in our children, and how unattractive is that?! But every now and then, we find that our children teach us how to be better versions of ourselves. Thank you, Dragon, for being my teacher. You were the child that first taught me how to be a mom. I am still learning from you even now.