An honest conversation with my Mom

I was telling her about some of Kat’s anxieties, and perfectionism tendencies, and how she reacts when presented with scenarios she perceives to be negative.

“I don’t know how I ended up with this kid,” I tell my mom, mostly joking.

“You don’t?! Well….I can think of a few stories. When you were in preschool you couldn’t stand having any part of a coloring page be colored out of the lines, you would throw it away at the first mistake. You would get so upset at any crinkled papers, you would yell at me not to look at them and throw them out. Once you started to refuse to make your bed. I always required you to make it, but I also fixed it after you made it. The very fact I did that showed you it wasn’t good enough, and so you refused to do it at all because you couldn’t do it perfect. You cried when you got any school marks below the highest grade you could. You couldn’t tolerate any conflicts at all, you were so afraid that any conflict that people had with each other, even if it didn’t involve you, meant they were mad at you or that you had screwed up somehow. You were so much like Kat. Kat tends to yell and fight and kick out at people, though, while you never did that. You just tried harder to make people happy with you.”

“When I was her age, though? Really? She’s not even 5 yet.”

“Hmmm….yeah. I would say by 3, you had a perfectionistic streak, and a people pleasing steak….the people pleasing streak was kind of magnified by that perfectionist. And by Kat’s age, oh yeah, you were just like that,” Mom says.

“Yeah. Okay. I’m perfectionistic now. I believe it.”

We talk about how I make sense, being the child of two perfectionists who hate conflict and like happy, how our motto is almost “it’s not good enough” and how my little brother doesn’t make sense. His motto is “it’s fine, it’s not broken, it’s good like it is.” Two kids, one so much like her parents, the other the opposite. Mom talks about how she felt awful when the bed making incident happened, that she never wanted to make me into a perfectionist. I tell her I feel the same about Kat.

She tells me when I was 8, my perfectionist tendencies turned more OCD, and I would easily blame myself for anything that went wrong, be horribly upset and try to fix it if people weren’t happy and getting along. “You turned out all right, but sometimes I think I should have done something when you started being so obsessive.”

I don’t remember becoming obsessive, I’m just me. “What did I become obsessive about?” I ask.

“Oh, everything. Doing homework assignments days in advance and then checking and rechecking them, just in case something was wrong. You had this schedule in your head, and you would become panicked if we were off your schedule even by a minute. Being late wasn’t okay. You had to have all your clothes perfectly ironed, no wrinkles. You brushed your teeth after every meal, snack and would brush them 3 times. I don’t know what else. You would rewrite your notes from school to make your handwriting perfect, one letter looking a little messy was cause to start over,” Mom tells me.

It seems a lot changed when I was 8. I wonder what caused my behavior. Was it Kenny? But why when I was 8? That’s third grade. I have almost no memories that year. I remember my teacher, her high pitched voice. What else? I’m at a loss. There are no family, school, Holliday, vacation, ballet, gymnastics, horseback riding memories.

“Huh. Well, I don’t obsess to much anymore,” I tell mom. We both laugh because it’s not true.

We finish talking after another half hour or so. The question of what happened when I was 8 that made me change so much lingers in my mind.

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14 thoughts on “An honest conversation with my Mom

  1. I became very harsh with myself at that age, a direct correlation to being attacked in my view. I thought myself so bad and so horrible during my practicing at piano for an upcoming lesson, because instead of knowing the notes I followed the numbers above the notes which were meant to tell what fingers to use.
    I just sobbed over how ‘bad’ I was for doing that, when the truth is, that was a very smart thing to do that anybody else would do too. From that time onward due to the more and more attacks and feeling blamed, I was different from all others, bad, shamed, no good, dirty, Oh my, i don’t need to keep going, you get the gist. The searing loneliness started there along with the other thoughts and ideas about myself that buried me.

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  2. I hate that you felt this way. I wish i could take a magic eraser and make it all go away for you.
    I wonder if that is an age where maybe we become more more aware of things…maybe realizing it wasn’t just a game, I don’t know. I just wonder, what happened to change my behavior? You know. It’s terrible how harsh we could be with our young selves. I guess now we learn to be kinder. Xx

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    • Well, for me it started at age 8, at least as far as I can tell. Sometimes I wonder because no one tells me nor do I ask, and details are pieced together by my own memory which can be sketchy. But I know for you it started much earlier. But perhaps at age 8, yours worsened? To the point of blocking it out?
      I am still learning about being kinder, sometimes making headway, other times wonder if I’ve made any progress at all!
      Your caring is the magic eraser.
      I can think about it, and share it without it hurting.
      I found the similarities interesting and worth some thought.

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      • Memory can be so skethcy. Bea suggested that because age 8 is typically the age when magical thinking ends, perhaps it wasn’t anything that got worse, just that I had to find other coping mechanisms– hence the OCD. It makes sense to me.
        You are one of the kindest, most sincere people i know. Your kindness and empathy just show through your words. ❤️xx

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      • I was wondering about doing things repetitively or until perfect…perhaps an outlet for anxiety of which I must have had some even as a child considering how it grew as I grew and became very much a problem throughout most of my adult life.

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    • Right? So much seems “normal”– and in a way it is, its your normal, my normal– but it often takes someone else doing things differently or someone pointing it out to us, for us to reconize the rest of the world doesn’t think like this. I think its okay to be a perfectionist, we just have to learn balance and get rid of all those “shoulds.” 😊

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  3. Anxious Mom says:

    Reminds me a lot of my younger self. I thought I was the only one who would rewrite notes. I was so obsessive about that (among other things) and my notebooks, that when the spirals of one notebook would get funky that I would rewrite the entire notes from a notebook into a new one.

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    • Oh man….do I ever remember doing that, too. I hated it when the spirals got all weird. 😕 Do you remember what age you were when that started? I was talking to my therapist about it, and she suggested that the OCD became a thing when I was 8 because that is the typical developmental age when magical ends, and so I needed something else to help me cope. Maybe because I have so few (by which I mean none…) memories of that year, I find this very interesting and curious.

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  4. Anxious Mom says:

    I remember doing it as young as 10. My dad and first stepmom were huge perfectionists, but they separated about that same age. I’m trying to remember any peculiar little habits I had before that, but can’t remember a lot since I kinda existed in my head a lot until I got into the 5th grade.

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      • Anxious Mom says:

        Something else to read up on I guess. It wasn’t until you asked about the age and I tried to remember that I realized just how poor my memory from stuff as a kid is. There are some things that really stand out, but otherwise a lot of it is just blank.

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      • My memory was either very clear, with the things that really stand out, or not there at all. I really believe is from dissociation. There’s a lot of information out there about this, and that book talks about it, too. The more I talk about the past and work through things, the more memories seem to come back.

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