I am over 50 and I should know better. I should know that life isn't always what it seems, that everyone is just doing their best and that perfect is a dangerous fantasy. But somehow, deep, deep into adulthood, I still hold on to childish dreams.
It is much easier to imagine that other's lives are perfect and that I can never measure up, than to realize no one's life is perfect and I just need to work hard to make mine better.
Perfect Marriage: I have a very close friend, a go-on-vacation-together, close friend. We brought our children up from birth and forged a deep friendship that comes from sharing that pivotal moment in life. Geography eventually separated us, but we barely missed a beat. I love her and her husband, but my love for my friend was mixed with deep envy. I wanted her marriage.
She had the best marriage I had ever seen. It appeared to be almost effortless perfection. I would have sworn that to you any minute of the day, any day of the week until the day she called me in tears. Her marriage was not as it had seemed to her or to me. There had been deceit and the pain and shock of it was tearing her apart.
Over the course of years, she and I would spend hours examining why women stay in marriages and why we leave. We drew even closer together, and found greater honesty in our friendship. We delved deeply into what we loved about the men we had married, the men we had chosen to be the fathers of our children, and why marriage is hard.
I watched my friend rebuild her marriage, an effort that was never effortless to begin with. In the end, her less-than-perfect marriage taught me far more than a perfect one ever could.
Perfect Mother: I have another friend who is the perfect mother. Before you laugh, let me explain. She has seven children, some she received in the delivery room, some from other countries, some are multiple births and some are singletons and they all arrived in her home in the space of seven years. It is a lively, happy well-adjusted brood of thriving kids.
My friend has a huge corporate job and never seems to be anxious, out of control, or even in-over-her head. When many of us seem to barely be able to manage with one, two or three kids, she appears to effortlessly manage with seven. If she were not one of the sweetest people to grace the Earth, you could hate her. But instead, you just want to be her.
We are longtime sideline pals and I have stood beside her, or her equally calm and wonderful husband, at countless soccer games. Never has either of them said a sour word about a child or made a disparaging comment about a coach. But yesterday she told me she was nervous, really nervous. I looked at her face and saw something I had never seen before. The kids were in a big game and as a mom she couldn't help feeling tense for her son. She was truly shaken, and suddenly she looked quite mortal to me.
The danger, of course, in admiring what isn't, is failing to see what is. It is a lesson I should have learned watching the Wizard of Oz at age five, but somehow I missed it, or simply chose to ignore it. I am over 50 and I should know better.