Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.
In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good.
I don’t remember quite when I decided that a flawless report card was going to be my “thing.” I didn’t go to elementary school (a post for another day) and I certainly earned some B’s and even a C in middle school, so it must have been after that. I don’t even think it was premeditated; I was not some kind of Rory Gilmore, obsessed with Ivy League admission. I just kept getting A’s for a long time, and then after a while I had to get them. I had to take Driver’s Ed pass or fail, had to argue about that quarter report card B in AP Chemistry, had to work wildly hard to get better at typing, lest any of these classes be the one to “ruin” my perfect grade point average. It wasn’t healthy, by any means, but it’s the kind of unhealthy that no one seems to bother with too much in teenage girls. I was eating enough, avoiding risky relationships and underage everything, so this grade fixation? It will pass.
I had more than one resolution at the beginning of this month, but the most concrete one, the one that I focused on and talked about and even wrote about, committing it to the dangerous accountability of an audience, was the No Bad Weather Project. Every day in 2020, we’d go outside. No matter the weather or how we felt about it, we’d be leaving the house intentionally and doing something out of doors. I bought my girls these yellow rain suits they loved, and we tumbled out of the house often.
But not every day. Of the 31 days in January, we spent time outdoors on 27 of them. On my first month of this resolution, I earned an 87%, a solid B.
High school Kristi’s eyes widen in horror.
I may never forget the first time someone told me that my grades were a problem. I was sitting across the table from a teacher I hoped would allow me to work in her classroom for six months. I didn’t know her yet, my future mentor, a woman who exuded confidence and energy in a way that I, twenty-year-old reluctant student teacher, did not. She told me that she’d looked over my resume, and she had only a few reservations.
Only a few, I thought to myself nervously. Not negative ten? Not so many reasons to take me on that she couldn’t decide where to start?
She confessed that she was “not religious at all” and that she “liked to swear sometimes,” and hoped that these wouldn’t be irreconcilable differences. I assured her that they wouldn’t.
“Good,” she continued. “Well, the other thing is your grades.”
I almost laughed. If I were less nervous I would have. Knowing her better, I would now. But then, I just stared. Gone was the polished 4.0 of high school, but what remained in its place was only dented by a few marks. I’d thought my grades were good, had been making peace with their strong-but-not-perfect fine-ness. Apparently this wasn’t good enough.
“My grades are…” I stammered, sensing a response was required.
“Your grades are good. Really good. Too good.”
“Well, here’s the thing. You’ve been working hard and studying and doing all this, and that’s great. And you’ll get to the classroom, and you’ll keep working hard and preparing and doing everything right. Your lessons will be great, because that’s the kind of work you do, this tells me.”
I nodded. So far, this was all accurate. I wasn’t a confident teacher, but I was certainly going to work hard to figure this out.
“But sometimes,” she continued, “Sometimes you’ll do everything right, and it won’t even matter. At all. Your lesson will go terribly, and it won’t be your fault. But it will still be terrible. Even though you were prepared. And I’m just wondering how you’ll deal with that. Or if you’ve thought about it at all. I’m wondering if you’ll be able to move on when it all goes wrong.”
Someone told me last week that this month was tied for the most rainy days in January in Seattle’s history, which meant that on 28 days out of 31, it was raining. (People who don’t live here: This isn’t normal. The average is only 15 days.) So there’s that.
For us, this January also featured four doctor visits, only one of which was planned. Two were during snowstorms, one late at night. We’ve been visited by mysterious fevers and strep throat and pinkeye. Yesterday I changed our calendar over to February, lingering on the symphony I couldn’t go to and the weekend with friends that had to be rescheduled because I was too sick to be there. It has been a month.
I write this down not to make excuses, because I don’t feel like I need to, but because at the end of this quite frankly difficult month, I’m honestly pretty happy with the 87%. Did we go out every day? No, not quite. But did we leave our house more than we would have otherwise? For sure.
Somewhere in the middle—on one of the days when I thought that I’d rather be done with having a throat at all, whatever the consequences of that may be, than keep dealing with the one I had—Luci asked me what we were doing outside that day. It was, predictably, raining. But she looked out, then at me, and said, “Can we go outside today? We have to! It’s good for our bodies!”
I may never forget that first conversation with my mentor teacher, because it was the beginning of one of the more grace-filled relationships of my life. It’s not that my parents or siblings or friends had lacked grace; rather, I had never failed as much as I was about to, as a brand-new teacher. And there, right at the beginning, was someone telling me that how I moved on from failure, from imperfection, from disappointment with myself and with factors out of my control, would define me as a teacher. The grace came from her, yes, an accomplished teacher who met my frustrations with patience, respect and humor, but more importantly I learned to extend it back to myself.
I will fail at this, I’d say. But I’m still just learning.
Quoting an Italian proverb, French Enlightenment writer Voltaire once wrote that “the best is the enemy of the good,” an aphorism that many have adopted as an antidote to perfectionism. If perfection is the only thing that will make you happy, then you’ll be sad a lot. Life is better when we’re happier about what’s gone right than worried about everything that went wrong.
Returning from the doctor today with our most recent conjunctivitis diagnosis, I look outside to the grey drizzle, and back to the daughter who should probably stay in her room for a while today. We’ll make popcorn and watch Tangled in a bit, and probably leave the flooding lake for another day. I look ahead to the week, considering the ramifications for ballet lessons and church and other places and engagements that we may or may not keep. It’s not always up to me, I remember. We do our best, I remember.
And I remember myself at twenty, frightened new teacher, learning to be kind to herself, and she smiles back at me now. You’re still learning. Learning to deal with disappointment. Learning your limits. Learning to love the rain. You’ll keep learning.
Eleven more months to go.