The art of making mistakes / by vanessa

This morning I hosted a palm reading workshop. Lest I be accused of being too New Agey, I served carbs. Alexi, our palmist, took pains to caveat what this type of palm reading will NOT get you. Writing to a decidedly LA audience, she offered: You will not learn when you will become famous or make millions of dollars or when you will meet The One. Cool, dawg. Rather, she teaches that subconscious patterns are represented as lines on your hands and you can use the knowledge of those to be more aware of your own choices. Years ago my friend Jenny used to do handwriting analysis. "If it's in the writing," she'd say, "it's in the person." I drew imaginary parallels. And because I am nothing if not borderline neurotic, I needed to learn what my hands revealed. Alexi began class telling a Jack Canfield story. Someone mentioned that he wrote Chicken Soup For The Soul. She recounted the story of a research scientist named Robert Something-or-other known for his innovative approach to problem solving. The scientist, when asked to what he attributed his success, told about an early experience with his mother. At about two years old, he was trying to remove a bottle of milk from the fridge. He lost his grip and the milk spilled all over the floor. His mother, rather than getting annoyed, invited him to play in the milk for a few minutes. Then, after he had played, she encouraged him to return the mess to its proper order and asked him if he'd like to choose a sponge, towel or mop to clean it up. Once it was cleaned up, she offered that he just had a failed experiment and then took him out the backyard to try and carry the milk bottle again with water. Consequently, Robert grew up unafraid of making mistakes.

You know that thing where you sign up for something expecting one thing and then get an entirely different thing but it's exactly what you needed? That.

Jonah has been in the midst of potty training. He has it mostly handled, except for when he doesn't. Like the other night as he stood peeing on a chair in the kitchen, five minutes after I had taken him to the potty and he insisted he didn't have to go. So I was pissed (ha!) when he looked back at me while the urine pooled around his feet and dripped onto the kitchen mat I had just washed. "Oh no!," he said, once he finished. "Not even cool, Jonah," I scowled. "Why didn't you just tell me?" My tone scared him and his bottom lip quivered. He started to cry. I could not have felt smaller.

When I was four years old, I was trying to reach for a pencil that had rolled under the blender. It was small and green without an eraser, the kind used for keeping score at miniature golf. As my little hand reached under the machine, the glass jar tipped over and shattered all over the counter. I remember the white flannel nightdress with pink carnations I was wearing at the time my dad got out of the shower, found the mess and spanked me in punishment for being so careless.

This is not THE reason I am a perfectionist. It's a thing in my past that I remember vividly that seems somewhat connected. As an adult, I understand that my parents did the best they could. As I do with Jonah. But as an adult, I also know that it's my job to learn for myself that it's okay to make mistakes if for no other reason than not passing on a fear of screwing up to my sweet little boy.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Alexi gave each of us an assignment until the next workshop. I had not told her about the impact of the Jack Canfield story. "Your lesson, Vanessa," she said, "is to make at least 20 mistakes this week."