Collin Garvey is a spirited seven-year-old boy, filled with passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Seeing the world through his big, blue eyes is nothing short of pure joy. Through his eyes, the world is bursting with opportunity…filled with possibility…brimming with beauty.
One December afternoon I was sifting through Collin’s green backpack. It was filled with first grade homework assignments, graded papers, PTO announcements and a flyer for the Young Author’s program at his school. We didn’t participate when Collin was in kindergarten and after seeing the precious books created by other children in the neighborhood, I regretted our decision.
“Collin,” I asked, “would you like to write a book for Young Author’s this year?” I was hoping he would say yes.
“Sure,” Collin answered. I half suspected his response was as much motivated by his desire to get his hands on a pre-bound, unprinted book as it was to actually write a story. Regardless of his motivation, I was happy with his answer.
In his backpack a couple of weeks later, I found the official instructions for the book. Being in the thick of the holiday season, I put it aside, focusing instead on the seasonal responsibilities and festivities. We didn’t give much thought until a week before the submission deadline. I rushed out to buy the blank, bound book, handed over a pencil, eraser, black marker, and colored pencils…and let Collin at it.
Collin and I talked about possible topics for the book. The way I understood the assignment, Collin was supposed to create a fictional work, something he would create with characters and a plot. Collin, however, wanted to write about cars, a non-fictional, fact-based book.
“OK,” I thought, “we’re not doing this to win, we’re doing this so Collin can enjoy the experience of creating a book … HIS book. If he wants to do something outside of my comfort zone by not following the directions to the letter of the law, so be it. This isn’t about me.”
So Collin wrote about cars and drew pictures of cars and wrote about being safe in cars and rules of the road. He wrote directly in his pre-bound, hard cover book. He made mistakes. He left stray marks un-erased. He misspelled words.
I adored his creation and watching him create. I corrected nothing. And it felt good.
See, this was the day I officially decided to remove perfection from my parenting equation. The pursuit of perfection doesn’t fit with what I truly want for my children: to help them develop their confidence, creativity, compassion and most of all, happiness. The people I know who pursue perfection aren’t terribly happy. Desiring perfection stifles their creativity. It squelches their attempts to get organized and do things they love to do. I know this first hand, because I used to strive for perfection.
Collin finished up his book the morning it was due at school. We turned it in feeling satisfied with how much we both enjoyed the process. Collin was happy with his book. I was so proud of Collin and his creation.
The weeks passed by and we hardly gave a second thought to Collin’s book until one day an envelope arrived in our mailbox. The black print on the envelope read “The Parent’s of Collin Garvey.” The return address was the school board office. I figured inside I’d find a form letter announcing a new program or initiative within the school district. But I was wrong. To my surprise, I found a letter congratulating Collin on being selected to represent his school at the statewide Young Author’s conference. I guess no one noticed Collin colored outside the lines … or maybe it just didn’t matter.
I don’t think Collin understands that going to the state conference is something special — an honor. In fact, he’ll likely be annoyed by having to miss his baseball game to attend. And I’m certain Collin doesn’t understand — even slightly — the gift he gave me the day he decided to write about cars, misspell a few words and create something far better than perfect.