“On plane with temporary wife.”
This is the text my husband almost sent, seconds before takeoff and a 13-hour communication vacuum. He caught autocorrect just in time. Lucky for him, or he would have found his earthly belongings strewn across our driveway as a welcome home. Wi-Fi to Wife is not much of a semantic leap, so all was forgiven. (Despite the fact he felt compelled to forward the original text anyway.)
I suspect that most of us maintain a love-hate relationship with autocorrect. She means well, like that kind acquaintance you bump into at a wedding who exclaims, “You look fabulous . . . I almost didn’t recognize you!” Sometimes the cost of these good intentions outweigh the benefits when it’s followed by the fallout of frustration and humiliation.
I’m no stranger to either.
To a writer-friend (edited), and her brilliant reply:
I’d be remiss here to ignore autocorrect’s next-of-kin, voice recognition: a lethal dose of homophones mixed with multitasking mess ups. I recognized its toxicity when I accidentally concluded a text to my teenage neighbor like this:
“You can scratch my back if you want to.”
He was our lawn boy. Of course.
A lawn boy that had no way of seeing that my 5-year-old, the intended recipient of my message, had just jumped on me and was waiting for his piggy-back-ride. (By all means, hold the voice prompt button down. Just remember to release it.)
I dread mistakes like this and the humiliation that comes with them. Especially when damage control involves explaining a rouge text to a 16-year-old who’s hopefully never seen The Graduate. It strikes at my ego in a way that makes me want to change out my grass with AstroTurf.
Despite the hiccups, I’m compelled to keep autocorrect and voice recognition around. I feel a deep kinship with them and their never-ending quest to get it right. From early childhood I’ve cultivated my own personal version of constant correction. I spent the first half of my life dodging every possible mistake. While I’ve enjoyed some success as an adult in perfectionist rehab, mediocre and below still smarts.
Sitting out a pandemic, it turns out, triggers my deep-seated drive for perfection in unprecedented ways. Maybe it’s all the spare time I have now to contemplate life, as I’m no longer carting kids to and fro throughout the earth. Or just all of those extra pockets of time I steal between explaining life cycles of a butterfly to my son (“Just write ‘metamorphosis is magic’ on your worksheet. No, I can’t spell it!”) and creating mnemonic math devices for my daughter. You know, for formulas that calculate things like cone volume—as someday this will be helpful if she works in an ice cream shop.
With so much going terribly wrong on the outside, the least I can do is make it good and perfect here on the inside.
It’s here, in the confines of home that my personal autocorrect tugs at me with unprecedented vigor. Now is the time to: “Declutter the basement, take a poetry class, cook vegetables with the kids and make them eat them, finish their baby books before I need to dream up milestones, read unread books, teach my daughter guitar, teach my son how to spell metamorphosis so he can get into college someday . . .” and the list goes on. With so much going terribly wrong on the outside, the least I can do is make it good and perfect here on the inside.
At least I thought I could, until:
The first decent weather day of confinement, I determined to pull my offspring from their PCs and dust them off. (The kids, not the computers.) Finally, I thought, a chance to ooze some perfection onto social media alongside all the others: togetherness, exercise, fresh air, glazed-over eyes. “We’re going on a bike ride to Grandma and Grandpa’s house,” I announced. My children twitched at their respective screens, and stared blankly back at me. It was a foreshadowing of the full-scale fail unfolding.
Fifty yards in, I knew this ship was sinking:
Exhaustion—from too much fresh air and sunlight, apparently.
Disappointment—upon arrival at the grandparents’ house, where social distancing precluded spoiling.
Frustration—as I rode back to get our car and haul my feeble children home. (Oreo and Sprite withdrawal)
Anger—when my minivan wouldn’t start because it sat dormant in the driveway for weeks.
Irritation—while biking back to my kids knowing this story could have ended happily if not for COVID-19. Like we would’ve even done a stupid bike ride . . .
Embarrassment—as one child lost her (metaphorical) cookies via the bike ride home. On a street, in front of passersby. My son theorized about who might accidentally ride through it. My daughter asked, obliviously, “Do I still get a grapefruit when we’re home?”
Anxiety—as we waited curbside and away from the crime scene for my husband to rescue us. (It’s a good thing I played nice after his airplane text.)
Finally, defeat—as I trudged home alone between the two bikes we couldn’t cram into the trunk. There is no way to salvage this. For the first time since pandemic-perfection turned on, I flipped the off-switch. It was a complete forfeiture as I pushed the bikes up the half-mile hill home.
Then, and only then did I see them: the rose and thorns, together.
Mudroom sister and writer Chelle A. Wilson paints this picture in a way I never could:
“I look at almost any trial of my life and see a flush of roses among the thorns. The perspective has taught me, in the words of my MIL [mother-in-law] teaching an old wisdom, ‘joy and sorrow live in the same house.’”
Here is beauty tangled in the ugliness, the imperfections, and the backdrafts. And perhaps it’s in these very places that it is most profound. I remembered Chelle’s words, plodding home, balancing bikes and feeling the pricks of perfectionist defeat. In that moment, I could finally embrace the exchange of perfection for beauty:
In a sky ablaze with orange and blue as the sun slid behind the foothills.
In the compassion of the walker who witnessed my daughter’s upheaval, and stopped to say she prayed for me.
In the solitude spilling forth as evening greeted the day—a gift easily overlooked in the fray of dirty dishes and bedtime stories.
In the text from a friend who somehow knew I needed a full-belly laugh.
In the solidarity of a fellow traveler who passed me saying, “Beautiful night!” Despite all that was terribly wrong with the world, her words felt strangely right.
Beauty, embedded with the pain.
Maybe the benefits of imperfection do outweigh the costs.
Like the God who loved a loveless world. A debt paid with his Son’s life. And a Resurrection rescinding perfection.
Isn’t that just like him, the rose-Maker.