Perfect is not about what we come to value as adults—the bigger house, or the ideal body. It's about something much simpler than that.
Well, it’s that time of year again—time to make New Year’s resolutions. I am especially bad at keeping them but, like most people, I always think that maybe this year will be different.
On New Year’s Eve I watched a film about the global sugar industry, so you can probably guess what my one resolution was for this year. Whether I'll stick to it I’m not sure, but I can take heart from the time I gave up lollies for Lent as a child, and pretty quickly decided that anything mint-flavoured surely didn’t count— I think there was some tenuous link to toothpaste in my mind.This exemption soon extended to green and white jellybeans, because they're close enough to mint, right? Finally it became any green or white lollies. Child-logic is the best.
Alas, my child-logic doesn’t quite operate as it used to, but I always find New Year's resolutions interesting—the strive for perfection, the need for self-improvement, the chastising, the guilt when it doesn’t quite work out.
We resolve to eat less, stress less; less sugar, less junk, less drinking, less spending.
The curse of perfect
Is it any wonder that we do this, though? These days we live in a world where ‘perfect’ is blasted at us from every TV screen and magazine ad: the ‘perfect’ body, the ‘perfect’ diet, the ‘perfect’ life.
Yet so many of us are struggling—with debt, redundancies, insecure housing, long commutes, unhealthy lifestyles. It makes me want to reassess what I think of as ‘perfect’, if there is such a thing. Do I really want to go into massive debt for the perfect house, or am I happy just to have a roof over my head? Do I really need to spend all my earnings on gadgets, furniture and clothes, or would I prefer the challenge of op-shopping, buying secondhand, swapping?
Would I rather have more money, or more time? I know which one I value more.
And that is why, when I first read Perfect by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood, it struck a chord somewhere deep down inside me. It brought me thundering back, for a moment, to my granddad’s veggie garden, eating peas straight from the pod in the hot sun. Or playing Freeze-chasey with the neighbourhood kids on a crisp, autumn afternoon, cheeks reddened, hair flying, heart beating in exhilaration.
Perfect is about all those moments of childish perfection. It’s about the magic of an Australian summer’s day spent with siblings, barefoot, eating cereal on the verandah, digging, running, drawing. The feeling of falling asleep, tired and secure and happy, as the glow and the chatter of adults filters into the dark through the slightly-open bedroom door.
Danny Parker’s simple verse is stunningly matched with Freya Blackwood’s illustrations —both seem to resonate with a quiet, heart-rending nostalgia. Blackwood is one of my favourite illustrators, and with her soft sketchy lines she captures the way children move and sit and interact like almost no-one else can. She tells me the story of my own childhood in pictures; big sister holding the hand of her younger siblings, leading the way, taking care to watch over them in the way that big sisters do. Blackwood based these characters on her friend’s kids, which may be one reason why her drawings are so exquisitely full of life.
Anyway, reading this book made me think that perfect does not mean wearing the latest clothes, going on a diet, or hitting the gym six days a week. Perfect is something else altogether.
Maybe my perfect was that moment in the garden last week, picking a ripe tomato and feeling it burst into flavour in my mouth. Or the moment the other day when my niece lay on the bed, smiling and cooing back to me and waving her fat little arms.
Or maybe it is right now, writing in the coolness of the verandah, as clouds gather overhead and the frangipani blossoms drift downwards.
Some fresh air and somewhere to breathe it.
So actually, I think I’ve changed my New Year’s resolution. It’s not going to be less sugar, or less food, or less products, or less of anything. But more of these moments. More noticing. More life.