It was a constant refrain on my daily commute in London. I found the note of caution reassuring. The dulcet tones of the announcer soothed my unprepared head for another day in the workplace. Every morning that I successfully negotiated the gap, I felt that I had at least already accomplished something with my day. I had avoided the peril of the gap. On more inebriated night travels home, I traversed the gap like Indiana Jones in ‘The Temple of Doom’, it was quite a spectacle so I was told. I indulged in flights of fancy of people sliding between tube and platform like elongated slippery cartoon characters disappearing into a Dr.Who like vortex never to be seen again. Disappointingly, in all my years in London, I never witnessed so much as a stumble across the gap.
Mind the Gap has different connotations for me these days. I have a strong mean streak of perfectionism running through me, combining with a liberal dose of the control freak gene. IT and I do regular battles. My perfectionism now comes with a health warning to ‘Mind the Gap’. That yawning abyss-sized chasm between my expectations and what I can realistically hope to achieve & accomplish and the standard to which I do so. I have evolved strategies to keep it firmly in its place, because IT has the power to suck the joy out of simple daily living. Periodically, it just feels the need to rear its perfectly ugly head and get some oxygen. These traits combined with a vivid and often overactive imagination (which, being the imagination of a struggling perfectionist, creates delusions of such detail that Monet in his grave would be jealous) can cause me and those nearest and dearest to me a fair bit of grief.
A drive towards perfectionism can (if unchecked) lead to a serious case of immobility in all areas of living. If an anything less than a perfect result is going to be categorised as failure, it can just feel easier not to try: not a good way of being. Add the judgmental ego of my resting bitch face persona and we’re on our way to brewing a perfect storm in a beautifully-crafted bone china teacup. It’s just as well I have been blessed with my fair share of lazy bones, determined stubbornness and laissez faire attitude that give my perfectionist tendencies a run for their money.
With the benefit of hindsight, my reaction to the gap between my reality and my expectations also can provide me with countless occasions of comic relief. It has taught me that it is essential to laugh at myself, and how I set myself up. Some occasions are very mundane, none of them very profound. They do at least reinforce my certain knowledge that I am after all “human” with all the idiosyncrasies, foibles and imperfections which that entails. So hear me in my best tube announcer’s voice shout “MIND THE GAP” and let me share some of the times that I didn’t.
1: Every year encouraging (no; actually insisting that) the children decorate the christmas tree.
Expectation: Fairy dust, mince pies, carol singing around the hearth and a beautifully colour coordinated, perfectly proportioned & elegant christmas masterpiece.
Reality: Hauling the step ladder downstairs so short people can reach above 3 feet. Children attempting to make a homemade slide out of said step ladder. Christmas tree lights not working(again).The end result looks like the product of a bauble hurling contest where the contestants have to be a minimum of five feet away from the target and blindfolded or as my husband elegantly described it “like a flock of magpies dropped shit on it on their way home from a drunken night out”. The afternoon culminates in the annual squabble of whether it’s the star’s or the angel ‘s turn on top and whose bloody go it is to put it there. Post bedtime I just can’t help myself and reorganise the whole thing.
2: The alfresco no pants dance.
Expectation: Me at least two sizes smaller than I ever have been, wearing some off the shoulder white lace flowy type dress. Picnic baskets(with desserts), sunshine and a lush meadow with pretty flowers that is as comfortable as my bed and the dance is definitely the tango.
Reality: Struggling out of jeans that I probably already had to lie on the bed to tie up. A field consisting of scioch, long grass, thistles and a patchwork quilt of cow pats. Enough flying and biting insects for it to be the scene out of some B rated apocalypse film. Not even a ‘hang’ sandwich in sight. T’was summer though which triggered a fairly instantaneous full blown hay fever attack which is never a pretty sight and could be the leading lady’s look in the previously mentioned B movie. Given the unyielding nature of the ground, let’s just say we saved the tango for later and did the quickstep.
3: Motherhood – ah yes I could write a book but let’s just take it in its generality.
Expectation: I would be a modern day hybrid of Mary Poppins, Maria(Sound of Music) and Nanny McPhee with maybe just a little bit of Mrs. Doubtfire thrown in. I would have endless and infinite patience with all my offspring, if not for all of the time, a large proportion of it, during all of their developmental stages. I would be child psychologist , mentor, role model and just seriously cool, encouraging free thinking, mess making and colouring outside the lines.
Reality: Patience is not something I ever have had in any great abundance. I found out rather quickly that the little I did possess got used up at an alarming, rapid rate some days by 4.00am. It transpires that a hybrid of the the above fictitious characters is actually possible. Like a lot of cutting edge, scientific and genetically engineered composites, it can go horribly wrong. On particularly bad days, the end result looked like Mrs. Doubtfire as a ‘she devil’ in a face mask,running out of breath, up the nearest hills that are alive with the sound of sobbing(that’s me) and maniacal screaming(that would be the offspring) with Mary Poppins’ inflated umbrella in one hand and a decent bottle of pinot noir in the other, in order to find the nearest cliff to take flight from. I was just shy of thirty having my first child, so I mean seriously; how the hell could I delude myself that I would be happy that any child of mine(I don’t care if you’re only two) would colour outside the lines!! The only way around this was to ban colouring books and just provide blank white pages. Turns out I was ahead of my time.
Not too bad for a failed perfectionist.
(Note to reader: any typographical errors or grammatical mistakes lie firmly at the door of my proofreader ie. my husband who always(well nearly)exceeds my expectations.)