I’m walking quickly, listening to an audiobook that’s the fourth in an embarrassingly cheesy young adult series, when my eye catches and stops briefly on a grill perched at the end of someone’s driveway. There’s a sign slapped on it with messy handwriting that reads: “not perfect.” I keep walking, but my mind is completely fixed on “not perfect,” like a heel caught faltering in grass at an outdoor wedding.
Not perfect. Not perfect.
It sings in me; it buzzes somewhere in me that’s been craving this message of comfortable acceptance. How unusual, but how wonderful, if it really does say “not perfect.” I turn around, walk back, and try to fix on the letters. I need to know if that’s what it actually says, but it turns out there’s something else next to the “not” and the bottom word is particularly illegible. I squint for a while, wait for the cars driving past to clear, and cross the street.
Once there, I see the sign actually reads: “not lighting properly.” I imagine that its owner with the sloppy script hopes that there’s a person out there who will be able to easily figure out the problem and, once fixed, get to enjoy the fruits (hot dogs?) of their roadside find. It’s not perfect, but maybe it’s just right for someone.
About a month ago, I was listening to a podcast that suggested imagining that you were moving and could start your life over in any way that you’d like. Imagine your ideal life, whatever that might look like, they said.
I snorted, most likely in my head (but maybe not), and began thinking of my fantasy apartment on the Seine in Paris and my dream cottage in the English countryside. I’d dress like a casual Kate Middleton and, heck, look like her, too. I’d wake up in the mornings and, alongside my husband, have a cup of tea and read. We’d take the time to think about our food, rather than texting each other in the evening, “Tacos, again?” and forgetting altogether about vegetables. My inner monologue slowed.
Maybe there was no need for the snarky tone to my thoughts. Parisian Kate Middleton aside, those last things were, in fact, very doable. The idea of making this perfect life attainable was one that I began to mull over seriously.
My weekday mornings used to look like this: Lie in bed until my husband was done shaving, get up, get dressed, go downstairs. I’d make my toast, distributing my peanut butter evenly across the top, and plunk down on our couch in front of the TV to watch the news. Then I’d brush my teeth, get into the car, and be on my way. It wasn’t something I had even thought about. I just did it.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. We tend to imagine that we will be a different person once we’ve reached a certain point in our lives. When I don’t work so many hours, I’ll exercise.When I have kids, I’ll make the time to slow down and be in the moment. When my kids are older, I’ll do things for me and pursue that passion that’s always been hovering in the back of my mind. Often, those milestones roll past, and those ideal selves don’t ever magically appear. We have to actually do something to make them real.
I decided to do just that something, starting with my mornings. I still generally have my piece of toast evenly spread with peanut butter. Some days I have tea, but mostly I don’t remember in time and instead have my usual water. Some days I read a book, but often I’ll flip through a magazine or even a catalogue, letting my brain slowly settle into the day. Some days my husband and I chat; others we’re quiet. It’s not much, but, honestly, these new, more purposeful mornings feel like freedom – the freedom to actively remember that I have a choice in how I live my days, and that I can make that choice now.
It’s getting darker these days, so we don’t have the beautiful light of our weekend mornings. The birds usually haven’t yet begun their songs and chatter, but there is still a sense of peace that fills me up, like a slow breath taken while watching leaves skate atop the rough sidewalk on a windy, late fall day.
My everyday mornings are by no means perfect, but, for me, they’re just right.
A week ago, I’m bundled up, out for a walk, and entangled in my thoughts, when I abruptly pause. I realize I’ve passed the driveway where the grill that wasn’t lighting properly once stood. The cold air is bitter and, despite my gloves, my fingers are already protesting. But I linger a moment. I soak in a little bit of happiness seeing that the grill is gone, that, I let myself believe, someone has chosen to make the small change to make it just right.
Words and image by Erin Smith.