“Not that way, the strokes need to go up and down. It’ll look messy like that.” I push my daughter’s paintbrush out of the way with mine and show her how to do it properly. I haven’t painted a room in years and I'm certainly no expert but I know how hard it is to ensure you get an even coat.
My savvy little nine-year-old is having none of it. She ignores my pleas and carries on dipping her brush into the sea-blue paint she picked out herself, appropriately named "Endless Summer" for this long holiday that seems to have stretched on forever.
“No mummy, it’s my room and I want to be proud of doing my best,” she tells me. “I don’t care if it isn’t perfect. I just want it to be my work”.
I stand back and realize she is right. It is her room after all, what does it matter if the wall doesn’t look perfect?
We’ve just returned to our home in the UK after two years living in South Africa. While we were away we rented our house out to tenants, strangers who occupied our space and now feel like ghosts or shadows. We never met them but we still feel their presence in the child’s scribbles on the wall. It’s time to erase them completely and reclaim our property.
So we are painting my daughter’s room. For too long she hasn’t really had a room of her own. We have been in rented accommodation, she has slept in spaces designed and decorated by other people. Now we are settling down and she’s decided she wants to stamp her personality on her surroundings as quickly as possible. Two days ago we went to the paint store and she chose the color, rejecting anything too light or too purple or too not-exactly-what-she-wanted. She’s been planning this for a while.
We pick up our brushes – she the smaller one, me the grown-up sized one – and dip them in the pots. I watch her progress. I try not to interfere. I can see it won’t look flawless when it dries but I reflect on what she said.
All around us we are sold perfection as the standard we all need to reach. In magazines, on television, on Facebook pages, Instagram – everywhere you look we are all trying to reach something unobtainable. Whether it’s the “perfect” beach-ready body, the beautiful family on their incredible holiday, or the exquisitely decorated room in an interiors magazine, we are continuously bombarded with images of what our lives should look like. What we are being told we should be aspiring to. What the marketers want us to think is normal so that we keep spending money to reach.
But why does it matter if my thighs are dimpled with cellulite, if our holiday pics show that it rained six days out of seven or yes, if the paint on our walls are not perfectly even? We could have paid someone else to do this work for us, like an interior decorator with the skills to make the house look ready for a magazine shoot. We could have, but we decided to do it ourselves.
Part of that, as I realized, is letting go of that need for perfection and realizing that there is more to life than smoothly painted walls. Like having a little girl who is proud of the fact that she has painted her own room.
I am writing this still with paint on my hands and half a wall yet to paint. I now have to go and set up the ladder so I can reach the higher parts – the part of the job that I’m dreading as I know I will end up with paint drippings all down my clothes and probably on the floor as well.
Yet in the end does it matter? Perhaps some drops of paint on my clothes will serve as a good reminder to me, just as the uneven paint will remind my daughter through the years ahead as she sleeps in her green-blue room, that there is a lot more to life than perfection. The fact that she did it herself and was proud of her handiwork is a lot more important to her and to me than beautiful walls.