Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Practically Perfect

From the bean of Green Bean.

A few months ago, I searched the web, the Bay Area and the library for ideas for a green birthday party for my eldest. It's a mid December birthday and always hectic. He's at a new school and hasn't yet made friends. But that's okay.

I'll have a home birthday party, I decide. What is greener than avoiding the power surge of Pump It Up - though we fell prey two years running. Still, a home birthday party with a local puppeteer would be perfect.

We sifted through the list of kids in his class, dividing by gender, by grade (it's a mixed age class), by name, by whatever. We either ended up with too many or too few. Finally, my son announced that he'd forgo a party for a special activity with mom and dad (yeah! even greener) and I could just bring some homemade cupcakes to his class. Perfect.

A week later - a week closer to his birthday - and there is a major turn around. The party is back on. The guest list is small. Those with whom my son had some sort of connection. It will be a drop off party and, with the few number of kids, perfect. Too small to spend big dough on a puppeteer so we cancel him. I send out the evites (paperless and therefore totally eco). Perfect.

Except that the parents all want to come and, frankly, I like all of the parents so it's perfect. I'll just order out some pizza from a locally owned restaurant and serve my homemade birthday cake made with a borrowed mold and 90% local ingredients.

The day will be nice, for once in December, so I order an outdoor jumper to accommodate boy energy and, while a jumper does require electricity, it will be perfect. Or at least practically so.

In case it's too cold, I decide I'll set up some crafts. Or maybe just one. A milk carton gingerbread house made with organic (but premade) graham crackers, mostly organic and fair trade candy with a few not-so-healthy or eco but bought-in-bulk-so-no-plastic-bags candy. I don't usually use throw out milk cartons but pick some up at the store the week before. We'll use the milk in them to make yogurt and for cereal. Of course, none of the cartons carry organic or local milk but I buy the kind without hormones and it's practically perfect.

With less than a week to go, I wonder if I can get away with no goodie bags. Yes. I know, goodie bags are terrible. They are so not green. They are often stocked with landfill fodder. They are gobbled up by greedy, over-indulged children who shouldn't expect them because we never had them, did we?!? I really really wanted to do a gift exchange. But time and disorganization got the better of me. Plus, I wussed out. It's just a few kids, I tell myself. Can a goodie bag be practically perfect?

I fret about it. I email my sister, oh goddess of green birthday parties, about it. I tweet about it. A fellow phone boother emails her cousin about it. I gather more ideas. Homemade this. Handmade that. Project this.

My head hurts. I've got a play date and swim lessons today, cake baking tomorrow, and another birthday party to attend the day after that. I wonder when I'll have the chance to clean my bathrooms with vinegar and borax. I remind myself that I need to wash the cloth napkins and count out the reusable forks and cups. I picture the crusty compost bucket and decide to put a bowl out to collect food scraps instead. I discuss with my son why we've asked for no gifts from party goers, and then remember that I still need to pick something up for him. I wonder if I can find that special item second hand and check out Craigs List.

And so the goodie bags . . . well, I'm not sure those will be perfect.

Because I'm not sure there is such a thing as perfection.

Certainly not when it comes to living green. As much as I struggle to live green, as I compost and bike and shop the farmers' market, as I garden and write and line dry, sometimes something happens and it's not green. It's a take out dinner with disposable containers but it gets you through the day and helps keep a local independent restaurant in business. It's driving too far to see an old friend. It's a frozen pizza wrapped in plastic but it's organic and you reuse the box for an art project.

Sometimes, you just have to compromise.

Sometimes, you can only have practically perfect. It is still living in accordance with your ideals but also with your sanity. It is remembering that one person can accomplish quite a bit but maybe not everything. It is giving a goodie bag filled with a single Lego set and deciding that that is fine. That the party was green enough. That the parents thought about composting, or using cloth napkins, or why you requested no gifts. That your son had a wonderful time and you created some wonderful memories and bonds with new school friends.

Sometimes, practically perfect is perfect enough.


Burbanmom said...

I've said it before and I'll probably be walking around in slippers at the old folks home muttering it to myself "Life is not about perfection - it's about balance".

Sounds like you did a wonderful balancing act and had a bit of fun too! :-)

Anonymous said...

visiting a local japanese garden, a friend told me this story...a very honored monk was coming to visit the meditation garden. the gardener poured out alot of effort, sprucing, cleaning, raking the gravel, just so...perfect he thought. but the monk, inspecting,kept saying no, not yet, shaking his head. finally, on the third try, the monk leaned over the perfectly raked gravel and shook the branch of a maple tree. a single leaf let go, fluttered down onto the gravel. the monk sighed and said to the gardener, "now, it's perfect." the story illustrates that a degree of imperfection is truly perfect.

i too chide myself sometimes, aiming for perfection. i try to remember nino's story. i think the lego gift was the "perfect" maple leaf.

Heather @ SGF said...

Sounds fabulous to me! I think you did a great job. It's not about being perfect, I don't think, it's about being mindful and you were definitely mindful. Great job!

Green Bean said...

Burbs: You are right. It is all about balance - even the environment. Who would want to be part of this movement if everyone was required to be perfectly green?

Becky: What a nice parable. Perfection requires some imperfection. I love that!

Heather: Thank you! I really did beat myself up over the goodie bags but you are right. It is more about being mindful than perfect and I know for sure that I was that.

Abbie said...

You can still be excellent without being perfect.

(I would write that at the top in purple pen if this was a paper I was grading. You might also get a smiley face sticker if you were really excellent.)

CindyW said...

Despite of what you thought, your birthday party was perfect. The fact that you put so much thought into the party speaks for itself.

I wish wish wish every mother can think green party 10% of what you did :) As for me, when the party planning gets challenging, I just quit :) I have disappointed my kids many a times. Bad, bad.

Will borrow some ideas from you next time.

crstn85 said...

Am I really that out of the loop? When did goodie bags become essential? I think ginger bread houses are the perfect take home item for the kids! Whatever you decide though, the fact that you thought about what you were doing and considered all aspects of it are the things which really matter.

Green Bean said...

Abbie: Ahh, that's nice. Can I get a smiley face too?

Cindy: I really appreciate it. I guess I did put a lot into the party though I have to admit that I felt a bit like a hypocrite doing goodie bags - and also the last minute run to the party store for plates bc I only had enough for pizza and not cake without stopping the party and handwashing everything.

crstn85: Sadly, yes. At least in our community, I've never been to a party without goodie bags. I was verbally assaulted (ok, maybe I'm overstating) by a 5 year old last year when our goodie bag only consisted of one, nice well made wooden toy. With my son in a new school and already struggling socially, I just wasn't brave enough to pitch the goodie bag idea. Maybe next year? Or maybe someone else will step up to the plate and I can follow in her footsteps.

Donna said...

Sounds like you planned a wonderful party for your son. :) I've not been brave enough to do that, yet, (he's had only family parties) but the time is coming soon. I guess I'll have to learn about "goodie bags," huh!

JessTrev said...

Thanks for sharing your conflicts as well as your roaring successes. Helps us all as we all make particular choices about what we will or won't compromise on.... Sounds like you had a great day! And hopefully, so did your son. That's the most important thing. I hope he makes some good friends at his new school and that you all find community there...from the sounds of it, you are well on your way (particulars and goody bags aside). I think there is no hypocrisy - we all are imperfect. For me, relationships generally trump principles, which sounds odd, but is true for me. Like when I was a teenager on AFS in Indonesia and a staunch vegetarian but decided to eat meat rather than offend my host family when they'd obviously saved the best of their meal for me. Love Becky's parable, and agree w/Heather that life is all about mindfulness.

Abbie said...


There you go. You deserve it.

Green Bean said...

Donna: You never know. My sisters' crowd implemented the gift exchange from the get go. If you start early and with a group of friends you might never have the dreaded goodie bag guilt.

Jess: relationships trump principles. You know, that is right. Whom among us doesn't have a friend or family member living a completely not green lifestyle. We do need to get along, to forge and maintain connections.

Abbie: Ahh. I feel better now.

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