My dog loves to play in the snow. His aging golden retriever body transforms into a fur ball of joyful frolic with each snowfall. This time of year, the snow is less than fresh. It’s a mess of dirt, street grime, and neighborhood pet markings. And yet, his joy remains the same. If he can find even one small adequate patch he instantly goes to work on his next snow angel.
Recently I took him to the groomer for a bath and a haircut. He emerged fuzzy, clean, and smelling of lavender. He looked every inch the purebred stunner he can be. Money well spent.
He looked so perfect, in fact, I followed him outside the next morning, yelling no with my stern mom voice every time he got ready to jump into a dirty snow pile. He obeyed as he always does, but with a look that gave me pause.
Barkley is 14 ½. As with many large dogs, he is riddled with arthritis. He hasn’t been able to jump in two years and now needs help getting off the floor. He is on anti-inflammatory drugs, pain management drugs, and antibiotics for a constant infection he has in his nose. He spends his days laying in one spot, assessing whether what’s going on around him is worth getting up for. Odds are he won’t live another year.
Maybe that’s why his look stuck with me.
In telling him no, I realized, I stole the few pain free moments of joy he has in a day. And because he’s a good dog, he let me.
But wasn’t I justified?
I tried to be. I told myself I was. I had just spent $45 after all. Surely one day of clean wasn’t too much to ask. Right?
Yet as I watch the snow piles melt a little more each day and am presented with evidence this will likely be his last winter, stealing that day’s joyful moments weighed on me.
Why was it so important to me he stay clean? Why was my instinct to say no that morning?
Had perfectionism crept back in? And if it had, did it really just steal my dog’s joyful moments in exchange for a perfectly groomed and clean coat?
Despite my quest to eliminate perfection seeking from my life, no area of my life is untouched. It remains my default setting. And it wants my dog to look clean and perfect.
It also presses me to beat myself up even now, weeks later, for that one lost day. Because stealing joy from another is never the “right” or “perfect” response. I should do better. Be better.
But as that voice, always so ready to jump in with judgment and criticism, gears up with its next lecture, I find I have the power to stop it. And that makes me proud. Perfectionism may remain my default, but at least I now recognize it and fight back.
Last winter I likely unknowingly stole many moments of joy from Barkley in the name of a clean, perfect coat.
This year? Only one.
And today I’m taking a moment to revel in that progress, to celebrate my tangible growth as I watch Barkley emerge from a dirty pile of snow with a face filled with joy.