The 98 Percent Rule – A Lesson from my Son

I’m a type-A TV producer. I’ve directed, written and produced hundreds of shows. Researching and planning are my thing. I like calendars and schedules. I’m a Virgo, raised Catholic. I come by it honestly.

When my husband Jim and I decided to have a baby, I planned the event with the same intensity as any TV production. Locations, budget and the timeline were set. The nursery was decorated with vintage toys and neutral colors. I pored over baby name books. Memorized What to Expect When You’re Expecting and What to Expect the First Year. We toured the hospital. Attended birthing classes. Envisioned my 12-week maternity leave with our baby boy. Yes, we found out the sex, leaving no stone unturned. Clothes filled the dresser and closet looking as though we were preparing for septuplets. A changing table, monitors, high chair, baby swing and countless gadgets filled our tiny home. The stage was set. I even researched mall walking, planning to take daily walks at the Mall of America. With a January birthdate in Minnesota, the MOA was a great place to walk off that extra baby weight.

Then, at 40 weeks my meticulous planning started to unravel. I missed my first deadline — ever! I missed my January 16 due date. I expected to go into labor a little early. How could this happen?

The doctor agreed to induce during our January 21 appointment. Fitting in a perfect business day, labor went from 9 to 5. We were back on track.

It was 5:01 p.m. when all hell broke loose. Baby Jimmy burst onto the scene. I remember he was beautiful. I remember our excited family storming the room. I remember my niece declaring that he was a “perfect 10” and most of all, I remember the shock. What do we do with this human? I’d read all the books, done all my research and had every possible gadget to soothe a baby but nothing had prepared me for this.

I could produce TV shows, direct talent, deal with network executives, handle budgets, but this 6 lb. 15 oz. dynamo had no respect for me, my schedules or how I liked to do things. Worse yet, he seemed to have all the control and his deafening demands brought me to my knees. I had met my match.

My 12-week maternity leave was a blur. I tried mall walking — once. He screamed the entire time. He didn’t like the car seat. He didn’t like the stroller. He didn’t like the baby Bjorn. He didn’t like to be restrained. There was no directing this guy. It was improv all the way.

I went back to work and things didn’t get easier. All those co-workers who were so excited for the baby didn’t care how late I was up the night before. After all, I wasn’t the first person to have a kid, how hard can it be?

Eventually we got into a routine. I’d go to bed with the baby, get up in the middle of the night and work a few hours, and then go back to bed. Of course, I couldn’t keep up that schedule. Something had to give. Against my nature and nurture, I discovered the 98 percent rule. 98 percent is still an A. The extra two percent is a moving, unattainable target for a perfectionist and the endless efforts produce marginal results. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Economics 101. The revelation was a game changer.

Things got easier as we worked our way through the countless phases of baby and childhood. My husband took a common sense approach. I took to research. If I needed an answer there was always a book, magazine article or Google to guide the way — Getting Baby to Sleep Through the Night, The Minds of Boys, Raising a Son and every title that fit my quest for answers for all the phases that came and went.

Oh the phases….Barney, Thomas the Tank Engine, playing “tiger” in the park, reclining the chair to play dentist. He always got to be the dentist. The endless nights of sleeping with us. Ordinary days….school, juggling schedules, rides, meeting parents, kids, firsts and lasts. Music lessons. Ski lessons. Ortho appointments. There were the things that needed to be squeezed in before work, after work or on the weekends. Wins and losses, highs and lows, joy and sorrow. They were ordinary days that turned a little baby into a young man.

Now he’s six feet tall with broad shoulders, a deep voice and car keys in his hand, talking about grades, colleges and dreams.

I’m still hitting the books. The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, The Princeton Review, Colleges that Change Lives. This is my last research project as we prepare our nearly grown bird to leave the nest.

It’s been a long road, but a fast trip. Looking back I can laugh at all my overthinking and over-planning. I don’t think any of my research changed anything. (How many months did I spend searching for the perfect baby name? We ended where we started–calling him James, just like his dad.)

I did learn a lot the last 18 years, but the most important lessons I’ve learned didn’t come from my endless research they came from my son. He taught me to relax, to ignore fingerprints and to love a dog with muddy paws. He taught me that I can’t direct everything and it’s okay. He taught me to trust myself, and my instincts and that sometimes you have to be your own teacher. He’s shown me the importance of following your passion. He’s given me perspective, more empathy and compassion. He’s a daily reminder that the glass is half full. He taught me that life is a lot better when you stop fighting its flaws. 98 percent is still an A and we’re going with that.

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