I've been thinking a lot about my own imperfections, lately. Those of you who read my regular blog as well as my Bedtime Stories section will know that I tend to be rather self-analytical! And it was thinking about the ways in which we aren't perfect, that led to this week's story.
You can also listen to me reading this story as a podcast!
The trouble started when Polly went to her best friend Sam's house for tea. Sam had his cousin staying for the weekend and Polly was excited to meet her.
"This is Isobel," Sam said, gesturing to a tall girl will long, blonde hair. She was obviously a few years older than Polly and she smiled a big, warm smile as Polly waved at her.
"How lovely to meet you," Isobel grinned.
Polly watched, as Isobel disappeared into the kitchen, to help Sam's mum with the tea. She seemed to glide, like a graceful swan. Polly blinked and turned to Sam. "How old is she?"
"Ten," Sam replied.
Polly was still not quite five and she thought ten sounded like a very grown up age. But before she could say anything, Sam asked: "Shall we go and play in the garden?"
Polly nodded and followed her friend. Before long, the pair of them had grubby stains on their knees, from crawling around in the grass. Polly's wavy hair was all messed up, from hanging upside down from Sam's climbing frame.
"Hey, can you do a handstand?" Sam asked, propelling himself forwards and desperately trying to keep his legs in the air. Polly was about to try it, when the back door opened and Isobel came out to join them.
"Want me to help you, Sam?" She asked. "If you put your hands on the ground, I can lift your legs up, if you like?"
Sam frowned. "I want to try by myself," he huffed.
"Okay," Isobel smiled. "Just remember, you can try it against a wall at first, until you get the hang of it. The wall gives you something for your feet to rest against."
Polly stared. She had never been able to do a handstand. "Can you do them?"
Isobel chuckled. "Only after a lot of practise." She rolled her sleeves up and before Polly could say another word, Isobel had performed the perfect handstand, right there in the middle of the garden. She didn't even need a wall to balance against!
"That was amazing!" Polly gasped. Isobel's hair fell back neatly down to her shoulders and her hands weren't even dirty from touching the floor!
"It was good," Sam admitted. "Anyway, dinner's probably almost ready. We should go inside."
At dinner, Polly watched in awe, as Isobel drank delicately from her glass, without spilling a drop of drink. She watched her eat her dinner, without making the slightest bit of mess.
By the time Polly began getting ready to go home, she had made up her mind: Isobel was perfect and Polly wanted nothing more than to be exactly like her.
The following morning, Polly woke up feeling excited. It was her first day of being perfect!
She quickly got dressed and hurried downstairs. She found her parents sitting at the breakfast table. "Good morning," Polly said, in the sweetest voice she could muster. "Can I help you with breakfast?"
Her dad raised an eyebrow. "We're just having cereal," he said. "But you can pour your own, if you want to?"
'That would be lovely," Polly replied, trying to sound as grown up as Isobel. She picked up the box and poured some cereal into a bowl. The box felt heavy in her hands and some of the cereal missed the bowl, falling onto the table instead. Polly tutted and quickly picked up the pieces, hoping nobody had noticed. Then, she took the bottle of milk and very slowly tipped it over her bowl. But the milk bottle was even heavier than the cereal box had been, and pretty soon, there was milk all over the table and all over Polly.
"Don't worry," her mum said, rushing to get a cloth. Polly apologised, but her heart sank a little in her chest and she didn't say a word as the family ate.
After breakfast was eaten, Polly decided to go upstairs to brush her hair. She wanted it to look long and straight, just like Isobel's. But Polly's hair was wavy and no matter how much she brushed it, it just wouldn't go straight. In fact, the more Polly brushed it, the more frizzy it became, sticking out at strange angles. Polly sighed and shook her head.
"Polly!" Dad called up the stairs. "We're taking Baxter to the park. Come and get your coat on!"
Polly rushed downstairs and grinned at the family dog. She suddenly had another idea - Isobel had been really helpful, giving Sam's mum a hand with dinner and offering to show Sam how to do a handstand. Now, Polly could show how helpful she could be, by walking Baxter! He was only a little cocker spaniel. How hard could it be?!
"I can hold Baxter's lead for you," Polly insisted, taking the lead from her dad's hand.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Dad replied. "He's only young; he's quite excitable. If you want to help, why don't you carry your mum's bag for her?" Polly's mum was having a baby soon and she rubbed her swollen belly and nodded.
Polly thought about it, but her mind was made up. "Dad can carry your bag," she said. "I'm going to show you that I'm all grown up and I can walk Baxter."
But, as soon as the front door was open, Baxter went darting out into the street, dragging Polly behind him. It had been raining and Polly went lurching through puddles, as she struggled to keep up with the dog. Before long, she had muddy splashes all up her legs.
Dad came rushing over to take the lead from Polly. "You're a bit little to be walking Baxter by yourself, just yet," he insisted.
Polly sighed, heavily. She looked down into one of the puddles and saw her reflection staring back at her. Her legs were muddy, her hair was sticking out and she still had milk on her top from breakfast. She didn't look clean and when she walked, she didn't seem to glide like a swan. She couldn't even be helpful without something going wrong. She wasn't perfect.
Polly didn't say another word all the way to the park. When they arrived, her mum gave her shoulders a squeeze and asked what was wrong, but Polly didn't want to say.
"Hey, I know what'll cheer you up," Mum said, pointing. "Look, there's Sam with his mum and dad! And isn't that his cousin with him? I can't for the life of me remember her name..."
"Isobel," Polly mumbled. She didn't really want Isobel to see her looking like such a mess. But it was too late; Sam had spotted them and was heading over, with Isobel in tow.
"Hi Polly," Sam said. "Isobel and I were just playing football. Want to join us?"
Polly shook her head. "No, I'm not good at that," she said.
Isobel chuckled. "Neither am I," she insisted. "But we're having fun, anyway!"
Polly frowned. "Of course you're good at it," she said. "You must be; you're good at everything!"
Isobel pulled a face. "I'm honestly not," she laughed. "There are loads of things I'm not good at." She pressed her lips into a line and cocked her head to one side as she looked at Polly. "Are you alright?"
Polly sighed. "I'm not perfect."
"Nobody is!" Isobel grinned.
Polly frowned again. "You are!" She pressed. "You can eat and drink without spilling anything and you walk really nicely and you're helpful and your hair always looks nice and you can do a handstand without even needing a wall! I'm just messy and clumsy and I can't help without everything going wrong." She stared down at her shoes.
Isobel took Polly's hand and walked her a few steps away from everyone else. She sat down in the grass and motioned for Polly to do the same. "Do you know what I did last night, after you went home?" She asked, in a quiet voice. Polly shook her head and Isobel continued: "I made everyone a mug of hot chocolate and a big bowl of popcorn, so we could watch a film, together. And as I carried the popcorn in, I forgot that I'd put the mugs down already and I put the bowl on the table and Auntie Shelly's mug of hot chocolate went all over the place. Honestly, you should have seen the carpet - we had to scrub it for ages. And it still smells of chocolate, this morning!"
Polly stared at her. "But... You didn't mean it! And you don't make a mess all the time, do you?!"
"Of course I didn't mean it," Isobel agreed. "And no, I don't make a mess all the time, but neither do you. You just notice it more at the moment, because you're trying your hardest not to be messy."
Polly sighed. "I really am trying," she said. "But it's not working."
"You're only little," Isobel told her. "I used to spill my drink every single night at dinner time. And you should have seen the state of me when I came in from playing in the garden! I was always getting in a mess. But I got older and I learned to be a bit more careful. And you will, too! I still make mistakes, but I say I'm sorry and I try to learn from them. That's what growing up is about, Polly. It's not about being perfect. It's about admitting that you're not."
Polly smiled. "So... It doesn't matter if I drop things, or that I can't do a handstand?"
"Not one bit," Isobel said. "You're fine as you are." She stood up. "Anyway, I can help you do a handstand. Want to try?!"
Polly beamed. "Yes, please!"
She bent down put her hands on the ground. Slowly, Isobel helped her to lift her legs all the way up. "I'm actually doing it!" Polly shrieked. "Thank you!"
She dropped back down to the floor and Isobel smiled. "See, you just need a bit of practise, that's all. And never be too shy to admit you need help."
Polly nodded. "Was it a good handstand?"
Isobel wrapped an arm around Polly's shoulders. "Perfect," she said.