Recently, my colleague at Stage of Life, Sarah Haymaker, posted a blog called “Great Expectations…” about borrowing expectations and how that seemingly innocent act can make us crazy. We’ve all done it. Most of us will continue, to some extent, to do it (even if we won’t admit it). Funny how the holidays can make you both borrow and then relinquish expectations in a yin-yang, good-karma kinda way.
This past week, we passed on our almost-traditional trip to the mountains for opening day at our favorite east coast ski resort. Even before the lack of snow was imminent, we decided we needed some downtime and five days at home was just the ticket. No real expectations, except to manage the day-to-day activities of two teens and two septuagenarian parents who recently moved to town. Our usual yang replaced with some restorative yin.
I enjoy planning and preparing meals as well as the whole host of tasks that allow both to unfold smoothly. It didn’t start off feeling like a daunting task, but layered on the myriad of other obligations, the festive preparations began to feel Sisyphean. Nobody else seemed to share my enthusiasm for cooking, and cleaning, and I was characteristically overly ambitious about how much I could accomplish on a single day off school. And then I remembered I had to let go. Again, yin overtook the yang. The only expectation was that we’d be together and there would be good food and good company. That I could do, no sweat.
My expectation of teens hanging out with us, cheerfully completing whatever task I assigned, or perhaps one they initiated on their own, had to be released. My (crazy) expectation of four of us playing Scrabble in front of the fire went out the window. However, later in the weekend, the over 40 crowd scored 95% in expert mode of Beatles Rock Band and we had plenty of good laughs. In our sandwiched lives, the de facto division of labor is that one of us manages the kids, the majority of the household stuff and the nitty-gritty details of life. The other manages the parents, transportation of kids, and global issues. This past week, there was actually some time to collaborate on these tasks and reflect on what was actually working well. There was a momentary return of balance and sanity, which I’ve certainly vexed by naming it here.
Life moves at break-neck speed. Last week it hit me that with a high school freshman, we have three (t-h-r-e-e-!) years left with her at home (God willing). And five years with Number Two. The urge to co-mingle our own expectations with those of our peers that began in toddler-hood, doesn’t seem to dissipate as our kids grow older. But our understanding of how vitally important it is to give our kids what they (and we) need, and not what others have or do, is certainly stronger.
Our expectations now include being the taxi driver, ATM, taskmaster, host for gatherings of kids, cheer leader, editor and listener. And as much as I’d like to believe we are slowing turning over the reigns of their lives into their own hands, the teacher in me is fully aware that at this point in our teens’ development, their neurons are breaking off daily and re-wiring nearly as fast as they when they were babies. So our expectations now also include being their frontal lobe, moral compass, and mirror, all while trying maintain a sense of humor and perspective on life. Those expectations and needs are more than enough to keep us focused and on the job.
And the good karma? I see it every day in the kids we are raising. The ones who patiently wait on a grandparent with the empathy and nurturing usually evident in someone twice their age or the willingness to take a morning during Thanksgiving break to volunteer at the homeless shelter. I still get the sarcastic comments and the eye-roll several days a week, believe me. But more often that not, I see that maintaining a clear vision of what is best for our family is paying off in deep and lasting ways. That’s pay off that far exceeds any expectation (borrowed or not) and more than enough to feel grateful this season and beyond.