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Great Expectations

May 18, 2012

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 38.  For my birthday I went to the grocery store and bought the week’s groceries, took and picked my daughter up from school,  took the boys to try on shoes for one boy, was a timer for the kids’ swim team time trials, made supper, made my own birthday cake, picked up my packet for a bike ride I am doing on Saturday, folded laundry, put my daughter to bed, and fell into bed exhausted earlier than usual.

It was the perfect birthday.

My husband made me an egg for breakfast.  I taught my daughter to make coffee.  I laid in bed and snuggled with my daughter first thing in the morning when she informed me that it was my birthday.  I helped my middlest count his quarters so he could buy a birthday present for me at the grocery store and I pretended not to see my fabulous $2 Barbie kite the whole trip through the store.  My family sang Happy Birthday to me.  I watched my kids swim better than I could have imagined they could swim.  I had all sorts of voicemail on my phone wishing my Happy Birthday (which I missed because of all I was doing during the first paragraph).  I had a fabulous supper.  My husband gave me an orchid and a present I had really, really wanted but felt guilty wanting.  My daughter made me a homemade birthday card and got everyone to help color it.

It was the perfect birthday.

I have found that expectations can make or kill a day.  I had no noble ideas of being pampered or relaxing on my birthday.  I thought my birthday would pretty much go like the first paragraph described.  I was thrilled when those things in the second paragraph happened.  I have learned to decrease my expectations.

We go camping every Mother’s Day weekend for that reason.  I know how things will go when we are camping.  I know we’ll be exhausted and the kids will take turns behaving badly.  I’ll wash the dishes and my husband will cook.  We’ll spend all weekends outdoors, marveling over God’s incredible creation, nourishing our souls.  My expectations are almost always exceeded, mostly because I leave God’s creation up to the fulfilling of the expectations.  How can I beat gazing at stars through the top of the tent as I fall asleep?  What is truly better than water gushing forth in the wilderness and streams in what was a desert the year before?  How can anything surpass carpets of wildflowers and the sounds of water trickling over small waterfalls and rocks?

Why doesn’t my knowledge transfer better?  I’ve learned what to expect on holidays—both the rare ones centered around me and the religious ones.  However, too often, I hold unfair expectations for my kids.  I get so easily flustered when my kids aren’t perfectly behaved in public.  I don’t think my expectations are too high, I really am not even aiming for perfect, I am just aiming for slightly behaved, avoiding destruction of property and injury to others.  I end up apologizing a lot for my kids because they’ve run through somewhere almost–without actually touching–running into someone or using their outside voice inside.  I try hard to get them to fit better into an adult world.

But what if my expectations are unrealistic?  Maybe my expectations for good behavior is correct, but maybe my expectation of actually being in that situation with good behavior isn’t.  I know my kids should have good grocery store behavior down and they should be able to walk through a public building instead of running.  They’re kids though.  Kids mess up just like us adults do.  What if I knew my boys were overly tired?  What if I didn’t change anything to help them succeed in a situation that they were doomed to fail without my intervention?

Wouldn’t I do much better by my kids if I gave them tools to handle the situations instead of getting exasperated? What if I slowed down through the grocery store and let my middlest walk?  What if I let him choose the cereal and put the groceries in the cart?  What if I played I Spy with my kids while we waited for our food at a restaurant instead of thinking I could have an adult conversation while my kids sat totally calm and still?  What if I stopped rushing all the time everywhere and let myself and my children observe things?  What if I honored them a bit more instead of expecting them to be content to be drug along behind me everywhere?

What if my expectations of myself changed?  Wouldn’t that make me a better mother?

If I can change my expectations of my Mother’s Day and my birthday, surely I can change my expectations for my children as well.  I need to figure out how to give them the space to learn and grow and explore while also learning how to avoid being a nuisance in public.

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