You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

On Friday, I was so excited to spend a morning with my toddler whose preschool was closed for a teacher in-service day. His sister had her last day of school before the holiday break so it would just be the two of us. I expected that he would soak up all the individual attention and enjoy all the fun we could cook up. I expected it would be a lot like spending time with my daughter when she was two-years-old and it was just the two of us.

What actually happened is that he spent the whole morning missing his sister and coming up with ideas like biking. I was happy to oblige only to find out the only route that he wanted to go was the one to his sister’s school so we could go get her. He wouldn’t listen to reason that it was too early to pick her up (after all, he is two-years-old) and my patience was frayed by not only his disappointment but also my own.

You know what they say – expectations are a bitch.

So I opened Dr. Brené Brown’s recently published book Atlas of the Heart to the section entitled “Places We Go When Things Don’t Go as Planned”

She does a beautiful job of defining disappointment – “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The most significant the expectation, the more significant the disappointment.”

And then she delves into expectations. The whole section is so illuminating but here is the part that caught my eye:

“When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our head of how things are going to be and how they’re going to look. Sometimes we go so far as to imagine how they’re going to feel, taste and smell. That picture we paint in our minds holds great value for us. We set expectations based not only on how we fit in that picture, but also on what those around us are doing in that picture. This means that our expectations are often set on outcomes totally beyond our control, like what other people think, what they feel or how they’re going to react. The movie in our mind is wonderful, but no one else knows their parts, their lines, or what it means to us.”

Dr. Brené Brown – Atlas of the Heart

And the antidote to this disappointment? “Communicating our expectations is brave and vulnerable. And it builds meaningful connection and often leads to having a partner or friend who we can reality-check with.”

Reading over this, I thought of all the expectations that come with holidays – like that someone else will love the gift you got them or that loved ones will be able to perfectly see what you most desire and give that to you as a gift.  With little ones, I expect that they will treasure the gifts I spent time and money to get them – and not just the box that it came in!

While I couldn’t reality check my expectations about our morning together with my two-year-old, thinking through this process has helped me immensely to uncover my own hidden expectations. And then to recognize in turn how they lead to disappointment. It also made me see that my expectations that he will ever have moments of acting like a first child are completely silly. This helps me relax into the beautiful relationship that we do have so I can enjoy the time we have together for what it is, not what I imagine it should be.

Tears Worth Shedding

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so you apologize for truth.” – Benjamin Disraeli

My mom was asking if my son still cries when I drop him off at daycare. He switched into a new class about two weeks ago and since the change, he’s had a harder time with that initial separation even though he’s perfectly happy after I leave. At the same time he switched classes, I also started taking him to Starbucks before school so that we could sit, look at cars and dogs and have a touch point for just the two of us after I drop his sister at school. My mom suggested, “Maybe he’s having a hard time at drop off because he likes the time with you at Starbucks so much.”

Which could very well be the case. But it begs the question if we should be distant with others so that they don’t miss us too much. Or we could be downright crappy to them. I know that my mom was not exactly suggesting that but it’s a little bit of a family tradition to be difficult when doing something for someone that you don’t want to have to do again. The unspoken strategy is to make it so painful that they’ll never ask again. Doesn’t that sound more fun that just saying “no”? 😊

I’ve consciously or unconsciously used this ploy for every guy I’ve broken up with. So I can say from experience, it doesn’t make the separation any easier. It just tinges all the memories with gray.

All of this reminds me of something I heard the writer Ashley C. Ford say, “I tried to live a disappointing life in order to not be disappointed.”

I understand the pull to stay very small in order to have a tidy life and never disappoint anyone else or myself. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t work to do anything but limit life experiences and connection to others.

This morning, my son and I went to Starbucks and had fun. We joked about who was going to school and who was going to work. He still cried when I left but I heard it differently. They were the cries of a huge love, the pain of missing each other and a big life. Those are the tears I think are worth shedding!

A Show of Character

Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.” – unknown

Twenty years ago I was climbing in Mexico when a guide told me a story about an exclusive Colorado ski resort that he worked at in the winter. The only way to get to the lodge was by sno-cat so they limited the clients to only one bag. On one trip, a customer had his bag and his guitar case and they politely reminded him it was only one bag. The guy had no problem accepting that policy and returned the guitar to his car. It was only later that they realized the guy was James Taylor!

That story is so much better than if they’d let him have the guitar! After all, I’m sure it would have been a wonderful concert but we wouldn’t have learned anything about James Taylor’s character. And it wouldn’t have reminded us that sometimes life doesn’t go our way – and then it becomes part of our story.

The Price of Anticipation

Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” – Les Brown

My mom invited my five-year-old daughter over for a sleep over at her apartment this weekend. Her place is air conditioned and she had a ton of fun plans like piano lessons and songs to wake up to. My daughter was so excited. Mostly because Nana’s apartment is a place full of treasures that she hasn’t been able to visit during this pandemic but also because her friend that is just a little bit older at 7-years-old is always talking about sleepovers. What a thrill! But then my mom had to cancel because she lives in a retirement community and they reinforced the message that no children under the age of 16-years-old are allowed, even if they don’t go into any common areas. My daughter was so disappointed! She said to me, “I’m just going to expect that good things get canceled.”

Of all the emotions, disappointment seems the easiest to avoid. As my daughter said, you can just expect good things won’t happen, right? It only means giving up anticipation. The feeling of waking up in the morning, remembering what you are going to do today and feeling, “yay!” because it’s something fun.

But what about love then? Is it tempting to decide not to love because the feeling of heartbreak is too crushing to endure? Or what about hope? Giving up the tug that we can, will and might just be lucky enough make our lives better just in case we fail?

All of my favorite emotions have their shadow side. I’ve struggled with trying not to feel any of those and come away worse for the wear. As the brilliant writer, Ashley C. Ford said in a podcast I heard a couple of months ago, “I tried to live a disappointing life so that I wouldn’t ever be disappointed.”

I’m finally understanding the idea of leaning in towards life instead. When getting a little off tilt, leaning forwards, not backwards. But my daughter’s disappointment this weekend made me realize that while I have been practicing that for myself, I’ve been doing the opposite with my kids. I often don’t tell them about things that might be canceled so that they don’t get disappointed. I hold myself as a back stop for all their possible shadow side feelings. As is so often the case, having kids has given me another level of practice. I can still lean forwards with my kids in my arms, ready for joy and also holding them in disappointment.

The Current Underneath

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton

Last night I was out with my kids as they biked, my 5-year-old on her new big bike and my toddler on an old-school Radio Flyer tricycle. I suggested to my daughter that she go all the way around the block on her bike while my son and I worked best on how to make progress on his trike. This was a new freedom for my daughter, riding away from us on the sidewalk and being on her own for a whole block albeit one she knows well because we walk it all the time. She’d done it several times and was exhilarated by the freedom until the time when she came to the long back straightaway and didn’t see us. My son and I had made enough progress to get around the corner. By the time she got to us, my daughter was scared. I soothed her the best I could and we made our way home. I thought all was good until I asked her to clean up something and she grumped at me. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had some carry-over from being scared.

When I sit on my meditation bolster in the morning, I expect to find peace, happiness and clarity. I am always surprised by the occasions that I find instead a lingering disappointment, anxiety or sadness underneath. I frequently think that I can use my optimism and positivity to pave over the feelings I’m less comfortable with but in those quiet moments they let me know they are still there. I am learning over and over again that I have to feel things all the way through. The worry about a friend going through a hard time or the disappointment that I didn’t get a particular project stay insistent that I acknowledge them before I can settle in to my peace.

This reminds me of a story my meditation teacher told me. She was teaching a 6am yoga class on a dark fall morning. People were settling onto their mats and she was walking around the room quietly talking the class through those opening exercises when she noticed someone outside looking into her car. Without thinking she opened the door to the studio and yelled, “Move on, MotherF*&#$r!” This still cracks me up every time she tells the story but also reminds me that what’s going on in me and around me sometimes has to be acknowledged before I can find peace.

Last night after I’d put my toddler to bed and was sitting with my daughter to read books, we finally got to the feeling of being scared and were able to talk it through and put it to bed too. Then it felt done and we were able to find our quiet and rest.