Expectations are a crazy thing aren’t they? I mean, why do we “get our hopes up” instead of creating for ourselves the occasion -or life- we want? I’m thinking about this on this quiet, day-after-baby-girl-birthday morning because she had no expectation of her birthday aside from chocolate cake. We don’t do lavish parties or over the top celebrations here, but birthdays are important. We use them to show extra love, to spoil a bit with favorite meals and all of us together. She didn’t know that though.
When asked what she wanted for birthday breakfast she said, “chocolate cake”. When asked what she wanted for birthday dinner she replied, “chocolate cake”. When asked what she wanted for a birthday gift, again, she responded with a firm, “chocolate cake!”. She knew what she wanted and didn’t care at all if that wasn’t the expected answer to my question. She also didn’t leave it up to me to create her happiness on her birthday. She asked me repeatedly all morning if we were going to make cake yet. She stood next to me on her pink, wooden stool and cracked eggs, helped me scrape the bowl, and licked the paddle of my mixer when we were done. She was actively participating in creating what she wanted for her day.
I’ve sort of been stuck on that. I keep thinking of how I have expected others to create the perfect day for me over the years. The perfect date, the perfect anniversary, the perfect celebration. In my mind I picture this fantastically lovely event, but I don’t often find the right words to tell the other person what I would like. Normally expressing my desire feels selfish and bossy, but then when I don’t, I am undoubtedly let down. It’s been roughly fourteen years since I began trying to control my expectations, I’d been disappointed by my high-expectations many times before that and I could go on and on about exact dates and plans that have fallen short going all the way back to the year I turned 13. I’ll spare you all of the sad stories of being let down by people I’ve loved, I’m sure you can easily recount many times that you, yourself have been left unfulfilled by your own high-expectations.
This was the turning point for me though; on my twenty-fifth birthday I was an emotional wreck. For reasons that I can not now recall I spent most of the day in tears. I wasn’t sad, just “emotional”, I needed more support and love and lifting-up than my people were able to give me that day. So I spent the day crying off and on between visits from friends and getting ready to go out for dinner. I had asked for a few specific gifts that year, enough to satisfy the questions, but not too many to seem selfish. I had a hope for dinner out and the day off of work. I felt my expectations were reasonable, and they likely were, but I hadn’t communicated my expectation to my family and friends very well. And so I can clearly remember each disappointing moment from that day. I felt unknown, unseen, and unimportant.
My toddler doesn’t have these problems and I hope that she never develops them. I was happy to have her practically beg to be allowed to help make her own cake -her one desire for her birthday. She wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what she wanted, she didn’t feel selfish or bossy in her request, she didn’t try to customize her answer to what she thought I wanted to hear. She simply asked for what she wanted and then happily anticipated it. I think I will try to be more like her, realizing that my loved ones want to bring joy to me on these special days, just as I wanted to give so much joy to my baby girl. It doesn’t feel easy though, actually asking for exactly what I want seems scary.
Ironically, I saw this cartoon this morning. It is the truest way that I have ever seen this idea expressed.
Is it possible to have no expectation? Or even low-expectations? I feel like, at this point in my life I have conditioned myself to expect. To hope for certain things, for specific outcomes. As I mentioned, I have been working on unlearning this behavior for a third of my life. I haven’t worked on better communication, I’ve simply decided to have fewer expectations. Even as I type those words I know it’s flawed logic. I shouldn’t need to change who I am to be happy. I should be able to express my wants without shame or fear. At the same time I know that by keeping my expectations simple I increase my own joy and my power over internal disappointment. It is a balance, like all things. I was thinking about “reasonable expectations” too, but I don’t think that’s an acceptable standard. I mean, who gets to judge if another persons expectations are reasonable? If my expectations are high, but true and properly expressed, shouldn’t the people in my life strive to meet them? Shouldn’t I work alongside them to create the sort of environment that I want to live in? If my expectations are low does that make me easier to love or interact with?
Why is this so hard to relearn? I think about that piece in Glennon Doyle’s book Love Warrior where she talks about giving her husband a second chance to celebrate her birthday “properly”. I don’t know that I would ever have been so bold as to tell someone how greatly they had let me down and then give them an opportunity to fix it. I suppose I have been conditioned by my life experiences to choose to let the disappointments grow me into a better person. I wonder if I had ever been so brave how different I would be today. If I had chosen when I was younger to speak up for what I wanted, would I have so many sad days to look back on? I wonder. I don’t know that even with this information and all of this wondering if I am changed enough to speak my wants clearly without fear of asking too much.
I sometimes make an effort to be more clear, but when I do I still feel demanding. Perhaps I need to work on my delivery? I can’t help but remember that all of these wants, all of my simple desires come back to longing for my Savior and not trusting Him to fulfill my needs perfectly. It is so hard to remember that when I am asking for an intimate dinner out or an afternoon of spoiling, or even a tangible gift, what I am really asking for is to be seen and understood and known as who I truly am. So if the people I love give me their best and I still feel my needs are unmet who’s issue is this? Do they really not know me or do I expect too much from people and not place enough trust in God for what my heart needs? I don’t think I will easily come to any answers. There will always be days where I expect more than others can give. I hope that on those days I am able to give grace and see the best laid plans and the love that was behind the effort.
Since I began this post, my husband and I got away for twenty-four hours alone together, my mom stayed with our littles and it was such a gift. As I had been contemplating expectations so much last week, I lingered over my desires for the evening out. What was it I most wanted from the time? After giving it some thought I was able to realize that all I wanted was to be truly myself… and to not be anyone’s mother for a few short hours. Realizing that, I was able to enjoy each moment as it came without anticipation for the next. I enjoyed all of the minutes we were gone because I was honest with myself ahead of time. The things we did were of little consequence thanks to my knowing that they were not what mattered. The time to be the me I am without children clinging to my skirt was what was important.
I really doubt that all of my future outings will be this clear, I forget too easily. The time will come when I have anticipated something so greatly that I will be like the pink character in that cartoon up above, falling down to a perfectly good outcome that seems less-than due to my high hopes. I think though, that it will be more and more infrequently. I may have actually learned this lesson better this time, thanks to the help of a tiny girl turning three. Expectations are not bad, and I’m certainly not going to encourage keeping them “reasonable”, but knowing the desire behind the expectation helps. Knowing your own heart and working with your people toward your own happiness is a worthy goal. One that I will choose as I continue to learn and grow in this life.