She sat at the paper-strewn kitchen table eating eggs (which she detested), tears streaming down her face.
I don’t know why my brain constantly turns my life into a running narrative, but it does. This was the beginning of my Mother’s Day. I had planned on having a family picnic in a historical little park I love, but spraining my ankle earlier in the week rendered this unfeasible. And then J and I stayed up late talking about a challenging area in our marriage – yes, we have them. And then I had trouble falling and staying asleep, something that has been happening a lot lately. And then it was morning and M wanted breakfast.
She looked around at her house, eyeing the sink full of dishes, the crumb-laden counters, the pile of clean clothes on the living room floor. She watched as a couple of Lego Star Wars figures battled to the death under the direction of her son, and she noted that the litter box needed attention. She pushed the eggs away.
Staying up late is a way of life for me, for J, not so much. He came stumbling down the stairs much later than normal; I was up much earlier than normal. He made a beeline for the coffee pot, poured and doctored a cup, and then asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate “my day.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “My day?” she echoed. “Look at this house. It’s awful. We have to go to the grocery store. We have to do laundry.”
He smiled. “A very wise woman once told me that it doesn’t hurt to let things go for one day.”
“Yeah, well, that very wise woman feels like she’s the only one who ever cleans up around here. That very wise woman feels like it’s stupid to have a day to honor her when the things she asks – like please don’t pile papers and junk on the kitchen table – constantly get ignored by the other two living in her house. That very wise woman is going upstairs for awhile.”
And so up the stairs I went. And I could not stop the tears. For the better part of an hour, I laid on the bed crying, my mind racing. I thought that maybe my expectations are just too high; maybe I shouldn’t even have any expectations at all. I thought about what the vast majority of Americans do today to honor their mothers: make them breakfast in bed, buy them flowers, listen to a pithy homily extolling the virtues of the Good Christian Mother, take them to lunch; do I really want the “norm?” (No, of course not. Well, maybe the breakfast in bed part just because I’ve never had it.) I thought about Hallmark and their ability to more or less create a holiday just by making a card for it (National Cat Barf Day, anyone? We could keep them in business just celebrating that one). I thought about Norman Rockwell, whose idyllic, sentimental paintings both speak deeply to me and aggravate me at the same time. I thought about that old Mad TV skit, Lowered Expectations, which I used to find very funny while feeling slightly guilty that I did. And then I was full-circle to “maybe I shouldn’t have any expectations at all.”
Okay, well, why? Because then I’d never be disappointed. Don’t expect anything and no one can fail you.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute. While that idea seems logical at first, if you really stop and think about it, it’s very self-centered. It’s all about me not getting hurt. It’s giving a LOT of power to someone else to determine how I interact with the world, how I feel. Or maybe it’s just assigning blame. Either way, not a good perspective. I think there may be a better way to look at it.
What if I chose not to have expectations in order to free people up to be who they are, do what they’re going to do? This is something I’m pondering because I’m not entirely sure it’s wrong to have expectations. Like, I have the expectation that my husband will never run off with another woman, and I think that’s reasonable. I don’t even think it’s wrong to expect the people who live with me to do their parts around the house. But what if they don’t do their parts? Can I still love them and act with mercy and grace toward them when they don’t? Can I see the treasures in them when I’ve made the same request eleventy-billion times and they have not complied? Can I NOT get cynical and defensive and protective of myself and hurt and shut down when I think they’re not honoring me and my opinions? When is the point when it’s okay to speak up and say, “Hey, I’m feeling dishonored, here”? I haven’t got this figured out by a long shot.
Eventually, she went back down the stairs. The kitchen had been cleaned, and the other two members of the house were on their way out the door to go grocery shopping. She refreshed her coffee cup, sat down with her laptop, and began to write…
To be continued