Almost first thing on Thanksgiving my expectations for the day were dashed. Our friends who were supposed to come over for Thanksgiving dinner had to cancel because of illness. I was glad they didn’t want to share their germs and totally understood. It didn’t hurt my day so much as change what I thought it would look like. The whole holiday weekend (and maybe my whole life) has gone that way. So I’m thinking about expectations.
My last therapist said that both expectation and worry are stories we’re telling ourselves. Our story is unlikely to play out as we imagine. Her point was that we should just stop making up stories and live in the present moment. I like the idea, but the reality is that often we need to plan ahead, which requires thinking about how things may go and what we’ll need to do or get, where we’ll need to be.
So what happens when we plan ahead and events don’t go as anticipated? Well, on Thanksgiving, instead of cooking our food earlier in the day to ready for our guests, our morning was so long and leisurely it lasted until about four in the afternoon. Mike and Cavanaugh built train tracks from the train table through the living room, around the couch, and back to the train table. I would never have had the patience or attention span for this. Cavanaugh was in utter heaven and Mike got to spend hours of focused time with his son. It was definitely a day to be thankful for.
Part of why the day was good is that I’ve been trying hard to let go of what I think things should look like. Who am I really? Only one of three people in this family. Why should it be my plan, my expectations fulfilled?
It happened again over the weekend when we were getting ready to decorate the Christmas tree. Rather than finding decorations in the garage, Cavanaugh discovered a attery-operated holiday train set we just inherited from a friend. He was so taken with it that he cared about nothing else. I found myself getting frustrated, even mad. I had a whole picture of how the afternoon was supposed to go. We were going to listen to cool Christmas music, hang lights, tell Cavanaugh stories about where the decorations came from. He didn’t care at all.
Luckily, I was able to stop myself from the bad mood I felt coming. I’ve started noticing recently that I feel my body heat up when I’m getting angry. I literally need to cool down. So, I walked outside to repot a plant and left Mike inside to help with the holiday train. When I entered the house, Cavanaugh walked into my arms. The tracks kept popping apart and the train wouldn’t ride the rails. He just looked so disappointed.
I gave him a hug and said we’d go figure it out. We walked into the sunroom and tried one more track maneuver. Rather than throw it out the window, I suggested in my playful parenting voice that we just put the tracks back in the box and let the train run on the floor. We could pretend the whole room was tracks. Mike followed my lead and pretty soon my husband and I listened to Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas album as we got ready to decorate the tree. I didn’t even try to make up a story about how it was going to go. I just experienced it as it happened.
I hope to be able to do the same throughout this month, through the cookie decorating parites we’ve been invited to, the tree lighting and caroling, and whatever other holiday events we’ve got on the calendar–but may or may not go to depending on what’s happening in the moment.
How was your Thanksgiving? Did it go as expected. What kinds of plans and hopes do you have for the rest of your holiday season?
Sonya Fehér is a co-leader of the S. Austin chapter of Attachment Parenting International. You can find her at mamaTRUE: parenting as practice.