I think that at some point, we all form a certain expectation for ourselves … of our lives and the way we think they will turn out, or aught to turn out. But then they don’t, at least not in the way we thought they would–and its then we learn to deal with the leftovers of the paint-by-number picture we couldn’t fill in. Author Po Bronson once said, “If you want to give yourself a fair chance to succeed, don’t expect too much too soon.” While I think he has a salient point, I can’t help but sometimes wonder when I’ll get the rest of my picture sorted.
Recently, my husband and I attended a talent show for our children’s school. Our son was involved in the all-class first grade production of the, “Three Little Pigs.” Like any good, gushing parents, we sat in the front row snapping pictures and taking video clips of our little piggy (though he had no speaking part or notable role as there were sixteen little piggies in this version). Clapping and grinning, we nudged one another in pride and smiled at our baby boy on stage. Then … the, “other” performers happened. First there was the six-year-old guitarist. Then, another six-year-old played the violin. Then there was a girl in the same class who played a classical piece on the harp! THE HARP! When it came time for the cellist in third grade, (and after my husband and I gained enough composure to close our gaping mouths) we marveled, and then–lost it. Shaking with fits of laughter both of us tried to tactfully hide, we failed miserably, giggling like kids in church who were supposed to be serious.
After realizing we were way behind on the musical front, my husband leaned over and said, “Bet none of these kids can ski down a black-diamond.” A few days later as I was cooking dinner, I turned on some hip hop music and my kids and I spent a half hour pop, lock and spinning around the kitchen. I had a flash in my mind of compiling a video compilation of my kids skiing and brake-dancing to explicit lyrics during the next talent show. But you know what? It wouldn’t be half bad. My kids are wicked talented, just not in many conventional ways, and I guess I feel like I have a lot to be proud of in that alone.
I think that in terms of expectation, I always try to tell my kids and my students that it’s, “you against you.” You are the only one you really need to try to outdo or impress. But then I wonder, do I really live by that mentality? Do I have a me against me attitude? Does the idea of who I thought I’d be match up to who I am? Am I at least on my way to who I’m supposed to be? Will I know the difference?
Alexander Pope once said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” While I don’t necessarily agree, I have learned what is, and is not worth fussing about. When I first became a mother, everything had to be just so. My son’s clothes had to be new and match. Everything was pristine and as bubbliciously-perfect as I could make it this side of heaven. Now, bless her heart, my daughter is wearing “Friday” days of the week underpants, and it’s Tuesday. Hey, clean is clean and at this point in the game … that’s what matters. Someday (no doubt somewhere near fifth grade when she’ll actually be able know the days of the week independently of her mother’s damage) I think she will forgive me.
Honestly, it isn’t my daughter, or son, or (bless him for his patience) my husband, I worry about. I know they love me, flaws and all. It’s everyone else (me included) and the judgement that I may not actually meet or exceed their expectations as I’d like to. But I try to reign this in, and keep perspective. Jodi Picoult had a beautiful quote in her book Nineteen Minutes that helped me. It said, “If you spent your life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask … with nothing beneath it.”
So the truth is–I’m not sure if I’m there yet. I don’t know if I’m exactly where and who I am supposed to be, but I know I’m on the right track. My kids might dance to ghetto music sometimes, but they smile with confidence while doing it. My husband might get frustrated with my insecurities, but he never doubts that every night he’ll have a hand to hold that will forever wear his ring. My students might not always want to discover language and literature, but by the time they leave me, they will, no doubt, have learned ways to discover themselves. And so I guess I’m on my way … and I expect for now, that’s close enough.