The weight of (great) expectations
A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. This year, I was going to give my kids a great Valentine’s day. We’d make homemade Valentines together; we’d enjoy a special themed breakfast (and maybe dinner), and we’d create memories that years later we would still treasure.
Needless to say, I think we created some memories. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they’re the ones that I want my kids to remember.
Our Valentine’s day prep began the week before, as my son’s teacher requested that he bring his Valentine’s in early. My son is nothing if not focused, so he pestered me for a few days until we did the cards: twenty-three hand-made cards (thirty-six, including the ones for his sister’s pre-school class) with a pair of dice attached to each one and an age-appropriate math game inside the cards. “I’m lucky to have you as a friend, Valentine!” “We make a great pair!” “You’re my odds-on favorite for a Valentine!” In what amounts to a supreme sacrifice of my perfectionist tendencies, I let the kids help as much as possible.
When the cards were 3/4 finished, my daughter knocked over a cup of juice and sent a wave of liquid toward the cards we’d just spent hours working on. I rescued most of the cards, but I lost my temper in the process and yelled at the kids, making both my baby and my four-year-old cry. My oldest son danced around the table saying, “I’m scared!”
So much for creating great memories.
This failure made me even more determined to do the rest of the holiday right. When Valentine’s rolled around, I made pink pancakes for my two oldest kids–which neither of them wanted to eat. My son had volunteered me to bring the “healthy” snack for his class that morning, and he wanted to bring biscuits. (I know. They’re not healthy. But that’s what he wanted). And strawberries. It was my own idiot idea to try to dip the strawberries to make them more festive, and I’d spent the evening before doing so. But that morning, after trying to juggle pancakes, a nursing baby, and the before-school-needs of my seven-year-old, I wasn’t feeling the love for the holiday like I wanted. And I still had to make the biscuits. By the time I dragged the biscuits, the baby, and the four-year-old into my son’s class (late), it was all I could do not to feel utterly demoralized by the whole mess.
I like to think I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I’ve survived 30+ years on earth, I have three children and a PhD, and yet I consistently manage to sabotage myself with the weight of my own (and society’s) expectations.
Recently, Kacy Faulconer posted a lovely and honest list of the ways she fears she’s failing her children over at Babble. I think most of us can add our own fears–the ways we’re failing our friends, our children, our faith. As for me, I worry that I’m not fun enough, that my naturally serious temperament will somehow ruin the carefree years of my children’s childhood (hence the disastrous attempt at Valentine’s Day). I worry that my inherent dorkiness will pass to my children and they’ll find middle school and high school unendurable. (I watch my daughter, with one of her preschool friends, sing “We’re the cool girls!” as they walk into preschool and I waver between tears and laughter because I’m pretty sure my daughter doesn’t have a chance at being cool–at least, not until college.) I worry that my children will someday pick up on the fact that I have questions about my faith and these questions will translate into insurmountable doubts in my children. Yet I also worry that my children won’t learn to question enough to build the faith that they need.
By now, most of you have seen the “Drops of Awesome” post that’s been making the rounds of the internet. I think there’s a lot to be said about the importance of celebrating our small triumphs–of seeing the fact that I made Valentine’s day cards with my children (even with the yelling) as a triumph, rather than a tragedy.
But I think there’s also something to be said for grace.
As a young missionary, I struggled with the idea that my imperfections kept me from being an effective missionary. Now, as a mother, I face a similar struggle–the fear that if I don’t somehow meet up to all the expectations weighing on me, that weight will crush not just me but my children. In both cases, I think the answer is simply grace. Christ’s Atonement works not in spite of my imperfections, but through them.
I still need to work on moderating my expectations, on figuring out which ones are reasonable and which are expendable. In the meantime, I’m holding out for grace.
(And selective memory in my children!)