Friday, April 01, 2011

Expectations and Broken People

Mothers invented expectations. I’m certain the word was coined one fine, sunny day when the eldest woman in the house decided it was not too much to ask the humans who left the house to close the door when they exited. Mothers around the world got together and decided that it was reasonable to expect able-bodied children to take two baby steps forward to ensure that the laundry landed in the basket. Mother may I? Yes you may.

Expectations got solidified and placed in Webster’s when a 19-year-old girl with a boyfriend got forgotten on Valentine’s Day. After witnessing the fallout, someone said, “There ought to be a word for what just happened.”

Expectations can either be a good thing or a bad thing. For good, they give us something to aim for. I’m not into positive thinking, but there is something to be said about facing a challenge and thinking, “With God’s help, I can do this.” I will do this.

It can be good to have expectations of others, too. I expect my husband to be faithful to his marital vows. I expect my kids to respect adults and do well in school. And after what I paid in vet bills, I expect my dog to be a fantastic skunk-buster and to have some manners when it comes to the car tires of our guests.

One thing I’ve learned about kids, they need expectations. Without expectations, a preschool play date can turn into Lord of the Flies as soon as you turn your back.

I’ve never had a problem with having huge expectations. The way I run my household is one example. I like a well-ordered home the same way I like umbrella drinks on the beach with servants waving pom fronds and feeding me grapes. That’s how much I like it. (Why is it always grapes? If the fantasy were real, it’d be Reeces Peanut Butter Cups.) But as long as couch cushions are seen as the building blocks of a great fort, mothers aredoomed. Which is to say, Pottery Barn has some fabulous ideas, but cute displays of glass balls on the coffee table are not going to happen in a house where children live.

Ah, realistic expectations. Pesky little things. When I floated an idea to my husband yesterday, which may or may not have been crazy-ambitious (depending on which medication you’re on), he said, “You don’t need any more ideas, dear. You just need a staff.” That was a fancy way of saying that he’s not getting roped into spending the weekend in the lumber section at the Home Depot. He knows how to squash my caboose, but it’s truly saved us a ton of money.

Now here is where it gets nuanced. Many years ago, I learned that my life would go better if I didn’t have huge expectations of the other people in my life. Antinomies are tricky little things. I think they’re both true: you must have expectations, and yet sometimes, you just have to let go of them.

Letting go of the need for affirmation or the expectation of reciprocation allows us to love others as Christ loved us….while we were yet sinners.

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