Is it *really* the most wonderful time of the year?
It’s ironic that I’m sitting down to reflect on setting aside expectations for the sake of greater happiness. If you saw the scene around me, you would laugh at the irony at best or scoff at my hypocrisy at worst.
Here’s what you would see if you could reach through time and space to peek behind the current scene of yours truly. My blood pressure is slowly coming down and my facial expression still says, “I’m not ready to talk about it”. We’re both sitting on the couch—but on opposite ends—relieved to hear the soft hum of our daughter’s sound machine through the little monitor on the kitchen table.
She’s asleep for an afternoon nap and we’re both in self-assigned time outs.
All because of an attempt at a family Christmas photo. A failed attempt, if you haven’t already guessed. And in my stewing reflection of what just happened, I’m realizing that it all came down to the background of the photo. That’s right—the part you probably won’t even notice, if done correctly. Real mature, Keswani.
My husband wanted the background to be something meaningful - the city skyline, a Christmas tree, or the view from our rooftop deck. I wanted something neutral like a fuzzy background of a nearby park field or the brick wall that holds up the side of our house.
But did we lay those options out to each other and then discuss them, like grown up adults? Nope.
“What about this one, babe?”
“No, it looks like the buildings are coming out of our heads”
“I like this idea—do you?”
“No—there’s nothing to it. It’s kind of boring, don’t you think?”
And if our subtle arguing was a match to light a fire, then our struggling toddler was the kerosene that would take our emotional self-control as parents and blow it to bits. Because, in case you didn’t know, 15 month olds do not like sitting still nor do they like seeing a pretty glowing smartphone and be repeatedly denied a chance to play with it.
Especially when they are tired.
So subtle jabs at each other’s ideas dissolved into a tense trading of words that were way more dramatic and are great ways to escalate a conversation. You know what I’m talking about - “You always have a billion ideas at once and it’s so overwhelming” “You never like anything I suggest.”
Then our sweet angel, dressed in a Christmasy-red tutu & screaming on the floor, yawned. Hallelujah, it’s nap time.
And here we are. Silent on the couch.
The whole scene is a testament to what kind of people we turn into when our expectations aren’t spoken out loud and the monsters we turn into when they aren’t met.
I wish I could offer some more mature wisdom for you. I wish I could tell you about how my husband and I avoided a fight with our learned wisdom: We spoke our desires and dreams to each other in calm and loving voices, then poetically navigated through them to create a perfect setting in which we captured a genuine moment of laughter and joy on camera.
But I have a hunch that there are so many of you that will have a similar moment as us (or millions of them—ah, I’m still in dramatic mode). That most of us have not reached a perfect place of communicating expectations in efforts to avoid conflict. Maybe, in the sharing of these moments, we can all laugh at ourselves a bit and begin to take ourselves a little less seriously.
And whether it’s a short-sighted argument about the background of a photo or a tragic moment that knock the wind out of us, our anger from unmet expectations comes from the same place: disappointment and hurt that we lost something.
The big question is this: Is the thing you lost worth the heartache of the hurt you feel?
Some of the hurt is silly and goes away when you realize you’re being ridiculous. But sometimes, the hurt is so real that it’s all consuming. It’s the kind of hurt that will turn into a marker in your life: Before the hurt and after it. A new normal that you never wanted.
While I can’t be a shining example of what to do to achieve perfect harmony, I can share this lesson that I seem to need to learn on a daily basis: It starts with saying it out loud. Saying what we expect and hope for out loud can help us parse through what’s worth really going after and what is us just being selfish. What’s worth grieving over and what should be let go.
Because when expectations go unspoken, we carry anger, shame, and grief—when what we really want to carry is meaning, purpose, and love.
When our dear friends and family open up a Christmas card from our family (more accurately, if we are able to send one out), they’ll see a perfect little photo of us, with all the right filters and a pithy quote from a Christmas carol—like we are constantly only ever living in a state of good tidings and great joy.
What we —this little family tucked away in a corner of Chicago—are really doing is this: We’re trying to value the eternal over the temporary. We’re trying to remember to set aside the urgent breathless race of what’s expected of us, what’s expected of ourselves, so we can find what we’re all actually looking for: God. Each other. Memories that outlast short-sighted expectations.
So with that, it’s time to go kiss my husband and apologize for being a stinker (yep, no swear words around here. Because toddlers and growing minds).
Here’s to speaking out loud and valuing what really matters.