“But It’s Not Like Last Time!”: Finding Joy in Unmet Expectations and Change

Remember this?

Her face was red and wet with tears. Her fists were clenched and she was shaking her head spastically making her blonde hair flail around her head. She continued to whine and complain, but I could barely understand her words through her deep sobs. She was having a full-fledged meltdown.

Baggage was to blame.

No, not figurative baggage, as in difficult life circumstances that travel with us from our pasts into our future, I mean baggage, as in, our suitcases.

My 9-year-old daughter, Kenzie, was sitting in the one back row seat of our van that we had not folded down so as to have more room for our luggage. The van was still snuggly parked in our garage, and we were testing out the seating arrangements for our twenty-hour drive to Florida. This would be our second year taking a Spring Break vacation as a family of five. There was a lot of stuff shoved into our minivan: golf clubs, suitcases, beach chairs, snacks. Kenzie was surrounded by all of it in this trial run of making sure we could get everything in the van, including the kids.

Kenzie wasn’t crying because she was crowded or uncomfortable, she was crying because the suitcases were not close enough to her.

Sob. “Last year when I sat here the suitcases were right up against me!” Sob. “That was one of my favorite parts of the drive.” Sob. “I want it to be just like last year!” Wail.

There are moments in parenthood where you lose your cool. There are also moments when you’re overjoyed with your child. Then there are moments like this one when you’re just plain confused.

“So you’re telling me that you’re throwing a fit right now because the golf clubs are closer to you than the suitcases?” I said with a bit of a growl in voice.

Sob. “Yes! I want the suitcases to be closer to me so it’s just like last year!”

And thus began year two’s vacation where we frequently heard the phrase, “but last year we ___________ (fill in the blank).

My kids are huge fans of tradition. They savor life and enjoy each season and activity that comes with it. Each fall, they want to make a trip to the same apple orchard. Each Christmas, they want to hang the garland on the banister just like we did the year before. They love each tradition and have big hopes, expectations, and emotions involved in each one.

Speaking of apple orchards… the apple has not fallen very far from the tree. I wish I could say my husband was the tradition-lover who has thus modeled big feelings toward repeating expectations, but he ain’t that tree, folks.

I’m going to have to take the blame on this one. This baggage comes with me.

I love tradition, and I have a lot of hopes riding on expectations. And for many reasons, I’m going to say that’s a fine way to live. We tradition-lovers are also big on noticing and appreciating things, and we are often full of gratitude. If I do say so myself, we can be really lovely people to be around when traditions and plans go as scheduled.

But hitching our hopes to tradition and expectations can sometimes lead to a bumpy ride when plans come unhinged.

Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to recalibrate when it comes to traditions and expectations. Just as an infant is trained to self-soothe when she cries in her crib and no one comes to pick her up immediately, I’ve learned to self-soothe when expectations turn into disappointments. I’ve come to understand that joy can still be found in the changes, even if joy seems to be wearing a disguise.

Our first year in Florida, we went to a beach on a beautiful intercostal waterway where we found about a dozen whole sand dollars. It was amazing, and the kids loved these fragile sea treasures. But on our second trip, when we returned to the same beach, the wind was strong and the choppy water churned in a way that made it impossible to find any sand dollars. The kids were super disappointed.

But, as we walked along a different beach, we found some really cool shark teeth, a treasure we hadn’t found the year before. I capitalized on this and starting saying a five-word phrase each time one of the kids, or myself, would let disappointment creep in over a failed expectation or change.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Guys! Think about it! Both are treasures! So we didn’t find sand dollars this year, kids. But, we found shark teeth! How cool is that? It doesn’t have to be just like last time to be good.

“But last year ate at that one restaurant that had the popcorn shrimp!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But last year we made those apple pies!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But it’s our tradition to have cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

And this doesn’t just help my kids deal with changes and unmet expectations. It helps me!

When my second book launched and it didn’t go the same as the first book had, I repeated “sand dollars and shark teeth” in my mind often. It was a mantra to remind myself that it didn’t have to be just like last time to be successful or good.

When my child’s schoolteacher didn’t run their classroom the same way my older child’s classroom was operated when they were in that same grade, I had to recalibrate. Wait, I thought I knew what to expect and how this was going to work! But it’s okay. Sand dollars and shark teeth.

When holiday plans changed last minute due to illnesses or activities beyond my control my gut reaction was, “this won’t be as good as last year.” But maybe it was. We made new memories! Sand dollars and shark teeth.

I’m going to be honest, Kenzie’s meltdown over not sitting close enough to the suitcases was a little over the top for me. I did not initially understand her response and I got pretty upset with her.

But after a week of finding zero sand dollars and realizing that unmet expectations and change were the reason for her tears, I understood a little more. I didn’t let her off the hook for behaving like she did, but I file the realization away in my mind.

“But, it’s not like last time!” can be baggage that travels with each of us. I get it. I’m a frequent flier in this club. But just because it’s different, changed, or not what we expected doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Tuck that phrase away in your baggage.

If it ain’t broke.

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 1.06.32 PM

It’s one of our family’s favorite “home videos.” Our middle child, then two-year-old Karly, attempting to drive a small motorized golf cart.

Attempting is the best word for this scenario.

She pushes the gas pedal with her little purple shoe, and the cart lunges forward. Karly’s hands are resting down by her sides. She moving, but not controlling where she’s going.

At the prompt of her big brother yelling “Stop!”, she lifts her foot off the gas and narrowly misses driving into a row of bushes.

“It’s not working!” She claims as she climbs out of the cart (the cuteness of it all multiplied by the fact that she can’t pronounce her ‘r’s’ and rhymes the word ‘working’ with ‘looking.’)

Oh, but it is working, sweetheart. To drive you must steer. To steer, you must put your hands on the steering wheel.

It ain’t broke.

You ain’t doin’ it right.

I’m guilty of it too. No, not driving with my hands by my sides (Geesh! Give me some credit!) but of getting off course.

I wish to get somewhere. To head in a new direction.

Toward better conversations with friends. Talk that is rich and uplifiting, not gossipy and self-focused.

Toward better understanding of who I am in Christ. Life that is lived free from worry and fear.

Toward a healthier body. One that makes wise decisions to eat well and exercise regularly.

But, sometimes I end up in a row of bushes.

“It’s not working!”

Oh, but it is working, sweetheart. To drive you must steer. To steer, you must put your hands on the steering wheel.

I can’t just wish to be somewhere. If I really want to get there, I must steer myself in that direction.

Steering rarely requires large movements. It’s tiny corrections and changes that put you on a different trajectory. 

Little changes, small tweaks, tiny adjustments. They can add up to big change, and put you in a whole new place.

You just need to keep your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the gas.


This post was inspired by the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are encouraged to write for five minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: WORK

 

That’s How We Roll.

IMG_0912

The grass felt damp and cold under me. The late summer sun was setting and the warm day was giving way to a crisp evening. I wasn’t prepared. My jacket was in car. I guess I’d need to adjust my thinking now that fall was fast approaching. It’s jacket season, Christy. Like it, or not.

I turned and looked over my left shoulder. My kids were standing on a small hill. Each had a golf putter in hand and a pile of golf balls at their feet. They were playing around on the putting green and I was enjoying the show. Mostly, I liked the commentary.

“Which of those three flags on the putting green are you aiming for?” I asked.

My middle child, the one who just turned nine, answered quickly.

“Whichever one the ball rolls closest to when I hit it.”

I smiled and shrugged my cold shoulders. I guess sometimes we all adjust. Our mindsets, our golf swings, our wardrobes.

Earlier in the week, that same child sat and sobbed at the thought of making a decision. It wasn’t even a bad set of options she was choosing between, she just felt overwhelmed and fearful that she’d pick the wrong one.

“There is no wrong answer here, Karly.” My husband said. “These are both good choices. Mommy and I understand that it’s sometimes hard to make a decision, but what we have learned to do is to just pick one — to the best of our knowledge, and then later, if we need to adjust, we do.” I stood there nodding my head in agreement.

Sometimes we just have to swing the putter, hit the ball, and watch where it rolls.

And then we adjust.

We learn. We think about how we hit the ball and what it felt like, and we decide if that’s how we want to do it again. Or, do we want to try something different next time? Should we try to aim at something else?

Life is full of adjustments. Full of surprises. Confusion. Change. Clarifications.

And that’s okay. We truly live and learn every. single. day.

Sometimes we guide our decisions, and other times our decisions guide us.

Either way, we’ll never be succesful if we don’t swing the putter, hit the ball, and watch it roll.


This post was inspired by the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are encouraged to write for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s prompt: GUIDE