“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.

Just visiting.

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The pictures in my iPhoto library scrolled in front of my eyes like credits rolling on a screen at the end of a movie. Only faster.

I was feeling a little uneasy in my stomach. Granted, I could have been getting motion sick from the quick movement (No, really. I’m serious. This happened to me once at the library in the 1990’s while looking at microfiche), but the real fact of the matter was that I was nauseous from nostalgia. Sick from sentimentality. Pained from pondering.

You get the idea.

I had to sort through the memories for a reason. All three of my children have had the same woman as their kindergarten teacher. My youngest is now “graduating” from kindergarten, and our tenure in her class is over. Just like that.

This teacher is amazing, and in an effort to make her a gift containing a photo of her with each of my kids when they were in her class, I had to search through approximately 12 billion photos in hopes to find three. Eventually, I did find them, but in the searching, I found many more that pulled on my heart strings.

My now twelve-year-old’s third birthday party with the Thomas the Tank Engine cake that I spent HOURS making.

My now eight-year-old’s first pigtails.

My soon-to-be first grader’s birth. The first time her siblings held her in their arms.

Chubby cheeks.

Little toes.

Birthday parties. First days of schools.

My seven-year-old’s store-bought birthday cake.

The time my girls got their pigtails cut off to donate to children in need of wigs.

The three of them arm in arm at a baseball game.

I found myself lost in a world of memories, yet feeling like these events had happened in my life almost as quickly as the photos on the screen were whizzing past me.

And in a few more minutes, it seems they’ll be more photos in the camera roll.

Graduations.

Weddings.

Grandkids.

Another generation of chubby cheeks and little toes.

More firsts. More lasts.

The knot in my stomach was now fully tied.

The moments of this life are so fleeting. I try to hold on to them. To keep them. To at least make them slow their pace.

I mentally place the events in my bucket as I cross the firsts and lasts off my list. But I must have a hole in my bucket because as fast as they pile higher, they’re gone.

Each moment is only here for a visit. No, they can’t linger for long. The are just passing through.

But regardless, I’m going to keep inviting the moments of life in. I’ll keep putting them in my bucket, my iPhoto library, and my heart.

And I’ll enjoy each visit, for as long as it lasts.


This post is part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are encouraged to write for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: VISIT

 

Welcome, Joy.

She unfolded the little slip of white paper and read the question aloud. The scribbled letters, written in marker, were legible to her little Kindergarten mind, though not always decipherable to the rest of us. Karly had filled a jar with these little scraps, each containing a question that she’d composed, and to which she wanted an answer. It was her way of continuing a tradition we’d started in our family of asking everyone a “conversation starter” question at dinner. The activity was a family favorite, and now Karly wanted to be the master of ceremonies.

“What is your favorite feeling?” our miniature emcee asked. She was thinking outside the box and wanted to know what emotion we all liked the best.

We all took a moment to think and then all five of us agreed. The answer was unanimous.

Joy.

We all like joy.

Who doesn’t?

Joy is great. Right?

So if I like joy so much, why do I sometimes find myself feeling joyless?

I’ve often heard the expression that so-and-so or such-and-such “stole my joy,” but as I think about it, is that really possible?

Can someone else take my joy? Or did I allow my joy to leave?

Perhaps it’s a crowding problem. I have so many other emotions, some that I don’t care for nearly as much as joy, that can take up a lot of space.

Fear.

Doubt.

Uncertainty.

Lies.

Worry.

There’s not much room for joy.

Sometime joy gets pushed out the front door of my heart.

I know that as a Christian I am to “be joyful always” like Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, but apparently joy is not a constant or automatic guest in the human heart.

Joy waits for an invitation. And like any act of hospitality, to host joy takes effort and sacrifice.

But I wish for joy to take off its coat and stay awhile.

So today I’ll open the door and ask the fears and lies and doubts to hit the road.

I’m going to make room for a favorite.

I’m going to throw down the welcome mat, open the door of my heart wide,

…and welcome joy.167324_128373713898631_4310663_n

 

This post is part of Five Minute Friday where a group of bloggers link up here and write about a given topic (for approximately 5 minutes.) The topic is based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word was: WELCOME