Expectations. They seem to have an insidious level of invisible power. I remember more than a few Christmases in confused tears because the heights of beauty and excitement I had poured my hopes into simply failed to materialise in the way that I had pictured.
It’s like the trap I dig for myself, as wide as the path, deeper the more details I pour into the image of ‘how it is supposed to go’. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me when I plummet to the depths that I have created… but it maddeningly often is.
Dave ran a philosophy camp for his Year 11 students this week. It was an event borne out of a class petition – a pleading from the students to have space to have the freedom to continue the deep conversations that sparked out of their insights. As the night drew closer Dave began planning an epic battle of factions, giving each student a position and powers to be drawn upon in times of need. The group took to the challenge with gusto, designing huge faction flags – red for Odyssey and black for Vanguard. Costumes were made, conspiracies hatched and wonder made tangible.
Feeling partly guilty for having another obligation that took him away from the craziness of ordinary life, and partly just excited about the idea of sharing a great experience with his family, Dave organised for us to come up and stay overnight.
It was the best of times. Eli needed little introduction to insert himself into all the conversations with the teenage girls and soon became attached to a few favourites. Hudson eventually warmed up and threw himself into funny little gags to make people laugh. Ivy overcame her grumpy face to treat everyone to impromptu dance performances and enthusiastic ‘bye-byes’ whenever it was time to leave the room. There was delicious food and dance-offs, camp fires and soccer, singing and laughter. Meeting Dave’s students and getting to see him in action was both entertaining and satisfying.
We let the kids stay up way past bedtime, dressing them warmly in onesies and gumboots to head up to the roaring campfire. Sticky fingers retrieved charred marshmallows from seared sticks, little voices hummed along to Green Day and Ed Sheeran and an adventurous figure traipsed out into the dark to locate more brush to set alight. If you could pause and replay moments in life, that would be one I would put into the bank of enchantment. Remarkably, all the kids settled without much incident and we all settled down for a peaceful sleep before morning.
It was the worst of times. Five of us were in the one tiny room. Ivy awoke at 1am and began crying. I had forgotten to bring her special teddy and it seemed that this was to be a deal breaker. We relocated the portacot, tried bringing her into our beds, tried shushing and pleading with her, put mattresses on the floor – all to no avail. Two and a half hours later, I looked Failure wearily in the face and raggedly began packing the car to go home. I was angry, frustrated, exhausted and swearing. Disappointment hit me the hardest. We had been having such a great time and I had to miss out.
After driving home with Hudson and Ivy at 4am, Hudson decided that he wasn’t in the mood for sleep and it took another hour or so to finally get him in his own bed. I collapsed, spent, onto the pillow, but the constant cycle of drifting off only to be awoken made sleep elusive. Ivy didn’t even have the decency to sleep in, and the day began only moments after it had ended. When I made the trek back to the campsite to pick up Eli, he rewarded me by spending the entire half hour drive home screaming for ‘Daddy’. I was not amused, to put it mildly, and there were a few tirades issued from the driver’s seat and dramatic threats of never, ever going to a camp again. All the magic of the day prior had evaporated, leaving me worn and a little hopeless trying to get through the rest of the daylight hours with three over-tired children.
Expectation is a difficult beast. I’m still not quite sure how to harness the power of hope and anticipation whilst not investing too much into the mental picture to which I end up comparing the reality. As a Type 1 in the Enneagram, letting go is something that is difficult for me, and I am (slowly) learning to relax and allow life to swirl around me without trying to control it. Also, I’m learning to forgive myself more quickly when my reactions are left wanting, rather than berate myself and sink into a shame spiral.
A plan is made,
details eagerly crafted
An orb forms,
but hopes are caught inside
I watch as the
sphere of light
catching the sunbeam
It siphons my joy
I don’t see until it is
Like a grenade it
particles and fragments
latch onto every surface
Anger sweeps Pleasure aside
I search for a scapegoat
They present themselves
My grief finds an
I’m learning to recognise the siphoning orb before it is too late, but I’m sure I will continue to fall into the trap for a while yet. Uncensored texts of rage and disappointment to Naomi and Monica helped me face the feelings head on, rather than allowing them to continue to spill over onto the kids. I sure wasn’t perfect or graceful in my responses that day, but we managed to recover in a remarkable amount of time and see hope again. John and Pat showing up on the doorstep to help the hours speed by a little faster also allowed me to feel more human.
And if I had the chance to do it again, I would. The magic of the experience was enough to outweigh the plunge into exhaustion and despair… just. Though this time I would bring that damn teddy.