• Lijing Cobb

Expectations vs. Reality

Are you a planner? Do you visualize your day before it starts and put it down on a neat little track to run its course? Do you get frustrated when things get out of whack and disturb the flow of your world? Or are you able to adjust and adapt to the flow and maintain your equilibrium?

I'm a planner. Every morning in a quiet house when the children are sleeping, I set a schedule for the day down to the hour. Filling the time with an action allows me to focus my energy, and crossing the item out after its completion makes me feel that I accomplished something. Sometimes when I have a gap between two activities, I rack my brain to fill the slot with something I've been long meaning to do.

Yesterday was such a day. First day of the new year, I set it down on my schedule:

  1. Blog

  2. New Year's Offering video

  3. Clean and organize basement

  4. Play video games with kids

  5. 10:00 or 10:30 Spiderman, or 10:15: Sing 2

  6. Lunch at Flaming Grill

  7. Read

  8. Exercise (Just Dance?)

By the time I went to bed, I had managed to cross out all but the last item (but I do consider the many trips up and down 3 flights of stairs carrying heavy things as both aerobic and weight training). However, that doesn't tell the whole story, the interesting bits, the interruptions, the surprises both welcome and unwelcome (they come anyways, so might as well hug them tight), does it?

I finished the first two items before all my children got up.

We went to the 10:30 Spiderman movie. On the way there we had a fruitful Chinese lesson. We enjoyed the movie for 2 and 1/2 hours, my little one and I bawling our eyes out (it's the best Spiderman movie yet and full of heart-warming moments. Definitely a fantastic choice for New Year's day), my 10yo turning her face away when the movie knocked on her emotions, and my 8yo son looking away during cooties scenes and was too manly to cry.

When we walked to our car to drive the short distance to the restaurant, where my kids' favorite buffet food awaits, our film of the day had its first glitch.

The movie theater parking lot, alas, does not offer the wide berth one expects from, say, Costco, or at home. Before our final arrival at the car and prior to kids touching the car doors, I had issued a dutiful "be careful when you open the doors!" before I opened my own door to hoist myself up to the driver seat.

Screech: a yell, a scream, crying, and a slam of the door when my 10yo indignantly plopped herself down in the passenger seat. My son had long claimed his perch behind my seat. My 7yo's little body was quivering between the space of the opened door and her seat, in tears, her world shaken.

The not-so-composed investigation led to the discovery that the 7yo had yanked the door with such force that the door was surely going to slam into the neighboring car, when my 10yo preempted that disaster by putting a firm hand on the swinging door (and her hand can be VERY firm. Check out all the calluses she has accumulated from her ninja training for reference). That was the yell. That firm hand definitely stopped the car damage, but the excess force (if my 7yo's violent yanking equals 10, I imagine my 10yo's firm hand had produced perhaps 15) pushed the door the other way, where the little body was, hence the scream and crying (my 7yo was fine by the way).

I viscerally invited my 10yo to imagine placing her body in the slamming door space, and told her she should apologize. 10yo is now in tears. She was helping.

I expressed my befuddlement to the 7yo: why on earth would you yank with all your might when I had just warned you to be careful? For the millionth time? With her right hand held up in front of her, palm up as if offering the absolute truth and nothing but the truth, head cocked to the right, gigantic tears in her eyes, she said, "well, I'm so little, and the door is so heavy. How do you expect me to open it gently?"

If you have ever owned a Yukon XL, you know that is the absolute truth and nothing but the truth.

"That's true," I replied, "but you could have asked for help, or come over to this side to get in."

Except she was probably too excited about going to her favorite buffet where all the food she knew she would like was beckoning to her, calling most of her attention away. Funny that as we walked to the car she had also suggested that we walk the short distance over to the buffet, and I had shot down her idea because it was raining (barely) and it was a busy parking lot (not at all), and she had genially said, "ok, maybe next time!" If I had taken her suggestion and not worried about the added time walking over and back (10 minutes tops), all of this could have been avoided, and we could have gotten a little adventure out of it too.

Instead we sat in the car as I fiddled on my phone for a while, letting them believe that they had ruined our day, and that we were not going to the alluring buffet anymore. It must have been about 20 minutes or so later that I finally drove them to the buffet.

No. 5 accomplished, but what a glitch. My oh my, I'm about to blame myself, but I'll stop right here. I'm human, I make mistakes. Let's move on. I'm a good mother.

On the car ride back home I told the kids my plan of playing video games with them. That defeated their expectations. Their mother? Video games? My son questioned my identity like the lost foal looking for his mother coming to a monkey: Are you my mother?

My evil genius plan was to get them to clean and organize the basement with me so that "we could be comfortably situated where the games are afterwards." I got them to consent willingly. I was so smart. Our basement had seen several flooding, and things that don't belong in it were scattered where they didn't belong for a long while as our busy life carried on after the multiple flooding incidences. While the disorderly situation didn't seem to affect the rest of my household, it had been weighing heavily on my mind and I was finally going to get that weight lifted with the help of my children!

To think now that they cared enough that their mother would spend time with them doing a thing that they love to do, to agree to cleaning and organizing a basement whose state did not bother them at all: how else do I put it except that IT IS PURE LOVE FOR ME???

During the 2 and 1/2 hours we spent on that goal, I came out of the role of a nurturing mother and slipped into the role of a task master with a whip. I got things done, cleaned, organized. I got angry at my son when I saw him carrying a single doll down 3 flights of stairs, moving leisurely, while my 10yo carried heavy bins of files and folders (her biceps were bulging through the effort and she heaved dramatic sighs equivalent to the effort). I might have yelled at (ok I did) my 7yo when she squished her little body between the wall and a bulky bookcase my 10yo and I were moving down the stairs (kids like to be right in the middle of action, don't they?!). I didn't give them a break, and might have raised my voice an octave or two too high every time my son asked when it's going to be over. When we finished for the day I didn't high-five them or acknowledge the ending in a positive, super-loving and appreciative motherly way, but instead told them to finish up situating their toys where they wanted, and slipped back upstairs on my own, sat down to eat a chocolate and read my book.

I know enough now to know when to not fill in a time gap. When to eat a chocolate, have a cup of tea, be by myself, let words soothe me.

So that I could stop infecting everyone around me with MY expectations.

From 5:30pm when we stopped, to 8:30pm when the kids finally were allowed to play video games, to 9pm when I inevitably joined them for the very first time in all our lives, I managed to postpone that moment with shower, dinner, cleaning. When I arrived at the much anticipated scene, all three of my kids were in the throes of their own game, amicably chatting with each other and giggling frequently with unreserved mirth. My 7yo was the only one who was willing to relinquish her controller to me (3 player maximum at one time, what a sign) periodically, and I was taught the basic maneuvers such as mining (consisting of holding a button down with the right forefinger and pushing another button forward with the left thumb, turning (using the right thumb to push a tiny stick in any directions until the picture on the screen makes me disoriented), and opening and closing the door (I forgot how to do that).

I watched my kids play. They are happy. I don't fully understand that happiness; I think it's unproductive. Are they really learning anything? What's the point? (Edit: as I was proofreading the draft, my 10yo and 8yo joined me and read my blog with me.They enlightened me with the following insights: it is relaxing because they get to experience new environments and make mistakes and learn from their mistakes without punishments. The video games offer them a gentle learning environment where they are not stressed out about survival and meeting expectations. Their "deaths" are temporary. They get to respawn, many, unlimited chances to start back up again.)

What's undeniable, as I witness the video game proceedings, despite all my incomprehension, is their happiness and relaxation. I think it is not the video games they crave, but happiness and relaxation. (My son heartily agreed on this point)

Happiness and relaxation come in different packages for different people. Sometimes it comes in books and chocolates. Sometimes it is a trip to the water park. Sometimes it is a gripping film. Sometimes it is a scrumptious buffet. Sometimes it is video games. (My 10yo asked, why did you put all the things that relax us? I was shocked to realize that I've been such a good liar about all these things--video games excepted--not being relaxing to me. Why such a facade?)

But you'll probably never find it in a package called "cleaning and organizing a messy basement."

Expectations vs. reality. While expectations might be conjured up with the greatest intentions, reality is deft at dealing out surprise hands, thwarting and defeating expectations. It is easy to want to label the surprises good or bad, categorize our experiences as positive or negative, and assign value to the process and outcome as productive or useless. We seem to be living in a black and white world, and our habits lead us to judge an action as right or wrong. I think I've been doing that all my life, following the rules set by certainly wise people, defining things according to tried and true knowledge.

But that practice hasn't really worked out all that great for me. What's white is often black too and many other shades in between. What's right to me is sometimes wrong for my 7yo. What's productive for you, could be a colossal waste of time for him. Who are we to call anything a name and castigate it to the hell of rigidity forever?

I think I'll try to be less pompous from now on. Less assuming. Less authoritative. Less sure. Less demanding. Less busy. When my husband finally showered and got down to the basement to sit with us, all 5 of us sat in a not yet perfectly organized and clean basement, the 3 children playing on the game consoles happily, my husband dozing off, me feeling a slight boredom and uneasiness that I might have been wasting my time, that picture was etched into my mind. For the first time, on New Year's Day of 2022, we sat in our basement as a family, playing video games together. That in itself, despite any values I might still try to assign it, is a memorable event, a start of something new and different, an effort, a door opening, a message, a blessing.

My kids are my teachers. I need to listen to them more often, all the time.

Expectations vs. Reality: you'd think that because I went to a buffet yesterday my weight scale would have borne witness to increased calorie intake this morning. I love the hibachi food there, and I love this tender fish and their green beans. But since I felt full after I ate everything on these two plates, I did not get anything else. My weight went down from yesterday.

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