What do we do when we feel overwhelmed with everything we can’t control? Does everybody have this feeling or is it just those of us with a tendency towards anxiety? I am thinking it all goes back to expectations and plans.
I see it in the simple, daily things:
I take the kids to the playground and we happen upon a free “kids’ day” with games, water slides, and a water bouncy house. They have a great time and I love watching them have fun. The great moods last only as long as we are in the “fun zone” of the park, because once we head home the kids are exhausted, cold and grumpy. I am tired from watching over them in the midst of a crowd, so I forget that they are just feeling out of balance and need help regulating. I get frustrated and say we might not be able to do anything fun if this is going to happen every time!
I can’t control their behavior, and I don’t want to. Why does it still take me by surprise and make me so frustrated? Expectations.
I see it in the deeper, more distressing parts of life.
I’m in Canada right now, and I’m ashamed to drive through town with my US license plate, advertising that I might be a supporter of the behavior that ignores human worth and truth and the true spirit of what it is supposed to mean to be American. In conversations, at least, people can quickly see that I would never support that way of thinking and acting. I get frustrated with what is happening in the US because I see people continuing to support actions that I find abhorrent. I have an especially hard time knowing a friend or family member is in support of this government. I keep thinking there should be some way I can convince them to see things from my perspective. I can’t control my government’s behavior, though I do want to. But, why does it still take me by surprise? It’s obvious to me why it’s frustrating, but it’s not as frustrating for everyone. Why is that? Expectations.
A few weeks ago, I took the kids to the beach for the first time this summer. It was a beautiful, 80-degree Fahrenheit day right before my 40th birthday, so I thought it would be a fun, relaxing way to spend part of the afternoon. I took along a book I was reading for book club and my knitting and a chair as well as the sand toys for younger garçon. Older garçon doesn’t play with sand toys these days, but I “knew” he’d have a ball chasing sea gulls, which was his favorite pastime last summer. I figured we’d go for a couple of hours, I’d read while they’d play nearby, laughing, then we’d pack up and head home happily for dinner with Papa.
At least, that’s what I expected.
It was so windy that the pages of my book wouldn’t stay open easily and sand was blowing hard and hurting my skin, which made it less than relaxing to sit and read in the folding chair. Younger garçon played as expected, happily building sand castles, until older garçon, bored and complaining that we needed to go home, “accidentally” crushed the younger one’s creation. I could see things were deteriorating quickly, so I tried to get us out of there and back home as quickly as possible before someone (maybe me!) had a meltdown. I declared that we had 5 more minutes before it was time to pack up, which they were both relatively fine with. However, once we cleaned up the toys and they had rinsed off the sand, it took us another 45 minutes to walk what is normally a 5 minute walk off the beach and back to the car. One time, I turned around to see the younger one on his belly, in the wet sand again, making some kind of snow angel in the red grit. He had to go rinse off again after doing this at least 3 more times before we finally started walking to the car. Then, it was an excruciatingly slow march, looking at every stone and shell along the way, stopping in the stream that feeds into the Gulf and negotiating about how much of his body he could get wet again.
It felt torturous.
By the time we got to the car, I was not only irritated, I was exhausted mentally from trying to get everything to move in the direction I thought it needed to go. I complained the whole 10 minute drive home with key phrases like, “Do what you’re told to do!” “Stop bugging your brother on purpose!” “Just go when I say it’s time!”
I felt, at the time, like the kids had ruined our fun day. But, aside from it not really being “ruined”, I realized that what ruined it was the way I was interpreting everything.
Imagine the same day, with different expectations.
We go to the beach, I put away my book when it’s not easy to read and just the feel of the cold water on my feet while younger brother plays in the sand. Older brother starts out bored, but I start a rock-skipping contest with him, because I notice that he is into competition right now and is enjoying throwing things because he is excited about baseball. He may still crush his brother’s sandcastle, but instead of seeing it as totally unpredictable, appalling behavior, I see it as something that happens from time to time and needs to be dealt with in a calm, direct way (Such as: “That is going to hurt Sebastien’s feelings, and I know you don’t want him to be upset because you love him. I know it’s fun to do these things, but we need to find something else that you can have fun doing with him instead of making him scream.”). I, again, take that as a sign that we need to change course, so I give the 5-minute departure warning. This time, however, I don’t expect to get to the car as I would if I were by myself. I expect to get there on the path of a curious 5 year old. We have an adventure that lasts 45 minutes, exploring every creature’s shell, interesting stone, and piece of debris we encounter on the way to the stream, where we both put our feet in the water “one last time” before heading to the car.
Thankfully, since that first trip to the beach, I have not had the same frustrating experience because I did change my expectations. It was as simple as realizing that it just wasn’t possible for us to get to the car in less than 45 minutes, so I set the departure time based on that. Now, one of the highlights of our trips to the beach is the trip back to the car. We have discovered all sorts of “treasures” together. The kids help each other find crab shells to take home and “dissect” later, we flip over live crabs to “save them”, we search for snails in the tiny shells and throw them back into the water. Once, we captured a jelly fish in a bucket and watched, all amazed, while it puffed around in the small space before we poured it back in to the Gulf so it could “go home”. Some of the younger garçon’s favorite finds have included a lobster head complete with beady eyes (we decided to leave that on the beach:) ) and ropes from lobster traps (which he then decided he would use to create a trap for his brother with sausages as the bait. Brother played along and pretended to be “caught.” 🙂
Just looking at how many smiley faces I typed in that paragraph is clear evidence that we have a better time when I expect my trips and days to reflect that I am doing things with a 5 year old and 9 year old. It doesn’t mean things have to revolve around them and I never get to do what’s important to me, it just means that they are people, individuals, and they deserve the respect that goes along with that. They have their own opinions and ideas of what they want to do, and we, as parents, can’t expect them to just be shuttled from here to there like things that fit conveniently in the space we have set aside for them. The space where we have expected them to fit, and where they are telling us they need freedom to move from. Fitting into that expectation is impossible. No matter what the expectation is. No matter who the person is.
I sure wish, sometimes, that we could dictate our expectations with some kind of authority. It would be nice if I could expect to, as an American, be part of a country that respects individuality, diversity, and progressive thinking. It would certainly take away a lot of my frustration if I could, as with the kids, find out that by a change in perspective I could change a situation from exasperating to fulfilling. It would be nice if, with clear, direct communication, I could reason with those in our government and say, “”That is going to hurt this person’s feelings, and I know you don’t want him to be upset because you love him, just as I know you love all humanity. I know it’s fun to do these things, because you get a lot of attention, but we need to find something else that you can have fun doing with our country instead of making people scream.”
It’s when we expect everything to go our way that life really gets stressful and frustrating.
So, what do we do when changing expectations means expecting the next devastating move from our government? When changing our expectations really doesn’t make things feel any better? When we realize that those who are content with the way the government is doing things have expectations that we would never want to make our own? That those expectations often involve looking at others as less important or at ourselves as more deserving?
We come up with a plan.
I have friends who inspire me with their plans.
I have a friend who writes letters to representatives. I have another friend who marches to protest. Another friend, one of the sweetest people I know, has been looking for a way to donate her skills as a lawyer to those who need counsel.
I am inspired to work on my plan.
I wish I could come up with something to actually help me feel more at peace with what is happening. I’d like to come up with some grand plan that would make big changes. Something that would make a difference in how people think. I want to feel like I am actually able to do something!
Since we know, from experience, that it is very rare to actually change someone’s mind, I think it all comes down to how we deal with what is happening. In any stress or trauma (and I do feel our country right now is causing a lot of trauma for people) it is important to accept reality and decide how to deal with it. I am going to deal with it by speaking up when I disagree, by treating people with respect no matter what their choices are, and by trying to keep my eyes open for others who are doing the same. There’s hope in that for me. I can see us as a band of like-minded stones, throwing ourselves into the water to create unknowable numbers of ripples.
So far, I am thinking about our trips to the beach. Those stones in the rock-skipping contest. The pebbles we examine on our adventure back to the car. How they plop into the water, or skim across the top of it, but no matter their depth, they make an impact. They cause ripples that extend and vibrations that are felt by creatures that we can’t even see because our eyes don’t work that way.
My plan is more of a strategy.
I am going to focus on doing everything I can to change the way I think and the way others think to make Love and Humanity parts of everyday conversation. I am going to be someone who, instead of grumbling about everyone being covered in grime and needing to rinse off for the millionth time, is going to see the opportunity to discover what is wonderful about each step along the way. I’ll try to see the truth in what those I don’t agree with are saying. That there needs to be more support for poverty in our country, that people want to be heard, that they want to feel they are just as important as everyone else. I am going to treat people that way because I do really think it. I am going to share my perspective of acceptance with anyone I can. Maybe if we start small we can remind eachother what is important– Humanity, Individuals, people who can’t be shoved into a box of our expectations because our expectations are always viewed with eyes that don’t work that way. We can’t see into someone’s world. We shouldn’t be trying to tell them how to live it.
This is the plan, though I have to admit it’s not terribly reassuring.
I need to accept that sometimes the things we do may not be noticeable on a large scale immediately, but that we can always create ripples. Be satisfied with the ripples. That will be my mantra.
Anyway, that’s my plan for having a good summer. What’s yours?