I swallowed a lump in my throat, thinking about my son's eighth grade year. It was different than I expected. Harder. More confusing. A learning curve for me as a parent to rival the last leg of the climb to the top of Mount Everest: straight up, no turning back.
I sighed, catching myself wishing for normal, predictable, average.
In that moment, watching the boys ride away on their bikes, I remembered once again that my expectations create my sadness. My wish for a different life than the one I have keeps me firmly planted in unhappy soil. Nothing good grows there.
As Shakespeare said: "Expectation is the root of all heartache."
But what do we do when the life we have so carefully nurtured in our imaginations doesn't match the life we wake up to day after day?
I think our natural instinct is to blame ourselves: I should be grateful.
Or make comparisons: At least I have a roof over my head, unlike the victims of the recent fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
Or deny the feelings altogether, while throwing a little shame on top: Gawd! Stop your whining. Buck up, crybaby!
So what's the alternative? Gratitude? Meditation? The Work by Byron Katie?
Yes, but first we need to grieve.
A dream died. Maybe it was your marriage. Or the brilliant career you thought you'd have by now. Or the milestone you thought your child would've mastered already. The size of the dream doesn't matter; it must be mourned first in order to move on.
So cry. Feel all the feelings. Every single one.
Make a ritual by writing about your unfulfilled expectation, your dashed dream, and accompanying grief on a piece of paper. And then, let it go. Burn it or bury it or cathartically rip it to shreds.
When you're done - truly done - fill the newly opened space inside you with the seeds of appreciation for the life you have. The messy, imperfect, real life you wake up to each day.
Here's how I planted my seeds of appreciation today:
• With my poodle who runs to me at the off-leash dog park when she's afraid of the big dogs and it reminds me of how my kids did the same when they were little and afraid of the big kids (except they grabbed my leg and shouted, "Base!")
• With the air conditioning in my office. I'm ready for you, summer!
• By reminding myself that my teenagers occasionally hug me voluntarily.
The good in my life is easier to see when I look for what's there, instead of what's missing. I might be growing weeds in this garden of mine, but even dandelions have flowers.
Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash