Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Play: Managing Expectations

As a child, I cried myself to sleep on Christmas night nearly every year.  I would count down the days starting in September, begin decorating in October, wake before sunrise on Christmas day, open mounds of gifts, visit with relatives, eat lovingly prepared meals and then lie in bed and realize that it was all over...and that, again, it hadn't quite measured up to my expectations.

It's not gifts that I fetishize these days, but family time.  I don't cry on Christmas night anymore; I pout on family Sunday's family ice skating trip. 

My husband and the girls got me a pair of ice skates for my birthday.  Though Big E has been in skating lessons for over a year and Little E recently started lessons, I haven't owned a pair of skates since I was in ninth grade.  There was no rink near where I grew up, so every winter I'd wait for the few days between when the lake down the street from my house froze and when a foot of crusty snow covered the smooth ice.  Sometimes that window of clean ice never came, and when it did it was brief. 

So, you can see why I might aggrandize the prospect of an afternoon at the rink with my loving family, wearing their overwhelming thoughtful gift --the one I've wanted since I was 15, sharing with my kids an activity that would have made my winter when I was their age.  Big E and I would hold hands and fly around the rink; Little E would clutch my hand in her little mittened paw as I supported her tentative steps.  My husband and would smile at each other over our happy children.  It would be just perfect.

Or maybe it wouldn't.  Maybe Little E would cling to my husband and glare at me, refusing to hold my hand.  Maybe Big E would decide that she'd rather die than hold my hand and that, actually, she'd rather pretend to play the arcade games in the lobby than skate with me.  Maybe some totally irresponsible little girl leaning on a training bar would wander into my path and I'd fall on my ass trying to avoid her.  Perhaps some older girls would even rush over to see if I was okay, looking pretty certain that I'd probably broken a hip, making me feel approximately as old as Betty White. It would be just typical.

I'll admit that the girl who cried at Christmas emerged for a bit.  But I soothed her by pointing out that not only do I have the skates now, but, even better than a mound of gifts, I have the family that knew to get me those skates for me... and we can work on the rest.

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