There was never another big, fancy holiday party…
Last week Chris Freer from Smart Women Talk Radio interviewed me about my book “Let Go of the Rock”. The book is about beliefs, myths or patterns of behavior that hold us back or no longer serve us. Chris wanted to know what were some of the “rocks” that have been most challenging for me. Right now the answer to this is easy because it is really fresh to me. Expectations! Letting go of my expectations around how things “should” be or “ought” to be, makes my life happier, simpler and drama-free.
But it isn’t always easy for me to recognize these rocks. Sometimes I have to be right in the midst of the pile before I see them.
As many of you know, I flew to Massachusetts in early November. Part of the trip was work related, but most of the trip was focused on the arrival of my first grandson. I was excited and really looking forward to his timely birth and then cooking a Thanksgiving celebration for the new family. I even had someone special flying in from California to celebrate the holiday and meet my grandson.
As it happens with babies, the due date came and went - without a baby. We inched closer and closer to Thanksgiving and I carried on as usual. I made lists and I shopped. I consulted with my daughter’s mother-in-law who’d be joining us. I began baking and preparing. And my daughter continued to resemble anything but a woman about to give birth.
As I thawed the bird and prepared the breadcrumbs, I could feel myself getting a little panicky about how I’d “expected” Thanksgiving to go. As I pulled out my mother’s grape nut custard pudding recipe, I could also sense my daughter getting a little frustrated – perhaps with me and perhaps about what she was expecting in terms of the birth and the holiday.
Finally just two days before Thanksgiving he was born. But the delivery was not without some mild hiccups and so it was clear she would not be returning home for Thanksgiving. But the strangest thing happened. Despite all the information to the contrary, I continued to cook and prepare as if 10 people were coming to dinner. Another snag in the plan was that my guest who came from out of town got hit with a migraine headache on Thanksgiving Day and had to take some meds and sleep it off. I found myself oddly alone with appetizers, a 15-pound, fully stuffed turkey, all the fixings, 2 pies and a sentimental custard pudding.
As I sat alone at my daughter’s table taking an account of how I had continued to create a Thanksgiving feast despite all the new evidence showing me that no one was coming to eat, I had a little bit of a meltdown. I felt angry with my friend for getting sick (how rational is that?). I felt sorry for myself that I was alone. But I mostly felt ashamed that once again I had let my expectations stand stronger than my ability to be in the present moment and (as Martha Beck says) fall in love what is versus what I am thinking should be.
Projecting expectations onto others.
As I caught myself in this sad sack moment, I was reminded of another holiday when I was burdened by a similar rock. From the time my daughters were born, their dad and I hosted an over-the-top holiday party. I mean I was convinced that Martha Stewart was spying on me to get ideas. I decorated 3 or 4 Christmas trees including a 16-foot tree in the living room. I prepared food for 150 people. I decorated the house top to bottom. I even handmade all the invitations and was certain to have them delivered by the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We did this party for at least 10 years. Every year the party was a blur to me, but the guests had a great time...
After my husband and I divorced (unrelated to the party), I was hanging onto the notion that I MUST have the party for my daughters. I believed that they expected it and that it had great meaning to them. I was chatting with a friend and lamenting about all the work, the cost, and how it just didn’t feel as joyous now. More like a big chore. But I must not let my daughters down.
In a moment of brilliance, my friend called to my girls who were up in their rooms and said, “Your mom is thinking of not doing the party this year and wondering how you’d feel about that?”
Without a moment of hesitation, my daughter Lily said, “Oh yay! I’m so tired of her yelling at us to clean, clean, clean for a week. She is all stressed out and mean. And then she ends up sick and exhausted after it is over.”
My daughter Annie, the introvert, piped up and said, “And I’m sick of kids I don’t know coming into my room and touching all my stuff. I hate the party!”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. My expectations were all twisted and tangled up in what I was projecting they wanted - like a big mess of Christmas ribbons.
As I prepared the plates of Thanksgiving dinners to take to the hospital for my daughter and son-in-law, her mother-in-law joined me and my friend woke up feeling better from her migraine. The three of us delivered the dinners and took turns holding my grandson while the kids ate their first non-hospital meal in days. I reflected upon how fortunate I am that I have created the kind of life where I can spend all this time witnessing my daughter become a mom and welcoming my grandson into the world! In case you were wondering, there never was another big, fancy Christmas party and evidently my daughters were pretty darn happy – as was I!
Look at places in your own life where you may be feeling stress or unhappiness. Is there a belief, a myth, a tradition or pattern of behavior that perhaps no longer serves you? Is there an expectation that you are projecting on to someone else? Do an inventory, ask others and then let go of the rock baby!
P.S. Do you know someone who may benefit from Letting Go of the Rock? Give them the perfect holiday gift.