Tag Archives: Expectations

Becoming brave

Stevie Nicks was right. Time really does make you bolder.

Folks who know me now have a hard time comprehending that there was a time when I wouldn’t stand up for myself. Because these days you pretty much know where you stand with me. But it was not always the case.

It may be hard to believe that there was a time in my life when the mere thought of standing up for myself made me tremble in paralyzing fear. But there was. This fear permeated all aspects of my life: school, relationships, jobs. I did not express myself. I did not challenge. I did not speak up. I was the most non-confrontational person on the planet.

Growing up, I was the good girl. The one who complied with all instructions, usually with a smile. I sought validation from others in everything I did, as if the approval of others was the only way I could be happy. My parents didn’t push me, it was just the way I was wired. A perfectionist from birth.

The thought of speaking up to a stranger in a grocery store would have me abandoning my shopping cart and digging for my car keys. The notion of defending myself in the workplace made me want to quit my job.  I was a pushover.

Beginning my adult life as an Officer’s Wife didn’t help. As a matter of fact, upon arrival at his duty station two days after we were married, I was handed a copy of a book called Mrs. Lieutenant, a social guide to being an Army officer’s wife. More etiquette and expectations. I did exactly what that book said I was supposed to. I dressed the way it suggested. I learned the proper greetings and attended the social events. I served my husband, the community, and the Army with a smile.

When my children were born, the pattern continued. Every teacher knew she could count on me, because I never said “no.” Even when I should have.

I seemed to disappear behind this person who couldn’t speak up.

But somewhere along the way the need to serve myself surfaced. And I found my voice.

I learned that speaking up for myself wasn’t a selfish act. I learned that disagreeing wasn’t a sign of disrespect. The change began.

Then I got a cancer diagnosis. And I cared a little less about pleasing others.

Then Hurricane Katrina shook my world. And standing up for myself became necessary for survival.

Then my mother died. And I learned that our legacy outlives us.

Then my husband spent a year in Iraq. And being strong was all I had left.

Then I learned to be brave.


Christmas in Holland

There are a lot of people who find Christmas difficult.  This year I find myself becoming one of them, and I want to stop.

The Christmas Crunch is bearing down hard, and I’m trying hard not to let it steal my joy.  The events of the last few weeks could easily have done so without some pretty strong defenses.  (Luckily, my 25 years as an Army wife have taught me a few of those.)  But it’s hard.

This morning, Mr. Wonderful and I were discussing the many ‘adjustments’ to our holiday celebration we’re making this year.  I tried not to get disappointed about not having time to bake gingerbread cookies.  I put aside the fact that I didn’t send out cards this year for only the second time in twenty-six years.  I let go the fact that half of my decorations are still in their boxes, where they’ll sit for another year.  We agreed not to fry our turkeys this year, but to go with a plan that’s less labor-intensive.  We’ve trimmed Christmas to the bone, because we’re spread too thin to pull off our usual routine.

Then the phone rang.

And we were reminded that none of that’s important.

Instead of spending the day trying to catch up on all that’s behind schedule, we decided on a paradigm shift.  We decided to let ourselves off the hook, and have a different celebration than we usually do.  We did it the year after Katrina, where we scaled back out of necessity, and we did it the year Mr. Wonderful was in Iraq.  And we’ll do it again this year.

I won’t worry that my chandeliers aren’t decorated, and that my linens may not be pressed.  I won’t worry that I’m serving steamed carrots instead of my mother’s cornbread dressing.

Instead I’ll give thanks that we’re gathered together.

I’ll be happy that even though Christmas won’t go the way I envisioned it a month ago, it’ll be special.  And I’ll remind myself that if I can put my disappointment aside over things that didn’t happen I’ll be able to enjoy the things that will.  I might even find unexpected joy.

My little family has faced some unexpected challenges this year.  2011 certainly isn’t ending the way I expected it to three hundred sixty-or-so days ago.  But it’s ending well.

The last few days have reminded me of an essay circulated among parents of special needs children.  I’ve read it dozens of times as it related to my son’s academic challenges.

I’ve never really thought about it as a metaphor for Life.

But it is.

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Emily Perl Kingsley
(c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved)

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.