Tuesday, June 30, 2009
This is a classic tale of hoping for something and having it turn out to be something completely different. This is the expression of expectations. We expect something to be a certain way. We expect it because we desire it badly and hope for it and then we’re dashed when Life has something else in mind for us. We feel irritated, let-down, rigid, and almost incapable of being open in allowing Life to reveal what it desires so fixed are we in our imaginations. There’s this idea that if we hope for something badly enough, well then by jove, it ought to come to pass. Life doesn’t work this way. We know this but in our emotional immaturity we don’t endow ourselves with the tools to readily feel it while simultaneously knowing it.
I don’t know how to not have expectations at all. I’m learning how to have fewer of them as well as learning how to be more open to Life. Afterall, it is Life that dictates the way the wind blows and I must be a student of soaring so I can harness this energy instead of always battling with it. Like everything else, it is a process and this story simply shows how expectations came to be, were dashed and then Life stepped in and was allowed to be.
March 21, 2008
Expectations come in all shapes and sizes and despite how I try to intellectualize them away from forming, they always do. My emotions can’t help themselves, so I get ‘my hopes up’, I ‘look forward’ to things, I ‘imagine how things are going to happen’ and invariably I suffer the consequence that often accompanies expectation, which is disappointment; not always but... I suppose the goal of the enlightened soul is to focus on having fewer and fewer expectations so disappointment is lessened in the process. This is not only a challenging endeavor but one, I suspect, will take me a life-time to achieve and even that is probably being optimistic!
One of the lessons of Aria’s illness, with specific respect to her, has been to have absolutely no expectations of the day. We are living moment to moment. Things, like her mood, her appetite, her disposition and general health can fluctuate magnificently in any given day. It has been critical to have flexible plans to accommodate any sudden change and I have greatly appreciated feeling like my mind is wide open to anything and everything that happens day to day. It has been a freeing experience, because I literally find myself waking up and saying, “Come what may....” I’m sincerely open to it and I’ve had to be. Truly any other approach would be almost impossible to tolerate because the chronic disappointment likely to follow would be overwhelming to the senses in addition to all that is already overwhelming. Yet, I recently allowed myself to be trapped in the sticky dreamy roach motel of my mind and create a get-away that amounted to something completely other than what I had hoped for and counted on.
We went to Seattle this past weekend so that Doc could receive a prestigious award (The Del Cole Award) for outstanding psychiatrist in community mental health. It is a state-wide honor with only one recipient and Doc was the first physician from the Eastern part of Washington State to receive the award since its inception some 40 years ago. We were positively thrilled! We made plans to stay at a nice hotel downtown right on the water. I wanted to see, hear, and smell the water. I felt called to it somehow and I remember telling my mom, “I can’t wait to discover what I’m supposed to learn there.” It was a loud and clear kind of thought to connect to water. We talked about going to the aquarium with the kids. We planned to have a beautiful Sunday morning brunch at the hotel, with gobs and gobs of fresh seafood. We planned to go to fisherman’s wharf to bring home a cooler filled with fresh seafood as well. It was a lovely fantasy and I was so looking forward to getting some much needed rejuvenation time not to mention a nice change of scenery. I was constantly reminding myself, however, not to get my hopes up and to stay wide open and flexible to whatever may come our way.
During the week of planning, making reservations, and creating imagery of what was to happen, Reo had a stomach bug. He was uncomfortable with a sour tummy for several days. He only vomited a few times but was clearly not himself. He, fortunately, never ran a temperature and didn’t show any other symptoms. Toward the end of the week, he turned the corner and was feeling much better. Aria, meanwhile, was beginning to suffer similar symptoms. She started complaining that her tummy felt “yucky” and sure enough vomited a few times but instantly bounced back. None of the looking for pity stuff that I do when I throw-up was part of her repertoire. She simply wanted to get on with playing and being 4 years old. But we were watching her very, very closely. We felt reassured that her counts were really good so that if she in fact had some kind of infection she would be able to fight it with very little consequence. On Friday, she was up and down a little but in general good spirits. She was so excited to be taking a road trip and fully participated in the packing process. Reo was over the moon to be driving to Seattle. He could hardly wait! Friday night, Aria seemed ok and we were keeping our fingers crossed. We got up early Saturday morning so we could be on the road by 7am or so. The kids were eating breakfast and talking nonstop about the trip and so excited. All was looking good! I was relieved. At 6 30 am Aria darted to the bathroom and threw-up. I was heartbroken and completely anxious. “Mama, my tummy feels yucky!” she moaned. I felt so bad for her and for myself and I desperately tried to keep myself out of the picture. Doc and I then began having a waffling conversation that I think happened mostly in our minds at incredible speed.
“Do we go? Do we not go? If we don’t go, she will be completely devastated and what if she’s feeling better? We’ll be stuck here all weekend feeling sad we didn’t take the risk and go. However, what if we go and she’s still up and down? What if it’s something other than some variant of Reo’s stomach bug? What if she gets really sick? Well, I guess there’s children’s hospital in Seattle. What do we do? What do we do?”
It is 7am now and Aria is dancing and singing, “I’m going to Seattle! Let’s go to Seattle! Hey, mom I’m r-e-a-d-y to gooooo! Let’s go already!” Doc and I looked at each other took deep breaths and said, “Let’s go!” We were pulling out of the driveway when I noticed that I wasn’t breathing. I told Doc, “I’m not breathing. I am so tense!” Doc acknowledged me and tried to reassure me that it would be what it is and we’re going with it. Doc is incredibly skilled at keeping expectations to a minimum. I tried to convince myself to be open but I was worried. I kept checking on Aria. “Honey, how you feeling? Are you ok?” She looked withdrawn and subdued. Her enthusiasm of just a few minutes ago was gone. My radar was heading toward red alert but I was trying to keep it at manageable yellowish-orange. Still, I couldn’t help myself from constantly asking her about her well-being. The nagging thought, “Should we be doing this?” was haunting me like a scary shadow. I decided to accept that since we were going I had to accept whatever happened.
Along the drive, Aria had moments when she was having fun and was playful and talkative and other moments when she was uncomfortable and feeling yucky. Clearly, she was dealing with something but it wasn’t enough to keep her down completely. I started thinking that everything was going to be fine. I allowed myself to play with my sticky expectations. I was thinking about the water and wondering about the view of the hotel room. I was imagining the smell of the salty air. I was hearing the water as it gently lapped against the pier. I was drooling over the brunch that was waiting for us the next morning. I was envisioning the early signs of Spring in Seattle with a few red buds beginning to awaken and perhaps some yellow dotting of forsythia around town. I was relaxing and thoroughly enjoying the road trip and the sights.
About an hour outside of town, Aria began moaning, “Mama, I feel yucky!”
“Aria, do you need to throw-up?” I said with a calm voice that was surprisingly detached from my screaming anxious mind.
“No, I just feel yucky.” she replied with resignation.
We drove on. We were a little more than the halfway point when Rianna woke up from her nap and started to wail. We figured it was time for a diaper change and a general potty break so we pulled into the nearest town. It was then that Aria said in a panic, “Dada, I need to ‘fro-up’! “ We quickly pulled over with Rianna now screaming, and got Aria out of the car. Sure enough, she vomited her guts out. The poor thing! I got Rianna out and sat in the front seat and nursed with her a little so she would calm down. Aria and Doc were outside the car for a few minutes. When she was finished, she announced, “That’s better!” in a light cheery voice. I was beginning to feel like a....like a....God, I don’t know what I was feeling like! It was such a strange and foreign sensation. I was completely anxious and hell-bent on having some fun at the same time! Up and down and up and down and up and down! It was almost like I couldn’t commit to feeling much of anything because I was constantly changing. We found a convenience store, used their bathroom and were on our way.
We finally arrived in Seattle and the kids were beyond thrilled. We were checking out all the tall buildings and all the people. It was fabulous. We found the hotel where Doc was going to receive his award and found parking and headed out. We had a good 20 minutes to spare, which was perfect! Doc carried Rianna, Aria rode in a stroller, and Reo, the big boy, walked on his own accord. As we walked out of the parking garage, we noticed that a parade was happening. It was a St. Patrick’s Day parade of some kind. It was so fun! We went into the hotel and tried to find where the meeting was going to be held. We met a few people and exchanged some small talk for a minute or two when Aria said she needed to “fro-up” again. Doc scooped her up and we raced to the nearest bathroom. I took her in and as she clutched the sides of the toilet bowl, she was doing a sort of backward kick dance with her legs and feet. I was watching her and in my mind I was thinking, “Is she manipulating us? Is this some kind of weird 4 year old attention-getting behavior? Does she really feel yucky? (I answered, ‘of course she feels yucky. She just threw up an hour ago!’) What’s going on?” Nothing happened. “No fro-up Mama!” she said. So we went back outside to join Reo, Rianna and Doc. I was feeling a little dismayed. It was so hard to know what to think about how Aria was feeling. I decided that she truly wasn’t feeling well and was probably nauseated and just didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, people were gathering for the luncheon award presentation meeting. I was very aware that we were the only people there with kids. “ Oh, you brought your whole family!” was something repeated several times most of which was very sincere. Aria was quietly sitting in her stroller picking at her dry lips. Reo was standing around observing the goings-on. Rianna wanted nothing more than to climb the stone steps just outside of the meeting room. She darted toward them at every single opportunity. I was chasing her, grabbing her, pulling her back down constantly as was Doc, who was also trying to have conversations with some of his colleagues. At one point I was taking Aria to the water fountain to have a drink, when Rianna wiggled away from Doc and within a second or two tried scrambling up the steps only to trip and bonk her chin. A nice shreeeeeeeeking-fest ensued, which only added to the potpourri of stress we were already feeling.
Deep Breath! Doc asked if it would be at all possible to be bumped to the beginning of the program and everyone was very accommodating. I didn’t hear the introduction because I was trying to hold Rianna who was doing everything in her power to get out of my arms. She was completely irritated with me and let me know. Aria was in her stroller speaking like a mouse telling me she felt yucky. I heard applause and told Reo to come to the doorway where we were standing (we didn’t even bother finding a place to sit) but he was standing in the lobby area with his hands over his ears. The applause on top of everything else was obviously too much for him. Bummer. I did manage to snap a few pictures but haven’t even looked at them yet to see if they came out. Doc went up to the podium and began his speech. Rianna had had enough and I let her down. She immediately headed for the room and the sound of her Dada’s voice. It was so much fun watching her waddle through the maze of people and see the disarmed look on their faces. It was a very nice bit of relief for me. “Hey, Mom”...”Yes Aria?” “I think I need to fro-up?” “ahhhhhh crappity-crap to crapster-crapola!” was what I heard myself say in my head, but what I actually said reflects my stellar parenting which was, “oh no..really honey? Do you think you can wait?” Ugh!! I can’t believe I said it but what’s worse is I meant it! She gave me a fish-face that was pouty and nodded her head yes. I kept checking on her and in the interim heard things like ‘Spokane’, ‘residents’, ‘some challenges’, ‘amazing people’...I checked on Reo. He was still in the lobby with his hands over his ears. Rianna was in someone’s arms perfectly content. I remained hovering over Aria ready to jettison us to the bathroom as needed. I finally made eye contact with Doc and felt tears well in my eyes when he said, “I am deeply moved and honored to accept this award. Thank you.” Applause! Way to go Doc!! I had such a huge smile. It was wonderful. He grabbed Rianna who was smiling too. Aria was not and neither was Reo. We were ready to hit the road and head to our hotel room and re-group, which is exactly what we did until we were ambushed by another doctor in the lobby on the way out. “Dr. Layton...Excuse me Dr. Layton!! I know you need to get going but I just need a few minutes of your time.” Doc being the completely noble man that he is smiled sincerely and began a lovely conversation with this man. I, on the other hand, was trying to find the nearest tree in which to sharpen my claws so I could scratch this intruder’s eyes out. I was infuriated that this man was so set on meeting his own agenda that he could not for a moment take notice of the obvious, or at least what I thought was obvious, pressure cooker our family was in. Doc introduced us and I made no pretense whatsoever at being pleased to meet him. I wouldn’t say I was vicious but I would say that in that moment I would have done anything to have Harry Potter’s wand and begin casting a witchy spell. I recognize that he was completely innocent to all the fundamental stressors creating the tension we were feeling, but the man never gave Doc the opportunity to say, ‘You know, I would love to talk with you but now really isn’t a good time.” That was the thing I found so irritating.
We left and walked back to the parking garage when we noticed a St. Patrick’s Day parade happening several blocks down the road. All of a sudden, out of a nowhere a cannon was fired that literally shook the building. I froze and my heart raced until I figured out the source of the cannon but poor Reo was completely stunned. He stood rigid almost unable to move. We coaxed him finally encouraging him to race us to the entrance of the elevator but the entire time he had his hands over his ears. So far, we were not having much fun and I was starting to feel a little weepy about it. After a short drive through downtown, we arrived at the hotel. It was lovely and the view of the water was everything I had hoped it would be. I felt myself sigh with relief. We checked in and were told that our room wasn’t going to be available for another 3 - 4 hours, which was rather shocking but we went with it. We requested a rush but felt flexible enough to go and enjoy a nice lunch and just take our time. We had an exquisite lunch and indeed our room was available before we finished dining. Everyone was so accommodating and cheerful. I was beginning to relax. We began talking about taking a walk, checking out the aquarium and so forth. We settled in and all the kids wanted to do was watch a movie. By this time, Doc and I were so wiped that we went ahead and let them. It was a nice little break.
I sat on the bed staring out a large picture window I had opened slightly at the busyness of Elliot Bay. I watched the ferries float by and smiled at the disconnect I was experiencing. I could only hear them as a sort of hypnotic hum from my hotel room, which is in contrast to their roar when riding upon them. I watched tug-boats chug along to make their connection with some of the enormous cargo ships anchored in the bay. I told myself to throw some of the anxiety I was feeling into the water and let it float away. I was able to nap for a few a minutes and I was awakened by the screeching sounds of seagulls, which was music to my ears. The kids finished their movie and begged to watch another one but Doc and I agreed that we all needed some fresh air. Oh that salty fresh air I was craving was right out our hotel. After some creative persuasion, we packed up and headed out.
We walked under beautiful open bamboo awnings that had wysteria woven up and around and in and out and on top of the simple wooden slats. They were not yet budding but it was easy to imagine the brilliance of Spring over the next month or two with clumps of lavender flowers swaying in the wind. We turned the corner to walk along the sidewalk above the water and I took my first deep breath of salty fresh air only to have my senses assaulted with a moderate whiff of,... sewer. “OH! So not the smell of salty air I was hoping for!” I said to myself. I quickly looked around and noted for what seemed like the first time that we were smack dab downtown Seattle. Fresh salty air? What was I thinking? It was then that I decided to move on and focus my attention to listening to the lapping water. I had glanced at a nearby pier and was watching the wake of a passing boat ripple toward me awaiting the gentle caressing sound as it lapped against the pylons, like sentinels standing in the water. This was the sound I was dreaming of hearing. In that moment, a distant rumbling made its presence known to my ears and before I could turn my head to find the source of the noise, a train came thundering past. I burst out laughing and found myself saying, “Ok, I get it! Clearly, this weekend is supposed to be something completely different than what I had thought I wanted or even dared to imagine. I get it! I get it! I get it!” I felt a little lighter somehow. I was definitely disappointed but the trap of expectation was so glaringly present that I could no longer ignore it. I had to exercise my flexibility and allow whatever was supposed to happen simply happen.
We arrived back to our hotel room and it was around dinner-time. We ordered service, watched another movie with the kids and basically chilled out. Aria was subdued and complained that she felt yucky. I was very aware that I was still worried and second guessing the decision to make the trip. Around 10 30 just after Doc and I had turned off the lights for our bed-time, Aria shot up like a dart and told Doc that she needed to throw-up. He grabbed her and raced to the bathroom where once again she threw her guts up. That was it for me. I burst into tears and was ready to pack up and head home. I knew intellectually that the weekend wasn’t supposed to be anything that I had expected or wanted. I knew that it would behoove me to go with the flow and just let things be what they were going to be but emotionally I wasn’t fully prepared to face that and I was crushed. I was so disappointed and filled with self-pity that the energy I knew it would take to get me out of my sadness was just too much. It dawned on me how easy it would be to succumb to this kind of sorrow and stay wallowed in it recruiting others with similar feelings and circumstances. I told Doc that I was ready to pack up and he said to me, “Let’s just rest...don’t worry about sleep...just get some rest.” His words were warm and soothing. I went back to bed and cuddled with Reo. I stayed awake a long, long time staring out the picture window at the bay.
I noticed a light in the distance. It was pulsing soft and then bright and soft and bright. It was a lighthouse and I was instantly drawn to it like a siren’s call. I tried matching my breath to its pulse but it was too fast so my breathing wasn’t relaxed. I heard myself say, “in and out and in and out” matching the rhythm of the light but those words weren’t resonating with me. In only a few moments, the words, “accept-don’t-accept, accept-don’t-accept” came to me and for several minutes I repeated that phrase partnered with the lighthouse. It calmed me but didn’t heal me. I felt like I was out of the pit of my self-pity though and could start the process of getting over my disappointment.
At that moment the cliché, “making lemonade out of lemons” came into my stream of consciousness and I found yet another cliché that sounds good but leaves me feeling empty and irritated. I imagined holding a lemon in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other hand as if to say it is possible to take this beautiful bitter/sour lemon and morph it into this sweet refreshing beverage in a matter of a glance. I was annoyed that the whole process of making lemonade from lemons is ignored in this cliché and ‘process’ is the operative word here. There is a distinct and specific process one must take in order to fulfill this cliché and yet the variables involved are as colorful as people. I knew I was having a lemon of a time and I knew that I was being called to make lemonade. What I hadn’t yet figured out was the process to get me there, although I knew it would take some time, some reflection and some serious soul searching.
We woke up very early the next morning and Aria was cheerful. We were mildly hopeful that we might be able to go to brunch and buy the fresh salmon we were hoping to bring home. Within 30 minutes of being awake though, she was sick again and we knew it was time to leave. We packed up quickly. We cancelled our reservation to brunch and made ready to check out of the hotel. I took one last look at the bay and the gentle waves. In my mind’s eye, I was holding a glass of lemonade. With a tear or two mixed in, I slowly poured my self-defeating disappointment into the bay and watched it blend with the salty ‘sewery’ water below. I expressed my gratitude for the view and for the lessons that I was still forcing myself to learn. I turned around, left the room and was on my way home.