Shifting Expectations

So…maybe it’s becoming clear. This week there is a theme which formed during six hours of a writing flurry. I’m sure this will not be repeated often, so don’t expect it next week…or probably ever again.

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Christmas is a season heavily laced with expectation. I expect to Christmas shop around late November (all online), spend the first weekend in December singing with a community choir, and get a tree the following weekend.

There will be chocolate covered peanut butter Ritz, and the kids will beg relentlessly until we bake and decorate cut-out cookies, which will be at least! a three day process. (This year was a new record. It took seven days from start to finish. Ugh!)

We will open the 24 doors on the same Advent calendar each year, go see Messick’s light show, and Christmas Eve will be spent with Daniel’s family. My family gathering is the wild card due to farm work, but even that is expected.

The Hallelujah Chorus will be sung at some point during the week of Christmas, even if it is a choir of one soprano (me) in my kitchen.

Finally, my kids expect three gifts to open on Christmas morning along with their stockings, just like I received three gifts as a child and “supposedly” so did toddler Jesus. Also, I expect to do the majority of the shopping for those gifts, since Daniel doesn’t enjoy shopping.

Messing with any one of these expectations for our children is like introducing some type of cosmic Christmas chaos in their little realm of the universe… or possibly my realm of the universe.

This year, instead of buying the kids their three gifts, Daniel and I agreed to buy one large family gift. Daniel spent some time on e-bay and found the item.

Since I am usually the gift buyer, I figured if we had one large family gift, there could easily be one small gift per child without feeling like we’d gone overboard. Plus I needed to shop like I do every year.

Would it still feel like Christmas if there was only one box to unwrap? Not to me, it wouldn’t. I didn’t even bother to mention my thoughts to Daniel, thinking he too would agree that one small gift per child isn’t outrageous.

Then one evening, Daniel stated he would like to put a small part of the family gift into each stocking instead of me buying small things for stockings. I hesitated.

I had already been planning the stockings, buying the cutesy little stuff that the kids beg me to buy, but I never give in, making me Mean-Cheap-Mom. Stockings are my chance to redeem my Mean-Cheap-Mom status.

But Fine! I’ll be Mean-Cheap-Mom for another year and forego the stocking stuffers; at least I can still give the small individual gift.

One evening at supper, we told the kids about the large family gift and that it meant they weren’t getting three gifts. They took the news well and have been enthusiastically trying to figure out what the large gift is ever since.

Christmas lists were made for grandparents, with me picking what I wanted to claim as the one small gift from Mean-Cheap-Mom (and Not-Mean-Cheap-Dad). I was adjusting decently.

Until one evening, Daniel and I were talking about the kids’ lists, and I revealed what I was planning to buy each child for the one small gift. To my great surprise, Daniel didn’t endorse my one-small-gift-per-child plan.

I felt a Christmas cosmic shift occur as I mentally emptied my Amazon cart. I couldn’t buy my children “anything” for Christmas? Never mind that they are getting a gift that costs more than we usually spend on them. That’s obviously not the point!

The point is that three gifts have been a Christmas standard for 30+ years of my life. What Christmas blasphemy is this?

Tradition: when the same events occur in the same manner for the same occasion over a long period of time (my own highly sophisticated and scholarly definition).

I get so stuck in tradition that it’s hard to adjust to something different, even something new that produces no negative side effects. Expecting things to stay the same keeps me anchored, which is positive, but can also be extremely negative.

When I can’t accept minor neutral changes, it’s time to re-examine. Where does my joy come from? Where am I placing my trust and hope? It shouldn’t be from my expectations about Christmas or the annual trip to the beach or my weekly schedule.

When it comes to doing school work, one of my children is very tradition driven. Subjects must happen in a specific order each day. Schedule, knowing what to expect, gives this child a sense of security, and if things are out of order, I will know about it through means of whining or possibly tantrums. Being the very mature adult that I am, I get extremely frustrated by this.

But maybe it’s time to examine my own life and remember that security does not come from tradition. Three gifts on Christmas morning is a nice sentiment, but it’s certainly not a reason to throw a mental tantrum. Instead of clinging to my traditions and expectations, I hope to make room for the real Reason for the Season.

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