I’ve talked about it before; I’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly in blog posts and on Facebook, but the reality is that we generally put our best Facebook forward. We put our sparkly stories out there, our flattering photos, the “status” updates that tell everyone that we are “blessed,” more fortunate, more attractive, happier… better. I’ve had plenty of those– all honest, but rarely complete pictures of what’s happening. No matter what we want to believe, those Facebook statuses just aren’t always true. Let’s face it, most people don’t want to tune in to see you cry, pout, behave badly, or admit defeat. The ones who do, are those “friends,” not the ones you really count on, not the friends who know your real status.
I’m just returning from my oldest son, Middle Man’s graduation from college, and admittedly, my emotions are all over the place. I want to write that it was amazing; I’d like to say that the years and months of waiting for this day were all I imagined they’d be; that’s what I’d like to post on Facebook, and say to my friends and family. But, it wouldn’t be entirely true.
Instead, this is the truest status I could muster this morning:
One more College Graduate in the family! So proud of (Middle Man) and his friends. It was a wonderful graduation celebration, though my Nikon broke just before things started. Thank goodness his friends posted some pictures, and I had my iPhone! (Middle Man) is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, and with not too much effort, he’s moved out of his dorm, and on his way. After a fun dinner in LA last night (with my boy, his good friend T and T’s uncle), I’m headed home today. How overly optimistic of me, to bring my bathing suit to southern CA… hot as hell, and no time for laying around!
A bit evasive, right? It’s all true, but as I typed I realized that I wasn’t sure what to write… without glossing over the truths. Not quite the status I thought I’d write. The truth is, these past four days were a mixed bag– a mixed bag of: excitement, pride, disappointment, unmet expectations, laughs, angry words, hurt feelings, fun, enthusiasm, disappointments, thrills, and more… all sandwiched between lots of love. Whatever else, the love was there. However, it was certainly a mixed bag. And key to that story is the word expectations. Looking back over those four days, nearly every difficult moment was wrapped in met or unmet expectations.
In the twenty-four+ years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve certainly had enough experience with expectations; one might think I’d have them in check– but I don’t, and I didn’t. A very important person in my life is fond of reminding me that: “we are entitled to our labor, but not the fruits of our labor.” Stop and think about that for a moment. That line ran through my head over and over this morning, as I showered, packed my bag, and got ready to leave for the airport.
We are entitled to our labor, but not the fruits of our labor.
Though infuriating, how true that statement is! We are entitled to put ourselves out in whatever way we choose. We can try to plan fun dinners; we can drive our kids all over the place, helping them tie up loose ends; we can help their friends get to airports and shipping centers; we can try to get to know their friends and the people who are important to them… hoping to connect, and share experiences; we can buy lunches, and dinners and treats along the way. We can help pack, and help carry; we can advise and support; we are free to knock ourselves out. But, and here’s where I struggle: we are not entitled to the fruits of that labor. We are not entitled to thank yous, or graciousness; we are not entitled to humility in return, or emotions we’d like to see expressed. It’s ok to hope for it, but expecting it, waiting for it, feeling entitled to it… only leads to that mixed bag, at best, and disappointment at worst.
As a mother, I would like to be better able to let things go, to not have expectations, to allow things to organically unfold, and just enjoy them– but that’s not really how I’m wired, as a mother or a person. I’ve worked hard at it; I believe I’m much further along than I once was. But, it’s still a battle some days… and during times of heightened emotional events, let’s say: a college graduation, that challenge is even harder. My son’s graduation this past weekend was an epic challenge for me to maintain my balance and manage my own stuff. Smart Guy was challenged too; as a couple– as parents, we had to deal with things not being what we’d hoped they’d be. At a time when I would generally post happy photos and excited Facebook updates, for friends and family to follow along… I had little to say. Things being what they are, my camera broke as we took our seats for graduation! I can’t begin to express the helpless frustration I felt, sitting there in the tent, wishing to photograph the moments unfolding around me. After taking 200 photos of my nephew’s graduation, a few weeks ago, there I was with only a cell phone to click, on my son’s big day. But then, the two events were very different.
Two weeks ago, I posted countless happy updates on Facebook. My nephew was so excited to have me there, so grateful that I’d made the trip and that I wanted to share in his big day. He thanked me over and over for helping him move out of his apartment, for coming, for buying his meals… he was full of emotions, and he shared them freely. There were lots of hugs, and special moments. And sent me one of the most thoughtful letters I’ve ever gotten, thanking me again. My son, is much less effusive person. I know that about him, and so the sensible thing would have been to step back and re-frame my expectations. However, in the weeks leading up to graduation, there had been lovely phone calls and texts from him, filled with excitement. I’d been to that other graduation and I was still floating on that high. I wasn’t getting it… that things were different, and I needed to change my approach, drop my expectations. In fairness, and for the sake of transparency, I brought some of this on myself.
I didn’t realize that broken eye glasses and empty contact boxes would require lots of driving around, desperately trying to get new ones (without a prescription) with someone who was frustrated, tired, stressed and later in pain– when new contacts only scratched his eye, and made fun even harder to enjoy. I didn’t realize that the heat would suck me dry (literally and figuratively), and that his needs would challenge my ability to stay centered. I didn’t realize that I would feel jealous at times of his friends and girlfriend, and his divided attention. I didn’t realize how sad I would feel, when others were better able to help him, and make him feel better, even as I soaked in the reality that others love and enjoy him, and that makes me happy. I thought we’d have some time alone, when I could tell him how proud I am, how excited I was, how happy I was to be there. That didn’t happen.
The honest status would read:
Feeling tired, and sore. Feeling jealous– and stupid for feeling that. Happy and excited for my boy, but losing my grip.
Another might read:
Progress! I didn’t say things like “hey, you were partying all week that’s why you have so much to do,” or “you should have dealt with this before we got here,” or “hey, we are all here for you; make more time for us.”
Who would want to read that? Passive-aggressive at best, and annoyed at worst– I kept reminding myself that he is a very different personality than me, and I had expectations clouding my experience.
I wanted to hug him; I wanted to reassure him that it would all be ok– we’d figure it out. He wanted me to step back, and not get in the way. He wanted to sleep, but knew he couldn’t. He wanted to spend time with his friends and girlfriend, but we (his parents and siblings) were there wanting a piece of the pie. I wanted to have some time alone with him, but this wasn’t the time– even though he’d asked me to stay a day, just to have that. I wanted to be helpful, but mostly I felt in the way. I wanted to kiss him on the cheek and say good morning that last day, but he was frustrated by other situations and read other things in my efforts… and bit my head off. I wanted to turn things around, but my feelings were hurt, and he couldn’t hear me, in that moment. I didn’t respond well, and went for a long walk– leaving him to work things out his own way.
As I walked around his campus, the place where he’s grown up, and away from me… I felt such a rush of so many things. I ran into some of his friends, and they hugged me and talked about their plans. I congratulated them, and wished them well. I tried not to look as withered as I felt. I walked across campus, around the dorms, alone and took in the other families moving their kids out– some looking as stressed as me, others laughing and having fun. I remembered coming the first year, and later to get Gracie and visit my boy. I thought about how he would be leaving, and I would likely never take this walk around campus again. I cried. I smiled at people. I caught my breath. I cried some more. I beat myself up, in my head… and then I tried reminding myself that disappointment is hard to swallow. I’m not the epic failure I was feeling like, as a mother, or a person.
The real status would read:
Walking around alone, feeling sad and frustrated. Wish things had gone differently. Wish I could fix this. I can’t.
Months ago, when I was booking our trip and my son asked me stay an extra day– “I may need your help moving… and we can spend some time together,” that last part is all I really heard. My expectations started building then, without my even realizing it, and as plans changed– friends had needs, other plans were made, and I slipped from his radar– I found myself hustling to keep up. The changes came pretty late in the game, and Smart Guy and I hardly had time to notice, let alone adjust. My emotions got the better of me, and try as I did, I found myself hurt and trying to find a new solid ground.
There’s progress to post: the status might read:
Kept my shit together. Didn’t yell, or snap, or say things I really regret. There’s progress.
But, I can’t post that things were fantastic, or that this big event that we, as a family– as parents– have looked forward to for so long, went quite the way we had imagined. More than Smart Guy, who is much better at letting these disappointments go, or letting his expectations shift (or, better yet… not building them to begin with!), I wallow in it. Again, progress: I did a lot less of that. While he was Smart enough to hold his tongue, he felt many of the same things, and we tried to reassure ourselves that this will pass. He was my litmus test, reassuring me that things really were challenging, and I wasn’t as sensitive as I felt I was. He was also there to say… we need to move through this, let it go.
I kept trying to find new ground, but as I travel home, I mostly feel tired and a little shell-shocked. That was not what I expected; that was not how I wanted to behave; that was not how I wanted him to behave… wait! I want a do over. They are rare folks– do overs, and they almost never exist for those sacred moments, those really important events that only happen once. Accepting that is my new challenge. That was graduation day, and it wasn’t what you hoped for. Accept it and move on.
Our last night, I drove his girlfriend to LAX, and then drove my boy and one of his good friends, T, (from a pack of 9 guys, who met the first week freshman year, and were tight the entire 4 years) to LA, where they will leave from, for one more road trip. Initially, yet another last minute let down: we had agreed I’d drive to LAX and he and I would spend an evening in LA, alone. Don’t get me wrong, of all of my boy’s college friends, T is one of my favorites. He’s a particularly sweet kid, who I enjoy enormously! (In fact, it was with him that day, that I shared some of the more reflective, and thoughtful moments… waiting in line for a coffee, and driving to LA). However, when the plans had changed last minute, again, I had accepted them, with the expectation and understanding that Middle Man and I would spend some time alone, at dinner. As that was evaporating, it just felt like one more bitter pill to
choke on swallow.
In the end, T’s uncle B joined us, and it ended up bringing an unexpected chance to turn things around a little. He’s a talent agent, and true LA person… via New York– New York, I get– Honest, blunt, wry, funny. We instantly got each other, and I felt comfortable sharing talking and letting some things go. We laughed at the silliness of some expectations. He reassured me that I’m not totally out there, but that I could still work on some of what I had hoped for, and how that got in my way. We agreed that kids grow up, and maybe they look back and realize that they too could have done some things more thoughtfully, more mindfully; that a big moment like college graduation is for your parents too, and concessions on both sides should be made. We had a great dinner; I had a drink (I had to drive, so only one… but what sweet elixir!); we played some fun card games at his place… and I went back to my hotel feeling a little better.
Right now, I’m still feeling the sting of disappointment, of missed moments, and mixed signals. I’m working on moving forward. I’m remembering some of the truly lovely moments of the weekend and working on letting go of the ones that hurt or disappointed. Watching my son with his group of friends, all of them excited and so supportive of each other. How rare and special, that nine boys would meet the first week of school, and be there for each other to the end. I’m remembering the look on my son’s face, when he looks at the woman he loves. It makes me smile, just knowing that someone else loves him as much as we do, and that he feels that good around her. In the next short months, this same boy that I love so much will move far, far away. He will be in Australia for a year, and I don’t want him to leave– for us to say goodbye, with old expectations and disappointment sitting in the way of good things that could be there instead. I have to move on, and not expect… not expect anything. Not feel entitled to any particular fruits.
I also can “check” my labor. I can get better at saying no, when I don’t feel my efforts are appreciated. My kids are all, for the most part, adults now. It’s not my job to put my needs and desires aside for theirs… any more. We’re all adults now, and the tango is a lonely dance for one. If I’m asked to stay an extra day, to spend time with someone, and suddenly, I’m stuck on my own… I can say: that doesn’t work for me. While it would have been hard to say: Hey, I’m not doing any extra driving; I’m tired. I’m not spending my last half a day schlepping around by myself, and then driving you; I feel disrespected and dismissed– I could have. In the big picture, I’m happy to help, when and if I can… but we all have to check our expectations eventually, not just Mom.
Things aren’t likely to change; we have to change– I have to change. Facebook seduces us to post what we want things to look like, what we hope for. We most often post the happy things that happen, the times when we choke up, not the moments that choke us. The Grass is Always Greener on Facebook; it’s up to us, to keep it real.
My status could read a lot of things right now. An honest one would read:
“Meaningful four days at my son’s graduation from college– filled with big transitions, some truly wonderful moments and some fairly disappointing ones as well. Still proud of my son, still happy for his future and his successes, and planning to check my expectations at the gate… when I get off this plane.”
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