Friday, November 16, 2007

If It Wasn't for Disappointments, I Wouldn't Have Any Appointments

Nutmeg is an anticipator. This has become abundantly clear during the Halloween season, and fortunately she has not yet succumbed to the unrelenting hints of the upcoming Christmas season, because I'm sure December will be fraught with a buzz of anticipation not unlike the whining of a mosquito's tiny wings.

She comes by it honestly. I am an anticipator. As you know, I have thought about and planned for the girls' school years before any decisions had to be made.

My father is the master anticipator. When I was a kid, he would count the days until an upcoming family vacation for months ahead. One game he liked to play was to count the days, then count the same number of days into the past.

"Do you remember July 9?" he'd ask. "Remember how long ago that was? That's how long until California."

Sometimes the anticipation is better than the actual event. The anticipation sustains you through long dull stretches, something even a kid with an agreeable life like Nutmeg seems to need.

With Halloween, her teachers, her grandparents, our neighbors, and of course we ourselves heard at length about how it was going to go down. How there was going to be a block party, and at this block party there would be a pinata. And then trick-or-treating. She had strategies, she revealed, for how to maximize the amount of spooky temporary tattoos she could get when the pinata smashed. She went on about the block party every day, to the point where you'd think block party was another word for Disney World.

At the actual block party, Nutmeg played in the sand at the park adjacent to the block. She came when called to the pinata and she did gather what goodies she could get, but the whole thing seemed a blur to her. Of course, we had just woken her up from the deep sleep of an afternoon nap taken after a big preschool party and lunch with the grandparents.

But still, it was clear that the pleasure of the party could not match the pleasure of thinking about the party, planning for the party and talking about the party.

The trick in life, for an anticipator, is not to let this incongruity get you down. You want to enjoy the anticipation -- after all, it's a pleasure. It's your pleasure. But you don't want to, in that pleasurable anticipating, build up the wished-for day so excessively that it's nothing but a letdown.

And this reining in of expectations is particularly hard for children. They don't know how to preemptively shield themselves from disappointment. Sometimes, when I hear my dad talk about an upcoming holiday with the grandkids, I wonder if we anticipators ever learn to shield ourselves effectively.

Will Nutmeg learn some modicum of self-shielding? Can I teach her?

I hope so, and I doubt it. But I do know what I will not do, and that is shield her from disappointment. That's one of those things we modern parents do, you know, Shield Them From Disappointment. I have been wrong before, about a million times now, about the things I swore I would never do as a parent -- go to McDonalds, give in the face of a tantrum, use TV as a babysitter.

I hope I'm not wrong about this one, though, because if there is anyone more vulnerable out there in the world, it's a person who cannot cope with disappointment. The person who ventures nothing for fear of subpar results. The bridezilla who ruins everything with her behavior to replace an unpredictable day with a reliably dreary one. Everyone who keeps that bar set artificially low. You know, not everyone is a natural anticipator, but if you never learn to cope with disappointment, it seems, you can turn into a negative anticipator.

What would I tell her if I could get a warning message through to her about all that? Let's see: Kiddo, your wedding day will not be the most magical day of your life, nor will the arrival of your firstborn or any Christmas morning. The best moments will come upon you quite unexpectedly, before you've had the chance to anticipate them.

And the other best moments? Those will be when you're happily wrapping your Christmas presents, putting together your Halloween costume, or asking your kids if they know how many days there are until vacation comes, and anticipating it all. Enjoy them, even if it means leaving yourself a little open. You can take it.


Kori said...

What a great post. Thoughtful and beautifully written, as always.

For my current grad school course, I have to keep a personal change journal, and every week, I have to document my progress on a change I choose to work on for the quarter.

My choice? Learn not to dwell in the past or worry too much about the future---in essence, learn to live in the present.

As a resource, my prof suggested reading, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Days after I started it, Oprah suggested it, too, so it is officially approved for yuppy housewife consumption. :)

This book is blowing my mind, so much so that I occasionally have to put it down to wipe the brain matter up that has oozed out of my ears. You might enjoy reading it, although be prepared---he claims that there is no such thing as real time, only the now. All future events (i.e., the things you anticipate) are simply future nows, and are not real. This is probably why anticipating is so wonderful---nothing you dream about is actually real, but rather, is your mind's vision of how you could or would feel if events happened as you imagine them.

Notta Wallflower said...

I think part of the charm of most children is that they still get excited about things. If Nut didn't have the anticipation, it would be less endearing. K is at the opposite end of the spectrum and it's disheartening sometimes to see his lack of enthusiasm for things that even I get excited about. I agree with you about not shielding. I see too much of that and then kiddos never have to learn how to deal with things on their own. Not good. As for Nut learning that every moment isn't going to live up to her expectations, there's time for that. That's where those great parent-child discussions can come in handy. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love this post too. I am a disorganized anticipator, kind of a ridiculous combination. I love booking our vacations long in advance and then just savoring all the trip's details.
Your blog is great. Thanks for doing it.

Bert said...

About your anticipator... what a lovely way to break the news to her. Gentle, loving, and optimistic. You, my friend, have the mommy thing down so well. Miss you.