One of my biggest challenges as a parent is managing expectations. I realized pretty early on never to promise anything to eager little people unless I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can make good on those commitments. I remember numerous episodes when I witnessed angelic faces full of hope and expectation transition into those of pitiful, sniffling babes whose longings were dashed due to some unfortunate miscalculation on my part. Much like one should never ask a woman when she’s due unless they actually see a baby emerging from her womb, never promise an expectant child something you do not actually have in your immediate possession. Off the top of my head, I recall showing up to birthday parties on the wrong day because I read the invitation wrong. I remember my father promising my daughter a fancy tea party at a downtown cafe only to discover the shop closed an hour before we arrived. I recall Batman getting food poisoning the day of their superhero birthday party this summer and being unable to perform his heroic duties. We’ve all been there, right? I like to think that I learn from these episodes, but I tell you, it is a challenge. How do I create excitement about a planned event without risking the complete and utter disappointment that might occur if the described event does not happen according to plan.
Several weeks ago, I took the twins to the pediatrician for their five-year well visit check. We got good reports all around (which is a blessing I don’t take for granted any longer) until they were asked to read the eye chart. I was not in the room when the exam took place, but I understand from the nurse that both of the kids struggled with it. Poppy, in particular, had a difficult time reading those “small fuzzy letters”. We were advised to schedule an appointment with the eye doctor immediately since school was upon us. Charlie seemed wholly unaffected by his apparent lack of visual acuity, but Poppy took it hard. She is a perfectionist by nature and has sought validation and positive reinforcement since the day I met her. She gets wounded easily and wears her candy heart on her sleeve. When she heard that something she did, though completely beyond her control, wasn’t up to par, she felt like a failure. She feared that she would soon be a pariah. “I don’t know anyone my age who wears glasses,” she softly whispered all the way home. She stared out the car window with tears in her eyes even as we parked in the driveway. My heart was heavy because I felt badly for her and also because I knew it was my job to put a positive spin on the whole glasses thing and cheer her up. I dug deep. “Oh, it will be great! You can pick out your own frames. I’m thinking pink and girly with maybe a few rhinestones or hearts on the sides.” She perked up a bit. “Really? Sparkles?” she inquired. “Well that would be pretty fun.” Yes, fun! For the next two weeks, we talked about those imaginary glasses in anticipation of our upcoming appointment with the eye doctor. At sharing time in her class on Friday, she even proudly told everyone that she would be coming back to school the following week with her brand-new eye glasses. “They will be pink and pretty and perfect!” On our way to the exam, I was feeling pretty happy about the way she and I managed to transition from feeling utterly disappointed to being over-the-moon excited. Smugness is never a good thing. When we arrived at the eye doctor’s office, I watched as Poppy window shopped for her new frames. “Oh, I really like these cute ones with the pink stripe on the side. I would be happy with those.” We were called back to the exam room. I sat outside once again and waited for the verdict. “Good news!” the doctor informed us. “Your daughter has 20/20 vision. She definitely won’t need glasses for a while.” What the what? While I was glad to hear that her eyes are healthy, my stomach flipped because I just knew what was going to happen next. I peeked into the exam room to see Poppy sitting criss-cross-applesauce in the oversized reclined chair. She was quietly sobbing and one tear rolled down her cheek. I gave her a hug and offered up my best consolation-prize smile. “Isn’t it great you don’t need glasses, honey?” She didn’t speak until we got to the car. After I clicked her in the car seat, she let out an enormous sigh and cried. “What will I tell everyone at school? I promised them pink glasses,” she whimpered. “I feel so stupid.” My heart sank. Where was my magic wand? I wanted so desperately to wave it and make it all better, but alas, I was on my own. I was the fairy godmother. I felt the pendulum of expectation shift once again and I searched quickly for the right words. “Don’t be sad, sweetie. Just think, you can play soccer without having to worry about them falling off your face. You won’t ever be concerned about losing them or sitting on them or, or…” I was reaching. She could tell that I was trying my best to comfort her, but she just wanted a good cry. So I hugged her while she did just that. Again, she was quiet all the way home and I watched her in the rearview mirror stare out her window and wipe away a tear every now and then. Darn expectations! Is it better to plant seeds of promise in hopes of raising optimists, or is it ultimately more kind to let life unfold as it will and allow your children to accept reality. I know the answer is somewhere in the middle. We all just want our kids to be happy, so it crushes me when I think that I may have contributed to achieving the opposite by creating false hope. As with many things in this motherhood journey, I will learn from my mistakes and hope not to repeat them. I endeavor to find the proper balance between encouragement and pragmatism. Personally, I’m a hopeless optimist. I will be happy if my children grow up to describe themselves similarly despite life’s little disappointments along the way.