I never yell at my kids more than on holidays. I think it has something to do with that dreaded “E” word: Expectation.
The images live large in my head from when I used to see television commercials, or when I catch sight of signs in stores that feature happy families happily gathered round happy Dad on a happy Father’s Day. Or big groups of fun-havers at a beach bonfire on the Fourth of July. Sometimes I might even be part of such groups on these or other “special” days, and yet something stirs in me, and I bristle and bark.
Were those people in the pictures having more fun? They didn’t seem to be fighting, or hot, or sweaty. What was wrong with us?
There are great expectations placed on us all the time to enjoy things in a particular prescribed way and, for better or worse, I am hard-wired to rebel. I stand there on Mother’s Day or my birthday and I wonder why I can’t just feel grateful like I’m supposed to, and why I can’t get myself and my family to look and act the way we’re “supposed to.”
Aah, to be those shiny, happy people in the ads. Even when I seem to others like I might make the grade, when my house is decorated for a holiday, and I’ve strong-armed the boys into putting on something other than sweatpants and their favorite well-worn tees, I am squirmy like a little girl in synagogue. I inadvertently start yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs, and only afterward stop to question why. My boys at these times are just being their usual slow-to-respond teenage selves despite my expectations.
I’ve been thinking lately that I have to be more judicious about how I “celebrate.” Maybe these days don’t have to be the biggest deal ever. Maybe it just doesn’t always feel like the right moment to revel. Maybe I can’t just conjure grace and gratitude on command.
My least favorite conversation starter was when a guy would lean toward me and strongly suggest that I “smile!” Yuck. I’ve learned over time just to walk away (and, frankly, it doesn’t happen to me much anymore) but back in the day I’d sometimes growl some type of feminist response like, “Don’t tell me what to do!”
I can’t help the way I respond to being told how to feel, from an individual or society. I shouldn’t, of course, take it out on my children, and I try in these Hallmark moments not to ruin things with my naysaying ways, but…
Summer is the worst. It is one big 10-week-long holiday, which should bring that demanded smile to my lips, right? Wrong. Maybe it is because I grew up in Arizona, where the summer months seem to stretch on forever and a dry heat just feels like an oven on high. But the pressure to fill every last moment with fun sometimes has me running scared. If I’m not careful, I can feel the absolute opposite of joyous if every moment isn’t spent on the beach with a frozen drink. Isn’t that how people spend their summers? It would seem so, if we paid attention to the ads. Sunscreen marketers and beer companies would have you believe it, such that when the children sit for hours in front of screens, and my apartment lacks sufficient air conditioning, I dare say I feel like the ocean: blue.
This summer, however, I vow to have more realistic expectations. I vow to get the opening scenes from “Grease” out of my mind and just enjoy the enjoyable moments and not cower too much at the times that aren’t filled with perfect beach parties.
I vow not to yell at my kids if they don’t want to go to Coney Island and get corn dogs like I imagine we should, like we did when they were little.
I shake my head as I type that, though: Realistic expectations.
I will do my best.