Friday, 16 December 2011

Expectations about expectations

One of the treats of living in New Brunswick, Canada, is that we are no longer forced to go and sort through spindly, overpriced trees at the local garden centre but, instead, can tramp out into the snowy woods and choose a real live, bushy one, chop it down, drag it back to the car, and carry it home triumphant like the proverbial caveman with his quarry (or woman!). This year the snow was absent, but the presence of our good friends – and some ice to stamp on and crack – more than made up for this unusual lack, and the kids all ran around among the trees, usually invisible and so only traceable by their shouts and laughter. Thus it came to pass that the fated tree was chosen without the participation of dearest daughter number one, who has grown to love the way we wander and deliberate and choose together. Bad idea. Both Amélie and I always think we need a taller tree than we can actually fit into our sitting room, but this year she decided it was ‘tiny’ (and so it WAS compared to the giant specimen that can fit into our friends’ house!). Tears were shed. Angry words were spoken over the accursed tree.

Cue my allergic reaction to ingratitude, which sadly isn’t the most accurate radar and can read lack of thankfulness into the simple (but, admittedly, dramatic!) disappointment of a little girl’s deeply-felt desires and wishes. How long will it take me to learn that an attempted clampdown on the emotional reaction of a seven year old is more often a fruitless stab at control than it is a loving or helpful response?! Yes, sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand, but often a simple ‘being-with’ is enough to allow the tide to reach its lowest ebb and then begin naturally to rise again.

A blessed pause in the proceedings followed. The tree had to wait a handful of days until we could bring it in from the cold to finally stand upright and be dressed in its finery. This was enough days for my dread to grow over what sort of scene would ensue during the tree-decorating afternoon that is ‘meant’ to be a time of family frolicking and fantastic fun! Enough days for me to angrily contemplate another clampdown on unacceptable behaviour so as to ENFORCE gratitude and fun-having! How infuriating that this little person was so unable to manage her high and inflexible expectations of what a tree should be like that she would end up ruining her own enjoyment of what IS – and ours along with it! Truth be told... she would end up ruining MY own (high and inflexible?) expectations...


The day rolled around. The tree rolled in. Even with a ton of trunk sawn off, its peak still touched the ceiling. The perfect size. We laughed. Jeremy is ALWAYS right about this, despite our habitual lack of a tape measure and the subsequent female insistence that our ceiling is higher than he thinks. We put on Christmas music and laid out gingerbread eggnog, crisps and chocolate biscuits. We complained about the sap on our hands. We contentedly arranged each treasured ornament on the fragrant branches. Amélie claimed that this tree wasn’t quite right; it wasn’t like trees we’d had in previous years. Jeremy said he thought she was just getting older, taller, and her perspective was changing. We turned out the overhead lights and Little Girl sat on her Daddy’s lap in the dark silence and stared at this year’s twinkling tree. Expectations had mercifully lost their urgency – along with expectations about expectations! – and we could just be, as we were, with the tree that just was.

It was a typical beginning, at times a tough beginning, but in the end a good beginning to this special, challenging, sometimes magical, sometimes trying season. If we can just BE, just enjoy what actually IS, in all its imperfections – if we can ALL do this! – ours will be a happier, more restful, more loving Christmas.

So be it.


  1. Such truth, you write, Rachael. Life has so many expectations of its own, but when Christmas rolls around it's as though everyone is on hyperdrive trying to corner and catch the "Christmas spirit" which turns out to be very heavy. As a matter of fact it sinks. Much better to let it fall upon us with all its imperfections than drag us down with the weight of expected perfection. I'm glad you reminded me of this just as I arrive at my parent's house for Christmas break. I miss you so. I love you so.

  2. I love how you describe that heaviness - I agree. I'm glad this was a happy reminder, and hope your time at home IS... ;-) LOVE!!! XR