Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Death of Expectation

With one final, excruciating push he flew into the world. All the pressure was released and for the first time in so long I am able to take in a deep inhale. In that same very instant a brick house of expectation was also born. 

He was perfect. Ten finger and toes and I sighed, and fell in love with every single blessed detail. Soaked him up and felt it- the sweetest, purest love. I didn't know it existed quite so lucidly. My expectations already had his life all planned out for him. 

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He will smile and sit and crawl and one day even walk. He will say Momma, and love ice cream. He will dress up for Halloween. He will love his birthday. He will say the funniest things. I will read him books at night and scare the monsters away from under his bed. He will ask for extra pancakes and wrap me around his currently teeny tiny finger. 

He will go to school. He will be smart. I will help him with science projects and pretend to be annoyed but  actually love it. He will play sports, and be a humble winner and the very best loser. He will be fast. He will be brave. He will be kind. He will go to college and get married and have babies.

I had great expectations. And then right before his third birthday, I heard the words, "Your son fits the diagnostic criteria for autism" and I thought he died- my precious son. In an instant, my boy's life vanished right before me.

I didn't realize at the time, but he didn't die at all. It was really just the death of expectation. You see, I confused the two; my real boy and the son I expected him to be. And mourning expectation is so very hard. Letting go of years worth of day dreams doesn't happen in a day or a week. And like many before me, I deeply grieved the loss of that expectation. Some of what I expected for me. Some of what I expected for him. I ached for each and every single one of those experiences I might not ever have. I couldn't really relate to Welcome to Holland, an essay written in 1987 by special needs parent Emily Perl Kingsley. Kingsley describes her parenting journey as being excited while preparing for a vacation to Italy (her expectations) only to find that she actually lands in the country of Holland (reality of special needs parenting). You see our reality didn't really feel like vacation at all. It felt like a death. 

And the more I shed the pain of expectation, the better I got to know my boy. The real one I got, not the made-up one I expected. He doesn't deserve to be expected to be anyone other than who he is, and who he is- is amazing. It took time and strength and a determination to willingly let my expectations go, without throwing hope out at the same time. To wake up every day still, and decide to let go again and again. And the truth is that my real boy is alive and better than any of my wildest expectations- in ways completely different than I could have even imagined.

And as far as his future - anything is still possible. I just don't need certain things to happen in certain order to be happy and to measure the worth of my parenting experience.  

The truth is, for most of us, reality is nothing like we expected. It is only in the letting go of our expectations that we are able to realize that our reality may not be so bad at all. When you are living an unexpected life it is easy to focus what you don't have. But there is also incredible beauty, perspective, love and experiences that come with the unexpected. It's so important that we notice those gifts too.

Sometimes I have moments when I still focus on the death of the expected. But now I remind myself how awful it would feel if someone constantly expected me to be different- and to be someone I'm not. I've learned the very definition of unconditional love is choosing to love someone exactly for who they are. A love not based on expectations, but on reality. I've finally knocked down that brick house of expectations. Turns out it was hiding the most incredible view.

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  1. Beautiful!
    Every parent needs to read this even ones with 'typical' kids because we should all release our kids from our expectations and let them lead their own unique lives.
    I am reminded of previous posts you've written about holidays and how different they are than you had pictured. I hope that this Halloween you and your boys have a joyful day that includes whatever part of Halloween strikes their fancy if any.
    I figure like most years I'll have a daughter that plows through trick or treating like she's on a mission only to come home and give all her candy to us because she has a phobia of candy, gum, and wrappers. My son is more unpredictable but if the past is any indication he may wear none, part or all of his costume; will be excited because he loves all things sugary; will only go to 2 or 3 houses because he doesn't like people, knowing that his sister will share her candy loot; will be thrilled to help me hand out candy to trick-or-treaters because he likes choosing the pieces out of the big candy bowl every time the doorbell rings. But if this year is totally different, I can roll with it because I am learning to not let our happiness depend on met expectations. Of course it's just as important to not let others' expectations get in the way! I'm so glad we've let our son go trick-or-treating to those few houses even the years when he can't wear his costume or only part of it.

    Your boys are very blessed to have a momma that understands letting go of expectations. :)

  2. There was this period in my life that I was struggling with infertility. We had one son but we didnt want him to be an only child. We desperately wanted another child, but we tried for years and werent able to get pregnant. Then, one month I had missed my period. I tried not to get my hopes up because the pregnancy test was negative. But then another month passed, and then another and I still hadn't gotten my cycle and no matter how many times the tests came up negative, there was this tiny whisper of hope that maybe we could finally be pregnant. And then one day I took a test and it was positive. Not "if you squint at it in the right light" positive, but it had two very clear, dark lines.

    I was so excited. It was a brand of test I had never used before, but I was told over and over that there was no such thing as a false positive. But when I took another test to confirm, it was negative. And i tried not to get my hopes up, even though we had been trying to get pregnant for years. And so I went to the doctor, and it turn out the test WAS a false positive, and that I only had an ovarian cyst that was preventing me from cycling. There was no baby.

    There was this green shoot of hope inside me that had grown despite how often I told myself not to get my hopes up. And when I got the final confirmation from the doctor, I felt my heart shatter. I felt that surprisingly large shoot of hope shrivel and die. There never was a baby, but it felt like someone died. That there was this special place in my heart that would never be whole again.

    And to be honest, its been over 7 years and we have been blessed with, not one but two children since then but I still can't talk about it without crying. Not the loss of a child, but the loss of the dream of that child. A child who would have been six now. Who we would have named Nolan

    So yes, the grief for a dream is real and the fact that you never truly lost anything doesn't seem to help heal those wounds either.

    I have 3 children now. My two sons are both on the spectrum, and my daughter was recently diagnosed with a related disorder (Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder and SPD). So I can also understand the loss of the other, commonplace dreams. Of soccer practice, birthday parties, and drivers licences. Dreams that were so ordinary that you took them for granted. Until you didn't.

    I just wanted to say that acknowledging those hurts is a great step towards health. And that accepting them is a process. My oldest is 11 years old and I'm still often blindsided by some new aspect of it. Things that don't ever bother me from day to day, can suddenly start to hurt and I think "I know this! I've already dealt with this!" But logic rarely has anything to do with it. The heart wants what the heart wants. Even if sometimes you want to punch your heart in its big stupid face.

  3. Beautiful as always. Thank you.

  4. Thank you Chrissy, this is so true and wonderful written. "love, not based on expectations, but on reality..."
    WHen will we be able to buy your book???!
    Love! Christina

  5. Wonderful article--we've also experienced the "death of expectation" when our Noah, who is on the spectrum, was recently diagnosed with severe intellectual impairment. It's been a rough time to accept that and come around to the point where we must drop all expectations and just deal.

    It sure helps that he's so damn cute and affectionate though--I love him unconditionally and wouldn't trade him for the world. So forget about years from now and just focus on today!