February 16, 2011

Great Expectations

Every day starts and ends with expectations, some great, and some small, some met, some postponed, others lost forever, swept under the rug to be vacuumed up another day.

I am in California tending to our house. I start these days with lists, itemizing my hours and achievements before they arrive, quite content to defer them over to the back of the sheet and someones tomorrow. It's encouraging to cross off tasks, feeling usefull and busy, but things change, things "come-up" and expectations change. The lists are half for scheduling purposes and a larger half for remembrance sake, there are so many details to keep track of and I'm firing on only the lesser half of my cylinders (the better half having remained in France).  I have scraps of paper sticking out of every pocket, by the end of the day, what with saved reciepts and pulped memories, I resemble a scarecrow with half a brain.  But there are expectations to fulfill and this show must go on!  My progress has been steady, and the end is in sight, but there remain a few tasks to manage before I can contemplate my return to where my heart is on this Valentines week.

Back there in quieter days, there were expectations in other forms, daily sorts of things which measure a day.... will my back be stiff when  I roll out of bed? will lunch be as good as yesterday? will there be any letters to read in my inbox? will sleep be as sweet as the night before?  Small things which add up to a day, the silver lining of a day, the beat.  Our new life there has brought a new package of challenges and rewards, most of which we are still defining, so its still difficult to even know what our expectations are, only that the city itself has exceeded them, the rest is up to us.

This homecoming to America has been sweet, thousands of miles disappear in an embrace, time zones fall by the way-side and friendships nurtured over decades shine brightly through the fog of distance. Here the expectations run at a cross current, where you expect change, there isn't any, friendships are somehow locked in the moment you put them on the shelf. Distance perhaps makes the heart grow fonder, but it does not really change anything. I feel as the friends I share tonight are simply distilled versions of the friends I shared eight years ago, same, stronger, reinforced perhaps by the extra rings around our middles. Aging is a wonderful thing in this way, we may have had expectations in our youth, but the trajectory was set, and we grow in that direction, better and better, every year.  This has been a silver lining of a surprise; I never expected my friendships to grow in my absence, but like the weeds underfoot, they have exceeded their pots, sought the soil...everything grows!

There are lessons to learn, parenting and partnering, stuff you might find in a book or hear from a friend, but lessons that need to be earned just the same.  

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus and adolescents are from a nearby solar system that worship an entirely different star.  Oscar turned 13 this week, incredible from where I sit, which is too far away this evening, some 9 time zones removed. The expectations of a parent are perhaps the greatest of them all, until it becomes the expectations of a child. You want him to be so much more and then just enough, and then at least, and half the time he exceeds your fears and hopes and shames you with your petty concerns.  We have been trying to understand the French grading system. A scale of 20 and an average of 14 and coefficients of difficulty and no curve!  Oscar has moved into a much more rigorous grade at a much more rigorous school, his grades are challenging him for the first time in is life, as school starts to become more interesting and intellectual. He's reading difficult matter, and writing and needing to analyze; using his brain for more than recording, for synthisizing!  Our american expectations revolve around the letters ABC&D, and while an american average is a C, a french average is a 14... not a 10!?... so we are learning the system, Oscar's learning it the hard way as he gets good grades.  I think his expectations of school changed this year, from something he could do as one part of a multi-task, to something which is multi-tasking all on its own.

Our 8th Christmas re-wrote the recipe. We stayed in Europe this year, missing our annual trip to the US (although I am here/there now).  The expectations that come with such an annualized event are like dye in the blood stream, you really notice the difference from christmas past and it makes you start to think of Christmas future. It makes you reflect in a George Baily sort of way, seeing the value in a moment, and one takes stock in their place in all this. We expect certain things, like carrots for the reindeer and an orange in our stocking, but we need to grow here and there and let the current take us and rewrite parts of the story as we go. In the end we were together as a family and that was enough.

We expect things of each other, the support and the criticism to keep us in the game; expectations that your partner is there to back you up and take over when you have a headache or just don't get it.... expectations that your kid will in fact wander in before dark, or at least call. The trust that you are all moving in the same direction.  But perhaps it's the unexpected gestures that define the limits, or the lack thereof. The impact of the unexpected, a coffee, an assumed responsibility, cleaning the bathroom (how terrible is that?!), a note, an extra smile.

Reading between the lines....I miss my family

We have done these times apart before, they always work out, but they always seem too long.  The wonderful part is the love of friends and family that I slide back into so obviously! Now that the houses are all fixed and the paint all refreshed, I can start thinking about what I'm missing, in all my homes, about what my expectations are how I can so wonderfully exceed them!