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“Holiday Expectations” by Saelen Ghose
Originally published in The MetroWest Daily.
We store our fine china in a sealed cabinet deep down in a temperature controlled room. We call it, the basement. It’s there that it sits until once or twice a year, we pull it out gently—like transplanting a fragile seedling to safer and more nutritious soil—so we can eat a holiday meal with the grace and dignity it so deserves.
That is until one of my kids has a temper tantrum and ends up spending the entire meal roaming the house like some nomadic vampire, mainly because he’s been snacking on—or more like gorging on—the various bowls of chocolates adorning our home this time of year, and the sugar levels in his bloodstream have hit historic highs, causing the rest of us—mainly his parents—to silently curse the entire candy industry, and ourselves. (That very long sentence is an example of what candy will do to you. Daddy has his own secret stash.)
Holidays are about family. They are about giving and receiving. They are about time spent with loved ones. But holidays are also accompanied with the expectation that everything will be perfect. The perfect gift. The perfect dinner. The perfect table settings. The perfect decorations. The perfect family. And especially, perfect children.
We all know that perfection is best left to “those” magazines in which airbrushing has become an art form. Because perfection has no place in everyday life, especially in a house like mine, containing three, very loud and messy children—now with their own opinions (darnit!)—and a puppy who considers everything in the house to be her very own personal chew toy.
My house is a zoo. So why my wife and I think that all of a sudden everyone is going to tow the “perfection line” once the holidays roll around is beyond me. Actually we don’t really expect it, but we maintain the hope that maybe, just maybe, our kids will give us the perfect gift of perfect behavior for possibly a day or two. But I know that’s unrealistic. We might be able to pull out the china for a day or two to spice things up, but it isn’t like we have a stash of well-behaved replacement kids in a locked cabinet somewhere in our house. (No, really, we don’t. Although, at times, I wish we did. )
And then comes gift giving. Every season my wife and I go on the hunt to find gifts our kids will love. We try not to get caught up in the hoopla, but it’s hard not to. Since we don’t keep our kids locked up, they inevitably are confronted with the world of advertising. On billboards, TV, radio, and all forms of public transportation, these messages are beckoning our children to want more, whether overtly or subliminally. I’m sure even the saltine crackers I’m munching on at this moment contain messages for me to digest, one salty treat at a time.
My wife and I should know better than to actually think we’re going to be successful in our hunt for the perfect gift for each of our children. Inevitably someone is disappointed. And please, spare me the, “it’s the thought that counts” garbage. We get it. And yes, we try to downplay material giving. But in today’s world kids have a difficult time focusing on sentiment when they’re faced with friends telling enchanted stories of new cell phones, video games, i-touches, and other slick gadgetry. The holidays represent keeping up with the Joneses to the utmost degree.
So parents have two choices: lower expectations or up the ante. I for one am all about lowering expectations—I never said low expectations—because lowering expectations can help take away some of the pressures to “keep up” which can ultimately lead to a more fulfilling life. And during the holidays, when families come together to celebrate, the expectation for everything to go smoothly is totally unrealistic. In fact, the atmosphere is so charged with hyper intense energy that the table is set–so to speak—for anything and everything to go wrong.
So this holiday season how about we get rid of all expectations? Let’s throw them out with the china. Because life doesn’t come with guarantees of perfection. It’s messy and full of suprises, served on old dinner plates made from hard work and sweat.
Happy Holidays to all.
Saelen Ghose is a syndicated columnist for Gatehouse media. He is currently working on a parenting book that fuses tales of his childhood—growing up with an Indian father and New England mother in Cleveland—with his own parenting challenges and questions.
Contact Saelen at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like help writing your own memoirs. Saelen also writes obits.