When All Else Fails…

If all else fails, lower your expectations!

For a long time, I hated this advice. It came directly from the dark, satanic mills of despair and cynicism. It was an excuse for uselessness. But no more!

In somewhat the same way as some black Americans have re-appropriated the n-word (but without the lingering odour of disgust), or that some gays have embraced their “queer” status (but without the perverse acceptance of marginalization, be it ever so giddy), I am reclaiming this phrase as a healing medicine. Where once it signified the jaded “whatever” of the terminally disappointed, for me it now means something like “do your best to make the world better, but don’t break yourself against the walls”.

The “if all else fails” part is key. To start by giving ourselves only basement-level hopes is crippling and just plain sad. On the other hand, for those of us who chronically expect the near-impossible of others and especially ourselves – not only being all things to all people but trying to be everything we might ever be all at one time – lowering expectations is a balm and a consolation. It doesn’t mean failure and it’s not about giving up on growth. It’s more a case of putting into regular, sustainable practice a less feverish intensity. (Oh, my goodness: it’s about moderation. What a concept!)

And it only took me a couple of decades to figure it out. I’m not very good at it yet, but I fully expect to master it immediately. (Or maybe next week, latest.)

Over-Parenting Anonymous

Sixth Birthday Fever is running rampant in our household, mostly infecting the five-year-old. However, there is recent evidence that the contagion has spread to my bride. An otherwise fairly sane person (marital decisions notwithstanding), she sent me the following. (I have mercilessly pruned it, ’cause it went ON and ON…)

“Sounds pretty cool, eh?” my wife wrote in attaching this piece of HyperMom Frenzy. It IS full of ideas, but my goodness! What’s the kid going to expect for his seventh birthday party? And then grade 8 grad will have to top that. And prom. And university graduation, if just learning and studying isn’t far too much boring effort by then. I figure that this kid will fully expect to literally go into orbit on his wedding night (ceremony on the space shuttle, honeymoon around Uranus…)

Anyhow, take a listen. Maybe it’s the materialism, maybe it’s the manic effort on the part of all to make this kid’s party the Top of the Charts, maybe it’s the selfishness (who is this FOR, really?), but I find this bloody alarming. (Perhaps you’ll find it superb and think of me ever after as a pinch-faced pessimist. The risks I take!)

For my son’s 6th birthday party, I threw him a Super Hero Training Party. I called each of the parents and asked them questions about their sons: weight, height, distinguishing features, brief personal history, enemies, etc. I then wrote up a dossier on each kid, with TOP SECRET watermarked on the paper. I paper-clipped the dossier, a headshot of the boy, and a cover letter into a manilla folder marked “Top Secret” on the outside. We hand delivered the invitations…’Please come in your Super Hero uniform [scrambling parents make sure their son has an adequate costume; somehow, I’m thinking this isn’t happening in the low-rent district] and be prepared to work hard….We hope you decide to become a part of the…CRIME FIGHTING SUPER HERO LEAGUE.  Regards, Justice Forall.’ 

As the kids entered we had a sign that said ‘Entering Restricted Area, please proceed to handprint recognition and retinal scanning.’ We had two boxes that my brother rigged up with flashlights to check handprints and retinas….When all kids arrived, I handed out their ‘Crime Fighting Super Hero League Training Manual.’ made them in Print Shop using the 1/4 card template. Inside there was three sections: Endurance, Agility, and Marksmanship….[Olympic-type events with stickers for successful completion ensued. Here’s a taste of *Marksmanship\*] I had 50 water balloons ready and a piece of plywood covered in plastic with a bullseye. The manual stated, ‘Hitting the target you are aiming for is an essential skill to fight crime…’ The boys took turns throwing one water balloon at a time at the target…they stood at the back door and threw them out at the target. We handed out their stickers for their training manuals when they had used up all the balloons. When they finished all the events we went back to the ‘Welcome Center’ and had a graduation party….

After the ceremony we had a reception in which I brought in cupcakes decorated with the emblems of Spiderman, Batman and Superman. Right when I brought them in I had my husband (dressed as Dr. Zogie the evil scientist) and my brother (dressed as the Emperor from Star Wars) attack the party, steal the cupcakes and run away. Then I told the boys, ‘You are all now Super Heroes! Remember everything you have learned! Go get the bad guys and save our cupcakes!’ The boys needed no further instruction. They all went running after Dr. Zogie and the Emperor…

FOOD – We served cupcakes decorated with superhero emblems, homemade ice cream and juice. FAVORS – After we were done with food, we proceded with present opening. When the guests would give my son his present, he would hand them a little canvas bag that I had painted their names on. There was candy and more super hero stickers inside. While we waited for the parents, they just ran around the obstacle course, attacked the pillows and ran around like crazy boys do. It was loads of fun and we were all exhausted by the end… 

 So, yes, no question, it’s a deeply admirable effort, and surely the kids had a great time. And if they didn’t already  think the sun rose and set on their wee arses, surely they must by now! Whew! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! (But sorry, love. We ain’t goin’ there. The Little Prince will live, and more. Trust me.)