Best before 31st May…

Two years.  Don’t they go by in a blink.  It is hard to believe that two whole years have passed since that day in May 2015 that we will never forget.  Harder to believe that we are living a life more ‘normal’ than we ever could have imagined possible back then.  Back then it felt as though the bottom had fallen out of my world, and I was shrouded by a blackness that I thought would envelop me for ever. Today, it’s mostly sunny with a tiny chance of rain.  Today life is about as normal as it is ever going to get.  The last two years have been two of the most extraordinary of my entire life.  And you, my dearest Freya, my little “Peanut”, were the single most extraordinary thing of all.  Meeting you was like walking into the sun, and in spite of everything you went through, we went through, the clouds were never allowed to cast too large a shadow because your light burned through them like a flame through silk.

The past few weeks have allowed a melancholy feeling to settle around my shoulders like a familiar, almost comfortable wrap; two hands that placed themselves upon my shoulders, whilst a low voice whispered, “Remember me?”  It was a rhetorical question, of course I remember her.  She is sorrow, and fear, and dread, and grief.  I didn’t consciously awaken her, but the date was drawing near and I guess my subconscious had figured it out before I did.  I had been cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, like you do every now and again when you realise the dust is beginning to settle on the shelves!  I emptied the bottom shelf of one of the cupboards – that’s where we keep all the everyday medicines.  It’s where we keep your medicine, in a little pink sandwich box with Barbie on the lid.  I take that box out of that cupboard every single day to prepare your aspirin. Yet on this day, when I placed the box back in the cupboard I realised that it had gone back in a different way to normal.  I realised because there staring back at me, was the hospital label – we had used that box to store your medicines when you were in the Children’s Hospital.  And there I was, right back in that cubicle behind the nurse’s station, and you were by my side, in your cot, all wires and bandages and looking like someone else’s baby.  Your Auntie popped in just at that moment and for a while I was somewhere else.  When she snapped me out of it, tears came out of nowhere and I shrugged it off as ‘a moment’. What it was, was a flashback.  The first I have had since I was successfully treated for PTSD last year.  Luckily it was short-lived, and I was nothing more than a little shaken afterwards.  I’ve not had one since, though the sound of that musical seahorse going off the other day threatened to bring another.  Instead I considered how the fact that you were playing with it was a good sign that you do not remember like I do.  That is indeed a blessing.

Anyway, enough of that miserable talk! I haven’t written to you in so long, and I have so much to tell you! I want to show you how far we’ve come in the last two years, and let you know how remarkable your life has been so far.  On the 28th May last year, I wrote a blog which I gave the rather despondent title of “Stealing Joy”.  You see, that is how I felt back then.  Kawasaki Disease had come into our lives and stolen everything that was meant to be joyful away from us.  Here is some of what I wrote:

“I want to allow myself to believe all the motivational clichés about things happening for a reason, about how far we have come, about how lucky we are to have Freya here in our lives and how we should count our blessings.  But today that all feels like bullshit.  Today I find myself mourning for normal…Today marks the anniversary of the last day we knew what normal was.  I wish that day were Groundhog Day and we could live it over and over and over so that the 31st May would never come.

I don’t want to wallow in the misery of the last year, believe me. I want to be thankful for what we have, and cherish every moment.  I want to believe that this happened to us for a reason, that we will all be better people for it, that I will look back on all this one day and laugh at how wrapped up I was.  I will allow that to come…”

And what I want to tell you now, sweetheart, is that it did come.  Normal came.  And with it came joy.

April 2016 marked the end of my maternity leave, but I wasn’t ready to return to work for many reasons.  For one, there were still issues with your immunity, and the risks connected to you being exposed to chicken pox were too great for me to consider placing you in any kind of childcare.  Heart-wise things were pretty unstable, with lots of unknowns, and much deliberation about whether we should allow the hospital to plough ahead with a procedure that I would prefer to avoid.  At that time the uncertainty filled me with dread and I was struggling to deal with what life had thrown at us.  I was about to receive treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I had hit a very low point in my life where I felt let down by many people in it, and life itself.  I felt very alone, except for you.  You were the only one who could make me smile.  At that time I was sliding down walls in hospital corridors when an anxiety attack took hold, or crying alone in the early hours of the morning because there was nobody to share my grief or fear with.  When my employer agreed to allow me to take a career break to get back the time we lost, it was like I had been given a new beginning.  I was paired with the most amazing counsellor who helped me deal with what happened to you, and then some. And I began to believe in life again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I will ever stop being afraid of what lies around the corner.  And I am more afraid of death now than I ever was before.  I think about it a lot, almost daily.  Not in a macabre way, just a reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised.  Sometimes I feel deep sadness at the thought that I might not get to meet your children, my grandchildren.  I just have to try to stay young, so I might get that chance.  I feel a dreadful sorrow when I think about my own mortality.  I am so afraid to leave here, leave this place and my family.  I cannot bear the thought of being parted from it.  But then I guess it is our fear of death that keeps us alive.  If there is one thing I learned from my counselling it is this – that no amount of worrying about the future is going to change it.  I have learned to live in the moment (mostly).  Sometimes the resolve dissolves and I find myself fearful, especially as the seasons change and we head towards the Autumn, and the angiogram that I have such an issue with.   But mostly, we live in the now.  And since I went back to work full-time in April this year, there really isn’t much time to think any further forward than that!

When I was approaching my return to work, I became very sad.  The thought of not spending every day with you made my heart-break.  I wasn’t worried for you – I knew you would adapt and that it was time for you to experience new things and to make new friends.  I was worried for me though.  I honestly did not know how I was going to get through it.  We ended the two-year break with a fantastic holiday in Mexico.  We were finally able to fly, having managed to get you caught up on all the routine vaccinations you missed because you were so young when you got sick.  I had some contemplative moments on that holiday – each day that passed took me another day closer to leaving you. But I told myself that rather than think of what I was losing, I should think of what I have gained.  I was given the gift of time; another year to spend with you before I had to return to a ‘normal’ I never thought we would see.   A year to fill with a joy capable of erasing a year of misery.  And I have to tell you, that despite everything, these last two years with you have been extraordinary, because of who you are, and what you have achieved, and what you have done for me.  I am a better person because of you.

And you? Well, what about you?! Let me tell you what you have seen in this last year.  You’ve seen animals and sea-life, you’ve swam in pools and an ocean.  You’ve visited the home of a literary great, and learned where your name came from, my Freya Ellis Belle.  You have made firm friends.  You’ve danced and bounced, and you know your good toes from your naughty toes (thank you Mrs Riley!).  You have inspired a donation of £75,000 from a stranger across the other side of the world, and raised £8,000 from your 1st birthday party.  You’ve sat upon the knee of world leading Kawasaki Disease specialist, Professor Jane Burns.  You’ve been to Christmas markets, and Summer Fayres. You were awarded special recognition for Triumph Over Adversity at the Doncaster Free Press Awards. You have raised awareness of this disease, with tens of thousands of people having seen your face.  Last month over 5,000 people viewed a video of you on Facebook, raising even more awareness.  You have been in Newspapers and on ITV News.  You inspired me to give blood, and register for stem cell donation.  And you inspired me to run so that just this weekend I raised nearly £3,000 running 10km in the Great Manchester Run!  You, or Kawasaki Disease, or a combination of the two have made me stronger, wiser, more compassionate, kinder, more alive than I ever was before, and for that I am thankful.

On the train home from Manchester this weekend, I opened my finisher’s pack to have a look at what was inside.  My runner’s medal, a sick bag (I’ll tell you about that one day), some leaflets, a bar of chocolate.  I look at the wrapper to see what kind of chocolate it was and my eye was drawn to the best before date:

Best before 31st May.  

Perhaps you were best before then.  You were best in terms of being undamaged, your little heart was in tact and you were perfect.  But actually, you are so much bigger than the 7 weeks before you became sick.  You are more than Kawasaki Disease, more than a broken heart.  And I am more than a mum.  I am your mum, and that makes me a very lucky woman indeed.  I became my best after you.

image1 (1)

 

Advertisements

Return to Cannon Hall Farm

Dear Freya

I must admit the title of this blog post made me smile a little!  Sounds like one of those old stories I read when I was a child, usually involving four or five intrepid children and a dog off on some treacherous adventure.  Today was not quite so dramatic as any of those stories, but it was an adventure for us nonetheless, and I must start by saying thank you for making today wonderful, when it might have been otherwise.

Today we visited a local visitor attraction, Cannon Hall Farm.  It is about a 45-minute drive from home, in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and is home to lots of animals that you can get close to. At this time of year, in the Spring, the farm gives birth to new life in the form of tiny piglets and little lambs and if you are lucky with the timing you can get to hold a guinea pig and stroke a fluffy rabbit too.  We arrived just after 11am, and you were excited about seeing the ‘aminals’ as soon as we got out of the car.  I’ve visited many times over the years, but this was the first time you were seeing it with your eyes, and it was magical.  I love seeing life through a child’s eyes.  Everything is new and wondrous and those big blue eyes sparkled with excitement at every new thing that you encountered.

We paid our £5 entry – there’s a special offer on at the moment and you were free anyway, so it was most definitely good value for money!  We bought a bag of animal feed too, so you could interact with the animals.  We were presented with stickers to wear to show that we had paid our way, but even though I confidently placed mine on my coat, you were reluctant to allow me to do the same with yours.  See, you have developed this fear of stickers, presumably a mixture of ECG memories and the steady flow of sticker offerings at every medical appointment, but whatever it is those stickers cause you to recoil, and back away like I have some kind of venomous creature in my hands.  I managed to convince you within about half an hour that you had to wear your sticker if you wanted to feed the animals – you may only be 22 months old, but you are  bright as a button and you were really keen to send the food down those chutes.  I took the small victory, and punched the air in my mind.

You were mesmerised by the Meerkats and ran up and down the enclosure as they chased you from the other side of the glass.  Seems they sensed your fun and wanted to join in.  And then we went on to the breeding barns, led by a very eager you running off ahead, giggling “What’s in there?!” as you ran. You adored the pigs and their piglets, and toddled excitedly from barn to barn shouting “Bye bye!” to the animals as we left them.  You weren’t too keen on the tractor cleaning out one of the stalls, but we moved on quickly enough for you to forget about the monstrous roar of it’s engine as it shovelled away all the muck and straw.  You gambled on the blue ferret to win the race, but sadly it had no intention of leaving its starting block and lay there curled up in the warm Spring sunshine, along with green and yellow, while red took the title with ease.  We walked past the birds on our way to the sheep enclosure, where you delighted in the sounds of the lambs, remarkably like new born babies crying for their mummies, until one of the ewes decided to utter a deep, groaning “baaaa” and you ran screaming “Help me, help me mummy” until I scooped you up and headed back towards the centre of the farm!  As we passed the birds again on the way back, I saw the network of tunnels in the children’s play area out of the corner of my eye.  Silly really, that it was the sight of those tunnels that drew an inward gasp and brought a tear to my eye, but I quickly brushed the thought away as we headed back to see the meerkats again – they would bring back the smile in an instant.

We had pretty much exhausted your attention span, and the use of your little legs, by around 1pm so we popped into the restaurant for some lunch.  I ordered a sandwich and chips for us to share and we took a seat in the corner where I could pen you in at the end of a row of benches!  You like to wander, and I needed you to stay put and eat some dinner.  On the table next to us were an elderly ‘couple’ (I could tell by their conversation that they were not married, and later found out that they were both widowed friends).  Both the lady and the gentleman were showing an interest in you.  I mean, at risk of sounding sycophantic, you do draw attention to yourself. Those huge ocean blue eyes, and your little curls, along with this way that you carry yourself that defies your 22-months on this Earth, seem to gather interest everywhere we go.  You are quite simply captivating.  I don’t know what it is that you have, but I guess although it sounds like far too mature a word to use to describe you, I would say that what you have is charisma.  Oodles and oodles of charisma.  Whilst I am most definitely your number one fan, you seem to be gathering a following wherever you go.

Anyway, to get back to the point of our ‘adventure’.  After a number of musings and comments from the couple next to me, the gentleman remarked at how clever you are – he had been observing you when you were let down from the table and noticed how considered every move you made was.  He said you seemed to be well aware of everything and everyone around you, and he said “She’ll go far that one.” He said you seem ‘lively’ and I laughed and said “Oh yes! She keeps me on my toes!” and the lady replied, “Yes, but better to have them like that,  than in hospital poorly.”  I could have brushed over that comment, but instead I remarked that you had indeed had your fair share of that, and of course this sparked some interest in your situation.  “In fact, the last time we were here was the day before she became sick.”

And there it was; the reason for our visit.  We have not been back to Cannon Hall Farm since that day before our lives were changed forever.  Saturday 30th May 2015; you were 7 weeks old and it was our first outing as a family.  I don’t know why we haven’t returned to visit the farm really.  There is absolutely no suggestion that your illness was linked to the farm, and whilst the cause is unknown so it could never be completely ruled out, it is more likely to be just a coincidence and bad timing.  I think I just didn’t want to undo the memory of that perfect moment in our history.  I mentioned earlier that the sight of those tunnels was the only thing that triggered an emotional response (though I had been working hard to suppress the emotions I could feel crushing my chest all the morning).  I guess it’s because we spent a while there whilst your brother and sister got themselves lost in the maze of tunnels.  I think I fed you as we sat on a bench and watched the children playing in the early Summer sunshine, and congratulated myself on this perfect life we had created.  And up to that moment, Peanut, it really had been perfect.  You were perfect.

That day in 2015 at Cannon Hall Farm marked the end of perfect for us, or so it seemed.  It feels so unfair that things changed so early on in your life, before we had a chance to make any more perfect memories.  I guess I’ve wanted to preserve the memory of that day, hold on to the precious moment that is captured in sepia images in my mind.  It has been a huge flag on a timeline, marking the change from perfection to imperfection, and giving me something to grieve, to pine for.  But do you want to know something, Freya? What I realised today is that there was really no need for me to hold that moment on a pedestal as something to be quite so treasured.  Because, with the exception of 6 long weeks in a hospital cubicle and all the trauma of 2015, every single moment with you is something to be treasured.  Yes, I felt sadness wash over me when I remembered how carefree and wonderful our lives seemed on that day at the farm, but when I sat and thought about it I realised that without what happened to you, without Kawasaki Disease and it’s gifts (yes, you detect sarcasm) then we wouldn’t have experienced the wonder of today.  Without Kawasaki Disease, I would have returned to work after a year on maternity leave, and our moments would have been reduced to the same precious hours on weekends that your siblings were lucky to grab in between the mountains of washing and ironing.  Because of Kawasaki Disease, you now have a broken heart and an uncertain future.  But because of Kawasaki Disease, I now have a heart that is capable of feeling more than it ever had before.  It showed me a glimpse of what it might feel to lose someone I loved, and made sure that I will never take you, or anyone else I love, for granted.

Of course, I wish that we had never been introduced to this insidious disease.  I wish that you hadn’t been so little and therefore susceptible to the very worst that the disease had to offer.  I wish we didn’t have to face a future with hope, but no guarantees.  Our lives would have been so different without it, but I am not sure if our lives would have been better.  Is that wrong? I don’t know.  I just know that what happened to you in 2015 created an opportunity for me to be a better version of the me I had once been.

Today, as I saw the wave of sadness cross that lady’s eyes when I told her that you had a damaged heart, it struck me at how terribly unfortunate your circumstances must seem to someone on the outside, even if, as the lady said, “You wouldn’t know to look at her!”  But to us, this is just our normal.  Today I realised that what we have is not an altered you or a changed you.  The you we had for 7 weeks at the start of your life with us was wonderful, but it was not a patch on what was yet to come.  You have given us 22 months of extraordinary, and I cannot even begin to put into words how grateful I am to you for today, and all the days just like it, both in our past and in our future.

Whatever it is that radiates from within your little body, it takes my breath away and  I love you with all my heart.

Everything changes

I have just returned home from handing back all my equipment to my employer as I embark on this new chapter in my life.  Funny how strange it felt handing back a laptop and a mobile phone that have only been locked away in the garage for the last year anyway.  I guess it felt somewhat symbolic of the final step towards (temporary) detachment from my career.  And just being there in the restaurant, drinking coffee like I used to every morning when I was there, felt quite surreal.  More so, because I had you by my side, and a rice cake in my hand instead of a notepad.  I was very aware, having just finished a year of maternity leave, that under normal circumstances I would have been there alone.  I would have been the one rushing off to that conference call, or heading off to a meeting.  I have no regrets, however. Non, je ne regrette rien.   I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the chance to take some additional time to concentrate on your immediate needs, and to regain some of the time we lost last year.  With your brother and sister I would have missed so much of what I get to see every day with you sweetheart.  Watching you develop and grow is a source of constant amazement for me, and I don’t think I will ever tire of spending time with you.

The effects of the last year were not just felt by me.  I’m sure they were felt by you, but I have no idea how because you can’t tell me yet.  I hope that you don’t remember any of it. That all you remember is how we used to go on the train for days out, or for coffee and cake and to the park.  I won’t ever forget that the backdrop for all of those things was an imposing hospital looming behind us.  But hopefully you will just remember feeding the ducks in that nice park, and you won’t have noticed the tears in my eyes that came because I was saddened by the memories that the park evoked.  One day we will be able to go to Weston Park and sit on a bench and let the warm sunlight wash over us as though it were sent right from Heaven.  We will lie on a blanket and make pictures in the clouds, feed the birds and the ducks and watch the fish in their shady hiding place under the little bridge.  But we will always make our place on the other side of that park so as to spare the mums who, like me last year, watched other families enjoying the summer through the windows of a hospital cubicle.  The nurses thought they were helping me by moving me to a room with a view. The brick wall which was our previous view had been quite oppressive, but no more so than watching mums play with their babies in the shade of the trees.

Back then I thought I did a pretty good job of protecting your brother and sister.  We told them that you had a cold but needed the nurses to help get you better because you were too young for Calpol.  It was a white lie. Quite a big one, but white nevertheless.  And you did test positive for Rhinovirus in that first week, so it seemed like a plausible excuse.  We also kept your siblings from the hospital.  They visited you on your last day at the local hospital (after a week), and then maybe once or twice when we moved to the Children’s Hospital.  We didn’t tell them when you were moved to Leeds, so they didn’t see us when I was in my darkest place.  What I didn’t know was that our attempts to protect them probably made their anxiety worse.  I underestimated Eliza.  She has told me since  that she was very worried that I would be coming home without her baby sister.  She wasn’t stupid; she knew something must be pretty wrong and that a common cold wouldn’t need her mum and sister to be away from them for as long as we were.  So she actually worried more, because she knew it had to be bad for us to want to hide it from her.  And Fin? Well he went off the rails a bit. His behaviour at school hit an all time low, and the effects of last year have only just begun to wear off with a huge amount of support from the school.  He was the baby of the family before you came along, you see.  He was excited about getting a baby sister (although I do think he might have secretly been hoping for a brother to play Minecraft with!), but suddenly not being the baby anymore is quite a lot for any child to get used to.  And then just 7 weeks after we brought you home, just as he was probably getting used to you being around, he lost you and me for a while.  6 weeks.  That’s a long time in a 5-year old’s life.  Because we played down your illness so much, he couldn’t understand why his Mum would leave him.  He thought that I had chosen you over him, and his little head wasn’t quite ready to work that one out.  His self-esteem took a huge knock, and he became very insecure for a while.  No need to feel any guilt about that though, not you or I.  I made the decision to protect them for all the right reasons and I wasn’t ready to tell them that they might lose their little sister.  They didn’t need that worry.  And by the time you read this, you will have seen that none of this had a lasting effect on them; they probably won’t even remember it when you’re old enough to be reading this.

I am not the same person that I was before I had you.  I might even go as far as saying that you are lucky that this happened to you.  You have had the very best of me this last year, and I dare say  that you will continue to get the best of me for as long as we are both here.  I have not taken a single moment with you for granted, and because of that I think I am more patient with you than I might have been with the others. I am most definitely more intuitive about your needs. Perhaps some of  that is due to age (I was 40 when I had you), or experience with having done it twice before.  But I think most of it is the incredible bond that we have developed by spending so much time together since you came into the world.  Because I am scared of you getting very poorly again (I’ll tell you one day about chicken pox and the medication that you take), I have kept you away from large groups of children in the main.  I don’t take you to baby and toddler groups or play areas where the risk of infection is a constant worry for me.  I don’t wrap you up in cotton wool either – rather than avoid all situations, I tend to weigh up the situation based on my anxieties and I guess you could call it damage limitation, rather than complete avoidance.  That will become easier towards the end of this year (2016) when you have received the MMR, Chicken Pox and Flu vaccines.  Until then, we will stay together in our little bubble where we see just the right amount of people to allow you to build relationships with other children, but not enough for me to worry about you becoming sick.  I know I cannot protect you from everything, but I have to protect you from what I see as a risk, no matter how small that risk might be.  I cannot bear the thought of seeing you that sick again, Peanut.

My social circle is a little smaller than it used to be too.  There are lots of reasons for that. I’ve become very immersed in a Kawabubble over the last year and I don’t have an awful lot of time and energy for much else.  Most of my attention is on you, and getting you through the next challenges that the effects of KD will throw at us.  A lot of my attention has turned to our little family; this experience has made my family much more important to me than I think I allowed it to be before.  It’s also very difficult for me to spend time with people who cannot relate to our situation.  I don’t want constant sympathy, but I want compassion and understanding.  People that think that everything is ok now because I wear a big smile, and you look so amazing, don’t know me very well.  They don’t know how much I still struggle to come to terms with what has happened to you, and what the impact of the disease will have on your future.  70% of children in your situation will have to have invasive treatment later in life – a heart bypass, or a stent perhaps.  100% of children who have suffered coronary aneurysms as a result of KD will suffer myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) which causes degeneration or death of heart muscle cells.  I don’t know how to compute the possibility that my child may show symptoms of myocardial infarction (a heart attack).  Just doesn’t seem real.  Later this year, whether it be through cardiac catheter angiogram or CT angiogram, we should get a closer look at the cause of the remodelling of your coronaries to better understand what the future may hold.  Right now I have to take the cues from your outward appearance and development, and you look mighty fine to me.  It’s very confusing though.  I’m still not sure if there is any chance that you could have complications today, tomorrow, next week.  I guess we have to take each day as it comes.

I don’t want people to think that I am a victim in all of this.  That I don’t want to let go of it.  In fairness, I can’t let go.  Partly because you are still affected by the disease and will be for many years to come. Partly because I feel I have gained a purpose; I can help make things better for other sufferers of the disease, whether it be through raising awareness to help speed up diagnosis, or by providing useful information to other parents going through this.  Kawasaki Disease is now a very big part of my life, of our lives, and it isn’t likely to go away.  Perhaps over time it will become a smaller part of life for all of us, but I don’t think I will ever stop talking about it to anyone who will listen (and a few who don’t!).  It’s too important for that.  I am in contact with parents and grandparents who have seen this illness first hand, some who have suffered the worst consequence of all.  For them, I will always do what I can to help change the future of Kawasaki Disease.

Having a child diagnosed with a rare, or little known, disease is life-changing for parent and child.  And when there is no known cause you never stop asking yourself ‘Why?’.  Why did this happen to you? I hope we find out one day.  I believe the specialists are getting closer – it’s just that research costs money and KD research is severely underfunded.  They believe they have identified the combination of genes that make a child with KD more susceptible to the disease.  And they are pretty certain that they are looking for an infectious/toxic agent that completes the perfect KD storm.  I desire two things; that we can gain a greater understanding of your condition so we might have a better handle on what might be around the corner, and that the mystery of Kawasaki Disease is unravelled in our lifetime so we might gain some closure.  Solving that mystery will also result in a test for the disease so that children might be diagnosed more quickly, and better treatments that further improve the possible outcomes for children with the disease.

My whole perspective on life has changed.  Things I was afraid of before no longer occupy any space in my mind.  I no longer sweat the small stuff.  I have a lot more compassion for others – through our journey I have come into contact with so many parents who have suffered challenges with their children, KD or otherwise.  Before this, I was ignorant to all that – it was happening to someone else and that didn’t matter to me.  Now it does.  The only fear I have now is of losing you, or losing any of the people that I love dearly.  I will not allow people to hurt me anymore, because nothing can come close to the pain I have felt over the last year with you.  None of that matters.  Yes, everything has changed. Our lives are different than they would have been if KD hadn’t crept in.  But it’s not all bad. It’s different, but not bad.

Sometimes I am scared, often I am sad.  I worry a lot about the future for our little family.  But above all that, you will grow up knowing that you are loved and cherished more than you could ever fathom.  You are a special little girl who will achieve great things one day, and I will be there by your side with every step you take towards greatness.

I love you, Peanut. 

IMG_6210

The Thing About Expectation…

William Shakespeare is quoted as saying that “expectation is the root of all heartache”, and do you know what, I believe he is right.  OK, so for the benefit of today’s blog post we will ignore the fact that no-one has ever been able to provide a source for that quote and I actually believe it is a rather tenuous  reference to a line in one of Shakespeare’s many plays; “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises…” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 2.1, 141-2).  Nonetheless the sentiment is there; where there is expectation, there lies an opportunity for disappointment.

Expecting less of people is a notion that I have personally battled with for a number of years.  I mean, why should we lower our expectations of people? Isn’t that called settling?  And what if people don’t live up to my expectations? Do I cut them off, or let them off? And what exactly am I expecting of other people; am I expecting them to respond, act, behave just like I would in any given situation? Surely not.  Surely I can’t expect to control the thoughts and actions of others, no matter what my expectations might be…

But what is expectation anyway?  One dictionary definition is that it is a “strong belief that something will happen or be the case…”  A strong belief; that’s important.  Just because I believe it should happen, doesn’t mean that it will.  Like I said, no matter what expectations I might have, I have no control over others to deliver to them in the exact way that I expect them to.  Reaching that understanding, the realisation that it is ok to have expectations as long as my response to the reality isn’t unreasonable has been a huge step in finding happiness in a world that threatens far too easily to disappoint.

There are a couple of ways to go about reaching that level of contentment. One is to have no expectations whatsover.  Let’s face it, if you don’t expect anything from anyone, you can’t ever be disappointed can you! Is that realistic though? Is it even human nature not to have any belief in what you think is right or wrong?  Probably not.  So I say go ahead, set those expectations if you will.  Set them as high as you can reach.  But, and this is a big ‘BUT’, don’t allow your world to fall apart when the subject of your expectations doesn’t pull through for you how you had hoped.

How many of you have made plans with your partner, or your family, both even, and had this romantic notion in your head about how it is going to be?  I’d be as bold as to say that at least 80% of you are lying to yourselves if you said not.  This time of year is a perfect example; we write Christmas lists making our expectations for what those parcels might yield perfectly clear.  We buy presents for others, ‘knowing’ how they are going to be received; “Mum will love this..”, “Eliza is going to go crazy when she opens this…” And in your mind you have this picture of how that is going to look. It’s Christmas Day, so of course the snow will be falling.  The log fire will be crackling, and everyone is eagerly anticipating the gifts. Except it doesn’t snow (it rarely does on Christmas Day), you don’t have a log fire (you got a bit carried away with that one!), you just watched your mum open the same present from a sibling, and your daughter is so overwhelmed by the concert tickets that instead of the tears of joy and arms flung around your neck that you anticipated, she sits there dumbfounded with an odd look on her face and for a moment you think you might have got it wrong.

Take this weekend.  I had this idea that we would get into the festive mood by taking in a local Christmas Fayre with the children.  The kids would enjoy rides on the Carousel, as my husband and I watched with a cup of hot mulled wine warming our hands.  We would buy lots of unusual gifts and treats for the Christmas period, and then we would buy a tree on the way home, and some outdoor lights to decorate the house.  All of this would be undertaken to the sound of Michael Buble crooning Christmas classics, and it would be Christmas in the McBride house after all!  Yeah, well torrential rain and muddy fields did not feature in my vision of how that was all going to pan out.  Neither did a marquee so crammed full of people that you couldn’t get to see a stall, let alone purchase anything from one.  The kids queued in the rain for a 50p per minute ride on a carousel, and yes I had my mulled wine, but was irked by the fact that my husband wouldn’t partake.  Apparently he doesn’t like it, even if I did try to convince him it was Christmas in a glass and everyone should like it.  My son got more of his hot chocolate down his jacket than actually made it to his mouth, and someone knocked into my eldest daughter, scalding her with hers.  The reindeer Christmas decoration that I had seen with a sign for £30 around it’s neck, actually turned out to be £210 and was met with a very stern shake of the head from the husband.  We managed to choose a Christmas tree with little event (after he convinced me that our ceiling was not 7 feet tall!).  Buying outdoor lights was a treat, resulting in  a 12 metre line of icicle lights making it across one window of the house until we realised that the measurement was for the whole set, including about 8 metres of wire from the mains!  Cue a return trip to The Range from Sprotbrough’s very own Grinch, but the lights are up and they do look lovely (thanks Gav!)

It is part of my make-up to have expectations of people.  I have a very vivid and overactive imagination and that means I can create a whole feature film in my head of an event before it has even happened.  I can’t change that, it’s just how my wonderful brain works.  But what I have changed over this year (possibly after we were given some pretty harsh perspective on what really matters in this life) is my reaction when things don’t quite go how I planned them.

Why should Gavin jump up and down with excitement over that cute pink dress I just bought our baby girl? He has about as much interest in little pink dresses as I have in football, and he has no expectations of me on that score.  Why does my bottom lip come out when he doesn’t enthuse over the new boots I’ve bought? To him, those boots look like every other pair of boots I own and he just can’t work out why on Earth I needed another pair!  He has no interest in where I carefully position each lovely sparkly ornament on the Christmas tree; to him it looked alright when it just had the lights on (that was his contribution).  We like different things, we are chalk and cheese; he is from Mars, and I am from Venus.  That doesn’t mean I am going to stop showing him my new purchases, or asking for his opinion. But I won’t be disappointed, upset, hurt or angry if I don’t get the response I was expecting.

There are lots of things in life that don’t go the way you expected them to. I didn’t expect our daughter to be struck by a life-threatening disease when I had planned to be out walking in the Spring sunshine with my newborn baby.  Trust me, I’ve grieved for the loss of those moments I planned.  But that’s what life does, doesn’t it.  It throws  curveballs – isn’t that what makes this life amazing?  I don’t believe in all those “things happen for a reason” cliches – to believe that would be to accept that Freya became ill as part of some divine path and that makes it ok.  It isn’t ok.  But what it did do is teach me to take life for what it is, at face value.  See beauty in the every day. Savour moments for what they are.  Things aren’t only special because they turned out how you planned it to be – what about the other people sharing the experience? Have you considered how they might like it to turn out?  You cannot impose your view of the world on everyone in it.  So go ahead, expect all you want, but be prepared to embrace whatever outcome presents itself.  Don’t be disappointed because it didn’t tick all your carefully planned boxes, look for a reason to celebrate the differences, because maybe, just maybe, the actual outcome is better than the one you anticipated if only you would allow yourself to see it.

Life is too short to be disappointed all the time becuase things don’t match up to your expectations.  How about just letting something be what it is, rather than what we think it should be? 

IMG_0909