Expectation Management

You know, if my mother had just cooked breakfast once, rather than SAYING she’d cook breakfast everyday, there would be a lot less stress at our house.

Breakfast is just a symptom, of course. A symbol of the way my family negotiates and communicates life. Wait. Don’t get excited about some charming thought piece about how food is the thread that knots my family together. I know you’ve read those. They are magical and usually involve mothers and daughters and something hot and cheesy.

During a family visit, the planning, cooking, and consuming of meals are landmines. Lest you think there’s time to plan where to step next, know that conversation about meals starts the moment you wake up and continues until the moment you go to sleep. Who will be cooking? Who is picky about dairy? Who wishes they hadn’t eaten that? Who is “Not eating that right now”? Who is eager to cook? Who is too lazy? Who says they will and then doesn’t (more people than you think)?

But I’m old, you all. I’ve found a solution! I plan the meals ahead of time! I write them down! I do the grocery shopping! I cook! I can’t anticipate changing plans or the aftermath but it helps get us past the series of passive-agressive actions that takes this centerpiece of life and turns it into something consumed as fast as possible, nearly in silence. You’d think for all the talk about food, we’d enjoy eating it more.

And so it goes when my parents visit. Which brings us back to breakfast.

My mother requires a degree of precision and attention found only in the most skilled bomb diffusers. I had forgotten that one of the keys to success in my life (and I promise you that my sisters do not have to negotiate these same pitfalls, lucky bastards) was to expect that nothing will occur as stated. Read the small print. Plans are required but antagonistic. Have no expectations. My priorities are…not. Being married to my sane wife has lulled me into a feeling of safety. As such, I’m not sure why I got up ten minutes later expecting that I wouldn’t have to worry about breakfast. I’ve obviously forgotten my origins.

Things generally work out for me. But I also spend a lot of time preparing for every eventuality I can think of. Talk about a rabbit’s hole. I’m better about it than I was growing up, but having my mom around illustrates clearly why I do it to begin with. Far better to make my own breakfast and avoid being disappointed. Far better.

As a side note, D and I are suffering a bit by choosing not to discuss having a second child with them or with each other while they visit. Much like the circle of grief you all probably saw floating around last week (i.e. you vent out and console in from the person who is experiencing the event), announcing a happy event should be met only with “That’s wonderful news!” and any other personal feelings should be delayed or communicated to people further removed. That’s a simplistic interpretation but it’ll do. Maybe I’ll post it on the fridge.




8 Responses

  1. Oh man – that sounds crazy stressful. My parental visits aren’t nearly so rife with passive-aggressive BS but I still have to fight the urge to stress eat every time we have a visit. I usually lose. And Kate takes me to Wendy’s. Hope you have a similar “returning to sane life ritual”, but maybe one that includes more booze and fewer Frosties.

    • Stress eating? I’ve got the corner market on Oreos right now. I’m signing my wife up for a Wendy’s trip right now. If I can make it through the next week, it sounds like a wonderful idea.

  2. Oh boy. We should get together and discuss mother issues. I’ll warn you – I always win, so you’ll feel so much better by the time I’m done with you. Really.
    In the meantime, chin up. You will not do the same thing to your daughter. Promise.

  3. I don’t know why I always expect my parents to be more sane than they actually are and am disappointed when they revert to their usual selves. But I think it’s a really common thing to do.
    It sounds like you’ve got some good strategies for taking care of yourself during your folks’ visit. It would be nice if they could find something to silently and passive-aggressively squabble about that wasn’t as omnipresent as meals.

    • I agree. We’re at the midway point though and I do love them so here’s hoping it’ll be smooth sailing from here. As we say in my family, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

  4. I have a friend whose mother once threw a full-on tantrum about this friend’s desire – while moving three THOUSAND miles to CANADA – to a) get rid of her plastic hangers and get more at the Canadian Walmart or whatever; b) ditto with the ice cube trays; and c) recycle a, and I quote, “very valuable box.” (It was made of cardboard.) It never fails to amaze how incredibly irrational people can be around their children. May all the deities preserve me from doing the same when mine are grown up.

    Did your sisters win the coin flip as children? “We’ll take the less-crazy incarnation of our parents, thanks.”

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