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Tuesday
Jul212009

Great Expectations

On a balmy summer day my twins decided to open up shop on our quiet street. Hope and Aurelle gathered treasures like crayoned rocks, homemade necklaces, shiny beads and sea shells, and took a small table and chairs to the edge of our property. They made a sign out of a cardboard box that said "OPEN" on one side and "CLOSED" on the other, to be used when the crowds became unruly. The girls were very careful not to advertise readiness before they felt everything was in place. I sat with them and made no predictions about their sales, and enjoyed hearing elaborate plans for the money that would soon be coming their way.
After an hour or so with no customers, they decided to pack up. I helped, resisting any urge to give marketing advice.

My girls had expectations, that were perhaps based on the times we have ourselves stopped at roadside stands. Once my daughter was babysitting another family, at the rate of $8 an hour, and helped her charges with their lemonade stand which she noted raked in over twenty-five customers an hour at $1 a pop. For Hope and Aurelle, their wares seemed as plausible as the stores I have taken them too, that contain all manner of inconsequential items like hardware and onions.

Yet anyone out of elementary school could have told them that they would probably not be able to peddle those particular items. Their expectations seemed reasonable enough to the two of them, but did not bear out with reality on an August afternoon in small town America.

After a few decades of interacting with married couples, I have seen a pattern of similarly misplaced expectations.

It still catches me off guard to hear a wife launch into nagging her husband, with the expectation that her thorny words will inspire him to new heights of cooperation. I know as well as anyone the futility of that barrage, having spent generous amounts of time on both the giving and the receiving end of it.

I have seen wives who are expecting their husband to want to listen to a meandering account of her morning, with caveats into subplots as the mood carries her. After all, most of her girlfriends actually savor those conversations, hashing over them for new interpretations and shifts of meaning. Why would her husband be different?

Because he is, well, different.

It is true that many men managed to sustain interest during the dating period, and women may have been lured into the illusion that he looks forward to a detailed explanation of her daily routine. But most men have a saturation point for these monologues, and it is only with Herculean effort that they can endure more than a minimal amount. But this need not be a problem. If we can match our expectations with what husbands are actually primed to do, it can work. Husbands, in my experience, like to be heroes. They want to provide for their families, and have a near unquenchable thirst for their wives appreciating this. Wives and families, coincidentally, have a nearly insatiable need to be provided for.

"Yes, I was grateful for your pay check last month, but I will be ornery if there is not another one tomorrow."
This can be a set up for constant irritation, if the man keeps waiting for appreciation and gets social skills enhancement coaching, and the wife keeps expecting unending discussions and gets a reliable provider instead.

Parenting comes with its own deluxe package of errant expectations. The babies in the media are usually sleeping or cooing, particularly at such times when crying would be inconvenient. Yet as a counselor of new mothers I have watched the glassy stares of women who have not yet accustomed themselves to a nocturnal existence. Seasoned mothers know about the secret night life of babies, yet instead of asking veteran mothers, new parents tend to poll age mates, or base their research on diaper commercials.

Babies, in my opinion, are not broken for needing attention at all times of the day or night. It is we mothers who need to adjust our preconceived notions about what mothering looks like. Neither are husbands inherently lacking, because they are not the chatty partners we may have latched on to from chic flicks.
Over the years I have come to celebrate the constancy of my husband, who goes faithfully to work and as faithfully comes home.

As for Hope and Aurelle, I bought a few extra cans of pink lemonade, and I am waiting for an Indian summer afternoon. Come on over. You may get a free rock too.