Friday, September 08, 2006

Good Things Come… (Part I)

Worldview Adjustment
Again, this is a story of expectations; worldview; assumptions of how we believe things are “supposed to be.” It’s the way we perceive normalcy; the weight we place on some things over others. It’s about how we gauge happiness, for the most part. It’s how we discriminate — both in good ways and bad. And it’s not necessarily that we think we’re always right, just most of the time — by default, you know — just because.

It’s an interesting thing to witness — the way a husband and wife play off of one another; responding both to the environment they have created together as well as the one that was created by their parents, and the sensibilities their upbringing instilled in them. It’s an especially interesting dynamic when you can see it happening in your own relationship.

How do we respond to our differences in what is “right?” Do we truly acknowledge our partner’s worldview when it differs form our own? Do we not even care about what they think or are we actively sensitive to their individual sense of things?

It’s quite a balancing act, yet it’s an easy thing to ignore, since we naturally have a tendency to assume that everyone thinks like we do — and you know we’re ALL guilty of that sin; it’s human nature. I believe we need to remind ourselves; we need to guard against taking on those assumptions that can crop up, sometimes unconsciously, during the course of our everyday lives, creating division, and sometimes, even resentment.

We need to remind ourselves to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes; try not to judge too harshly if we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on an issue. And being the expectant types we were born and trained to be, that’s not always an easy self-assessed call to make.

It’s been nearly twenty-eight years for me and I still haven’t figured it out completely, but hopefully I’m getting there.

I’m still learning that there really are two sides to a story; that there’s more than one way to skin a cat; that chunky peanut butter actually is way better than creamy.

Well, maybe not so much on that last point, but anyhow…I’m still learning, and always will be.

Seeing so many examples of this sort of thing in my life lately, I can’t help but think that somebody’s tryin’ to tell me something. And while at times I’ve been buoyed by the growth I’ve seen, I’m still reminded that there’s more than enough of that selfish, assuming, doofus part-of-me to go around than I would like to admit.

The bottom line is, I’m still a work in progress. My body may have stopped growing when I was in 10th grade, but hopefully my stature as a human being will never be stunted. I believe that when you stop learning, you stop living, ‘cuz you’re probably dead at that point. And if you’re not, you might as well be.

This summer I’ve learned some particularly important things about expectations and the inconsistencies that surround them — both in the way I perceive myself and how others perceive me.

Double-dealing Daddy-O
On the approach of my 50th birthday back in July, Michelle was beside herself.

I had let it slip (yeah, right…) several weeks earlier that I might want to actually do something on this particular birthday, seeing as how it was, like, sort of a landmark point in my life. Perhaps more than just our family — maybe something a little more akin to a…oh, you know…an actual party? Some of my friends…some of our friends…people from work…you know…a houseful.

She didn’t say anything at the time, but now here it was, two weeks before the day and she still didn’t know what to do. You see, a birthday party was a notion I’d rarely, if ever, even alluded to before in all the time we’d been together — and I guess it sorta caught her flat-footed. She obviously wasn’t expecting it; in all fairness, it was the last thing she would have expected from of her ole’ birthdays-ain’t-no-thang hubby. No wonder she was freaking.

Finally, she came to me and tried to talk me out of it. She felt terrible, but really, how could she pull it off, she asked. She didn’t know any of my work friends; how could she possibly plan something like this?

And she was right. It’s not like we do this kind of thing often (read: ever). This just wasn’t something that was part of my motis operandi.

As a rule, I’ve never put a lot of stock into these often overblown anniversaries of life — not for myself, and really not much for others either. I’ve really never quite seen the value in making a big deal out of birthdays. A nice card, a quiet evening with family and perhaps a few friends, enjoying dinner at my favorite restaurant or my favorite home-cooked meal — to me, these are the appropriate elements of a birthday celebration — not the extravagant parties, expensive gifts and “look at me” accoutrements that many of my generation seem to place so much emphasis upon. It’s not that I think effusive celebration is so wrong, it’s just not me. I guess it’s all about what you’re used to. Certainly the idea of financial prudence comes into play, and in that regard, I’d have to say that I come by my sensibilities honestly.

I was raised a tightwad.

I’ve never been thrown a surprise birthday party, and honestly I can’t remember anytime in my life having much more than just my family present when it was time to blow out the candles — from childhood to adulthood. Needless to say, when Michelle, whose family had always considered birthdays a pretty big deal, came into my life, I learned quickly that I was pretty much in the minority.

I learned that most people actually do like to make birthdays a significant event — especially where kids are involved. And so I began to change my opinion — for our kids’ sake anyway — and I’ll have to admit, it was a pretty cool thing to behold. Some of my fondest memories of Shawn and Amy’s early years were the big birthday parties we (or I should say, Michelle) put together for them, with all the neighborhood kids and the church friends’ kids in tow. It was all a frenzy of activity and excitement; squeals and messes; joy and bedlam — kiddie-style.

There were piñata parties for Shawn and big girl dress-up-fashion-runway parties for Amy. They were as major an operation as could possibly be imagined in light of the lean financial circumstances that were our lives back in the 1980s. Michelle was so incredibly resourceful, and we had a lot of gracious friends and family members who pitched in to help. Those parties always seemed to turn out great. I really have to smile when I think about the fun we all had. But then again, those experiences were somewhat bittersweet as well.

To be honest, at times I remember actually feeling a little jealous of my kids, having never experienced even one birthday party as a child, but what the hell; after all, I didn’t exactly have what anyone would consider a normal childhood. At any rate, it didn’t take long for me to snap out of it and remember how lucky I was to have married a woman who cared enough to want as full and rich a childhood experience for our kids as she could possibly provide. Lord knows, had it been left up to me, those parties wouldn’t have happened in a million years.

Yet even in seeing the by-product of it all — the joy so abundantly evident in my children’s eyes — I still couldn’t solve the mystery as to why it was such a big deal — to apparently everyone but me.

Whether it was sour grapes or what, I simply didn’t get it. The way I looked at it, why spend all that extra money? Why take the chance that something could go wrong and everyone end up being disappointed? And what purpose does it serve to set those kinds of expectations in a child anyway? Life is hard. Why encourage the idea that anyone “deserves” an extravagant birthday celebration? Isn’t the “I deserve it” mindset the root of most of our financial ills these days?

Yeah, I know. What a party-pooper. I really do need help.

But I’m just being honest here. I really didn’t see the need, although I had now become well aware that I was the minority party (pun intended) in that regard. As I knew they would, the kids came to expect it, and their Mom never disappointed, so I played along; I adjusted. I learned to do my part to feed the need, regardless of whether or not I felt hungry myself.

But then my one solo effort really made me feel like a hypocrite.

With a great deal of help by one of our friends from church, I pulled off a surprise 30th birthday party for Michelle back in 1986, and to date, it ranks near the top of the list of things I’ve ever done in my life. Michelle was flabbergasted; she had no idea, and she loved it. We had a wonderful time with about 15-20 of our best friends gathered together at our home in Long Beach. It was a weeknight, so nobody could stay too late, but just to realize that most of those people, who had small children as we did and had to arrange babysitters for the evening — on a school night, no less — it just blew me away to see the love and respect they had for us, and the honor they held for Michelle.

That experience may have changed my opinion a little, but I kept it to myself. I officially maintained my poo-poo-on-parties stance, but deep down inside I was hoping like hell that Michelle would return the favor and surprise me someday.

My hypocrisy knew no bounds.

But since my own 30th birthday had already passed, it would have to be another occasion — perhaps the big 4-OH or sometime in between. It wasn’t something we ever talked about, just a secret wish — a totally dumb, selfish, duplicitous wish — but something I hoped for nonetheless.

Next: Conservative Party
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