The Art of Anticipation

If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, you likely know that I have a *slight* affinity for all things Disney. In short, Disney World is my happy place. Thankfully my husband and kids have been quick to don Mickey Ears and join in my excitement.

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Luckily for us this summer we were blessed to fit a Disney vacation into our yearly budget and schedule. And trust me, I didn’t take a minute of it for granted, beginning with the planning process. I used the days, weeks, and even months leading up to our trip to build anticipation around what was to come.

Besides giving me another excuse to get on Pinterest… there are also cognitive, social, and emotional benefits for children associated with promoting positive anticipation. It seems that counting down (pun intended) can add up!

Increasing Self-Control

Learning to anticipate a pending reward or special experience (whether from a job well done, an upcoming vacation, or a birthday party) teaches us to delay gratification. Research shows that people who learn to embrace, and even enjoy, the anticipation of a reward (rather than immediately receiving gratification), sustain higher levels of impulse control and personal restraint in multiple areas of their lives. Becoming more self-disciplined not only allows us to improve our productivity and focus on tasks, for example, it can assist us in becoming healthier, more financially responsible, or even more patient in stressful or irritating circumstances.

Fostering Appreciation

From the little to the big, I don’t want my children to take things for granted—including the time we spend together, the things they have, and the places or events they experience. It’s my hope for them that when they enjoy something, they also truly appreciate it in its entirety. So, part of building anticipation, I do for them. But I also do it partly for me. As a mom, I have to make the time and effort to appreciate, enjoy, and savor our time together. Today it’s arranging pasta noodles to look like a Disney princess (pictures below), but tomorrow it’ll be college and beyond. Building positive anticipation around events in our family helps me to more fully recognize that while the big moments come and go, I can appreciate and celebrate the time in between.

Maximizing Rewards

Like many of you, my time and money are limited. This means that if I’m going to invest either, I want a sizable return. But I’m talking about family capital. Adding anticipation-building opportunities has the potential to reinforce educational concepts, promote family engagement, and multiply the length of our family’s experience. (For example, “counting down” to a vacation turns a one-week event into a four-month event. Plus, our memories have increased tenfold!)

Thought for the day: In my family, I work to cultivate an Art of Anticipation around experiences — from big things (like Disney World or the zoo), to smaller things like a trip to a local museum or a holiday. And please don’t think that you have to have tons of money or time to bolster your family’s anticipation of something special. You’d be surprised at what you can do at little or no cost — just effort and creativity!

Practicing What I Preach: Before our summer vacation, I initiated a 100-day countdown to build anticipation around our trip. The graphic below was created for free using http://buildyourdisneyside.com/ The kids thought it was fun to design their characters (and there are tons of combinations!).

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Our countdown began in February when, ironically, we were under blizzard-like conditions and were snowed in for nearly two weeks. One morning we spent a few hours making a 100-day countdown chain. Not surprisingly, I snagged this free idea (and the printables that went with it) from Pinterest: http://toysinthedryer.com/disney-countdown-ring/

What I liked about this activity was that it helped to reinforce fine motor skills (using scissors) and math concepts (counting, skip counting, grouping, sequencing). Our countdown chain hung proudly on our dining room wall and each day the kids alternated removing a link.

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During another snow day, we decided to fill a basket with drawings from our favorite Disney movies. This kicked off a weekly Disney Family Movie Night during the 10-weeks before our vacation. Each week my kids took turns selecting a movie to inspire our theme, and I did my best to capture the essence of each movie through a meal or snack (with full approval from my pint-sized critics, who are also picky eaters!). Some weeks we were able to pair a movie with fun things, like a community theater performance or a movie release. My creations were simple, inexpensive, and used many ingredients I already had in my pantry or fridge. And because my son has a milk allergy, everything was dairy-free or had a safe version for him.

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Brave

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Fox and the Hound

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Big Hero Six

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Mary Poppins

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Cinderella

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The Jungle Book

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Finding Nemo

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Lady and the Tramp

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Frozen

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Monsters University

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Choosing to Love

Today my husband and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. And while I love this man dearly, it’d be an exaggeration to say that I’m more in love with him today than I was 13 years ago.

Thirteen years ago I didn’t know what love was. True, I’d experienced unconditional love from my parents, but as a 20-something ‘adult’ (and I’ll use that term loosely), I didn’t fully grasp what learning to love another unconditionally would entail. To love by choice. To love and cherish for 4,748 days (and counting). Days filled with an unpredictable storyline of outtakes and plot twists. No, 4,748 days ago I was in love with my husband, vowing to love him while dreaming of our fairytale.

Thirteen years ago I felt like a princess awaiting my prince. And recounting the past 4,748 days, we are living our own version of a fairytale, albeit some days are a tad more Hans Christian Anderson than Walt Disney. Though the days of googly-eyes have waned, I am more committed today to my choice to love him than I was then. Because what this 30-something knows that my 20-something-self didn’t is that love isn’t a feeling. Love is a choice. And 13 years later, I choose to love him even when I don’t feel the butterflies. To love him when the weight of life leaves us more exhausted than exhilerated. To love him because of who he is, my husband. And somedays, if we’re honest, that fact alone has to be enough.

During 13 years, we’ve celebrated both the momentous and the mundane.  We’ve rejoiced in big blessings: becoming parents, earning degrees, buying houses, beginning careers; and in smaller, shared moments that make our days a bit sweeter: the first-fruits from our summer gardens; popsicle kisses from sticky kids; snaggletooth smiles after a Tooth Fairy visit; sunshine streams through living room windows.

Those are the moments when love is more readily felt. But then there are the other days, those of trials and heartache. We’ve lost loved ones. Jobs. Stability–mental and otherwise. We’ve prayed through life-threatening situations and after life-claiming ones. We’ve cried and questioned and stomped and screamed. (Okay, those were probably more my reactions to any given event than his…). Over the past 13 years, we’ve experienced what I’m guessing are just glimpses of the dichotomy of our wedding vows.

For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.

As with joys and blessings, we’ve learned that tests and trials come in all sizes. They too are both momentous and mundane. The mundane often being more dangerous, as they threaten the decision to love in spite of, and not because of. It’s in the mundane that we’ve been stifled by silence. We’ve had seasons where our souls feel like strangers. Seasons where frustrations compound as irritations mount. Where 50-50 doesn’t cut it, and 100-100 barely does.

But therein lies a beautiful tenet of life: seasons change. And, reflectively, life is more robust when each season is represented within the plot lines of our stories.

Today I’m so thankful for our robust, developing story. Today we are 4,748 days in to what I pray are mere pages in our fairytale. Thinking back on the past 13 years, I know that I’ve found my prince (and at times my court jester…). May we continue to fall in love with one another as a result of choosing to love one another regardless of what each day holds. Here’s to our next chapter.

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Finding Joy

I started today as I do most days… with a mile-high To-Do list and a stockpile of good intentions. And some 15 hours later, I find myself staring at my computer screen, unable to respond to one more email, return one more phone call, or tackle one more project. I’m. Simply. Spent.

Here lately it seems that the hyphen in between my “work-life balance” has grown to the size of a strikethrough bar that more closely resembles, “work-life balance. I’m in the middle of a busy season, both in my career and my personal life. And try as I might, somedays my capacity to handle it all with grace and composure leaves a lot to be desired. Today was one of those days… Let’s just say, in the words of Oprah, I had myself a good ‘ole Ugly Cry.

This morning started like most any other day — I rushed to shower before the kids woke up so that I could dance the “Mommy Mamba” from one child to the next until everyone (husband included) was out the door dressed, fed, and prepped for the day. I then squeezed as much work-from-home multi-tasking as I could into the next two and a half hours, needing to leave by 10am to meet my son and his kindergarten class at their Easter Egg Hunt by 10:30. Which would have been great if, (A) I actually stopped working at 10 (and not 10:15) and (B) his party actually started at 10:30 (and not 10:00). <sigh>

Realizing my mistake too late to do anything about it, I headed out the door. On the way I sent a few texts (via Siri…) to other parents who were likely already at the party asking them to please tell Drew that Mommy was running late but was on her way. Only then did I realized that I forgot to check with the host moms about the foods being served and I forgot to pack his usual assortment of safe party foods “just in case.” (FYI, My son has a severe milk allergy, so I try to bring safe alternatives that mirror the foods being served during special occasions.)

Well, needless to say, the eggs had all been hunted by the time I arrived. And I had to call in reinforcement from my husband who saved the day by meeting me there with a safe cupcake and chips before snack-time. (Thank goodness my big aviators covered the tears welling in my eyes at this point. Those, I-rearranged-my-calendar-weeks-ago-to-make-this-party-and-somehow-miss-it tears. Those, I-pray-he-wasn’t-glancing-around-aimlessly-wondering-Where-Is-My-Mommy? tears. Those, What-if-he-feels-left-out-because-he-won’t-have-a-snack-like-all-the-other-kids? tears. Those, I-absolutely-stink-at-balancing-it-all tears.)

Those, however, were not The Ugly Tears. No, they came a few hours later.

After the party, I headed back home, worked for another hour and a half, and then changed clothes to attend a funeral service for my uncle’s mother who passed away on Monday. And what a beautiful service it was. My uncle (by marriage) is one of seven children. His mother was 83 years old when she ended her battle with bone cancer. As I waited for the service to begin, all I could think about as I sat in the pew were the events of my morning: Rushing. Feeling overwhelmed and caught in between work and life. My overrun To-Do list. The stack of emails awaiting a reply. The deadlines. The Easter egg hunt. The cupcake. Needing to arrange Spring Break and Summer childcare. Meetings, conference calls, webinars.

When the service began, my mind was racing. That is until a beautiful poem was read about motherhood across the lifespan. About the special relationship between a mother and her children. Not two stanzas in and, as we say in the South, I was A HOT MESS. I could not stop crying. I’d regain my composure, we’d sing a hymn, and I’d lose it again. But when one of my uncle’s brothers, who is a minister, began his portion of the eulogy — this inspiring tribute about his mother who lived to love and serve others — I had to pull another tissue from my purse. And then it hit me: This was a legacy story. Not one of riches or fame, but a living legacy. More tears, more tissues.

My tears were in part for the family and their loss, but also tears of personal reflection. Cathartic tears of stress and chaos, and of a million and one unresolved thoughts circling around my head. Again of the Easter Party mishaps — yet not about my rushed entrance, but about the sweet little five-year-old who tightly wrapped his arms and legs around me when I arrived, just happy to see me and show me his egg-filled Easter basket. Not one mention of what I’d missed, just happy to have me there.

Thoughts of my job flooded my head too — not of the pressures, deadlines, or demands, but of the blessings of getting the opportunity to live out what I love. To teach and mentor students. To serve and strengthen families. To build community. To network with amazing professionals who work to make the world a better place, a place that’s emotionally and physically sustainable for future generations.

Throughout the service, the phrase “This is a celebration” was repeated over and over. A message of inspiration, hope, and love. A message of joy. And, while not in these words, a message about the legacy we’ll each leave behind.

As I sat there, tears flowing, mind reflectively racing, I felt affirmed — a much different feeling than I’d felt the hour before. I felt loved. I felt like, in my own way, I was beginning to see glimpses of the living legacy that I’ll leave behind some day. How it’s not the mishaps that will define me, but rather the culmination of successes along my journey. A legacy crafted by the investments I make in others, the most important of whom call me Mom.

When the service ended, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. I attended the service to show support for my uncle, cousin, and their extended family. When I left, however, I realized that I had been encouraged, finding reassurance in a most unexpected way. A gentle reminder of making time to find joy in the journey. It was, indeed, an inspiring celebration of a life well-lived.

FIND JOY