As I've mentioned before, I have a thing for order, for organization. You know: a place for everything and everything in its place. Unfortunately, motherhood is a place for everything and everything in a filthy pile. To make matters worse, "everything" includes, well, everything: food, toys, laundry, dishes, hopes, dreams, etc.
And so it goes that my fetish for order extends beyond the confines of my home. I am a list maker. I am a calendar keeper. I am a planner. I have expectations. And expectations, my friends, are dangerous company to keep when you're a parent. Expectations are always moping about during holidays and on family vacations, drinking all the good liquor, eating the last piece of cake, smoking in your house, not flushing.
To further compound this problem, I enjoy a good story. And when expectation meets a juicy plot line, there is bound to be trouble or heartache. Yesterday, for example, Pork Chop and I had plans to picnic in the park with a gaggle of moms and kids from MOMS Club. The weather was warm, but not too warm. The sun was shining, but there was a tint of green to the clouds, promising a sprinkle of cool rain later in the afternoon. I had slept well. My kid had slept well. Our collective hearts were bursting with the promise of a few hours spent in communion with both nature and nurture. We would arrive at the park in our sun hats, roll out our blanket, enjoy fresh fruit, laugh, play, and make all of the other families stare in slack-jawed wonder at the togetherness of our shit. Instead, expectation got wasted and pissed in our basket of snacks.
We were a full hour out from picnic go-time when my dreamy little yarn began to unravel. We needed to arrive at the park -- just over a mile from home -- by 10 a.m. So, at 9, I plopped Pork Chop in his crib for a nap. Nothing unusual. He conks out for 30 or 40 minutes most mornings. I figured that I would use that time to apply sunblock to my fluorescent white face, pack a bag of supplies, and slug one more cup of coffee. Instead, Pork Chop stood in his crib and screamed bloody murder for 15 minutes. In the haze of noise, I applied a full face of makeup, including brow pencil and frosty lipstick. It must have been some kind of panic autopilot, and the autopilot in question was apparently on course for ladies' night circa 1995.
When I came to while applying cheek shimmer, I trudged into the nursery, plucked Pork Chop from his crib and set about prepping him for our outing. I dutifully rubbed sunblock on his arms and neck and face. Then, just like in my story, I placed a sun hat on his beautiful, massive head. This was the result:
Foolishly thinking I could still salvage my son's skin and his will to live, I donned a hat of my own. "Look, buddy! Mama's wearing a sun hat too!"
Witness expectation moving in just a little too close, laughing in my face with its hot, stank breath:
Needless to say, the hat came off, but not before Pork Chop had cried himself into a sweat, a sweat that melted the sunblock, sunblock that ran into his eyes, eyes that began to sting, stinging that triggered a new bout of sobbing. By the time we arrived at the park, 30 minutes late, Pork Chop's face was red and puffy, his eyelashes still wet. I waved gamely at the other moms as I spread our blanket on the ground.
"Aww, does he have allergies?" one of the moms asked.
I looked down at my son, sitting slumped on the ground, dragging a tiny fist back and forth across his eyes, across his nose, smearing snot from ear to ear. He clutched his stuffed elephant in his free hand. The giggling, energetic toddler of my picnic fantasy was instead a crusty heap of defeat. For a second, I thought to say, "He's just waking up from a nap!" Then, Pork Chop literally toppled face first onto the blanket, pulled elephant to his nose, gave a great sigh of anguish, and lay there, eyes open but fixed in the distance.
"Yeah, it's allergies," I said.
For an hour I chased after expectation: I unloaded toys from my bag, hoping that something loud and blinky might bring my son around. No dice. I hauled out his favorite foods -- bananas and puffs. He ate all of them, but it was a quiet joyless meal; he plucked one puff after another from the blanket, placing each on his tongue as though he were taking bitter medicine.
One family brought a friendly young pup to the park. Pork Chop loves dogs, but most dogs do not love toddlers and their slappy-grabby toddler ways. Not this pup. This pup sniffed and yipped and bounced happily about Pork Chop. For a moment, I thought, "This is it! This dog is going to save my picnic!" And sure enough, the dog gave Pork Chop a sweet lick on the hand, but Pork Chop glared up at him with a look that said, "Listen, doggy, you can never understand the depth of my sadness. Go peddle your cheap affections elsewhere."
All the while, babies cooed, toddlers toddled, and kids raced and tumbled about the playground. But not my child. My child stole someone's graham cracker, tried to eat a stick, cried when I wouldn't let him eat a stick, and then laid his head on my knee and closed his sore little eyes. That's when I finally showed expectation the door.
I packed up my blanket and bag and mournful boy. As we trudged off to the car, we passed a mom snapping photos of her son and daughter. The two kids sat cross-legged in a bed of red and yellow tulips; they were smiling, hugging, posing beautifully. The mom beamed at her twosome with the strawberry blonde hair and rosy cheeks. She paused briefly to wave goodbye to Pork Chop and me. "They really have their shit together," I thought to myself. "Cocky assholes."