Sunday, April 19, 2015

That one time when nobody came

I don't usually plan large events, but recently, on an ambitious day, I decided: Hey, let's have a big party for all the Sophomore students!  This Saturday the Sophomore English majors all took a big, important standardized test, the TEM-4. They spent a lot of time studying and preparing, and most of them were pretty nervous about it.  So I thought, we could have a big party for them after the test is over!  A chance for them to have fun and let go of the weeks of cumulative stress.
Our teammate currently teaches all the Sophomores, and Kevin has taught them all in the past, so we invited all 5 classes, about 130 students total.  When our teammates invited the students in class, they all seemed very excited.  "I think we should expect a big turnout," he said.  "I'd think around 100."  That's what I was thinking too, as I planned games and activities.  I tried to come up with things that would work well for a really large group of students.

I planned relay games and gathered necessary items.  I put together a photo scavenger hunt to do on campus.  I bought candy prizes.  I baked at least 120 oatmeal cookies and around 100 cookie bars. Our teammate baked some brownies and bought a few snacks as well.

Today the weather was warm and sunny, perfect for an outdoor party.  We headed outside at 2:30pm to set up.  We were ready.  Juliana was excited.  3pm rolled around, and nobody was there.

It started to rain.  And by rain, I mean it was partly cloudy with a few sprinkles here and there, not worth an umbrella.  The air turned colder.  And by colder, I mean 65*F.  Surely this wouldn't keep the students from coming?

By 3:15pm, two students had shown up. Two. There was no way we could do our party with two students! We waited a few more minutes, just in case, but it was pretty clear no one was coming. I packed up all the supplies while Juliana cried, "Why can't we have the party? Why did nobody come? I wanted to have a party!"  Adalyn was crying after being dragged all over for nothing.  I was feeling frustrated, disappointed, and just ticked off.

We invited the two students to our house, and they invited two others as well. If these were the only students who bothered to show up, we could at least make it worth their while.  I put aside my frustration and focused on rewarding these few thoughtful students.  Juliana cheered up a little bit; she loves playing with students.

We brought out the cookies and encouraged them to eat to their hearts' content.  We played Uno and Dr. Seuss Memory.  I made up a quick game of "hide the candy," which they really got into.  They were interested in the games and happy to be around the kids.  At dinnertime we all went to the cafeteria together.  The students thanked us for having them over and assured us they really enjoyed it.

So the afternoon was not a total waste, but I won't pretend that it wasn't disappointing.  I still feel pretty ticked off.  How do 100 people just not show up?  And no, they didn't have a conflict, the other students said, "I think they are just is a little cold out..."

What about the people we know and communicate with regularly? The ones who indicated they would come?  Could they really not have told us, "Actually we're not going to come and neither is anyone else from our class."

No, they couldn't tell us that, because we would lose face, and then they would lose face, and then the world would end.  It's better to just not show up and pretend like it never happened. It's not the first time this has happened, but never on quite such a large scale.

Maybe we will reschedule the party. I do have 200+ snacks filling up my freezer space, plus the games I went to the trouble of planning.  And I did want to do something nice for the Sophomores, although not quite so much just right now.  Our teammate will probably mention that nobody came to the party, and they will all feel ashamed, and then everyone will come the next time.  Nothing like a guilt-induced party, right?

The best laid plans and all (America).  Plans cannot keep up with change (China).  Apparently it's a universal principle.  There are some lessons you never stop learning.  Oatmeal cookie, anyone?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Quieting the Inner Critic

We all deal with unrealistic expectations from others. These expectations can place an unnecessary weight, a burden of disappointing others. But expectations come from others, I find it easier to sort out which are reasonable and unreasonable.

"Oh, you've lived in China for a year now? You must be fluent in Chinese by now!" Okay, so you knew someone who was fluent after three weeks in China; they were either a genius or tooootally lying. I'll let you decide which one.

I have a much harder time disregarding the voices in my own head. It took me a while to realize that sometimes my "self talk" is not only unrealistic, it is lying and destructive. And where does deceit and destructiveness come from? Certainly not from a gracious Father.  But I convince myself since these are my voices, they must be telling the truth.

My crazy self-expectations come into play in every decision I make. Instead of seeing two choices of possible activities, I see two (sometimes diametrically opposed) mandates. I should be doing both of these things - or neither, so no matter what choice I make, it is the wrong one.

I should take the girls outside more often. The weather is getting warm, and everyone knows kids need more outside time to run around and explore. All those grannies spend hours outside with their little children, while we rush past them for a 10 minute playtime on the way to buy veggies.

But when I take the girls outside, that means I'm not getting anything done. Maybe we should stay inside so I can accomplish things. The wind is too strong anyway and will probably fill their lungs with dust. It would actually be irresponsible to take them out. And those grannies don't have anything else to do with their kids, so of course they spend all day outside.

If I don't take the girls out, I am depriving my children. If I do take them out, I am accomplishing nothing and possibly endangering their health.

If I am inside, I could cook more. Everyone knows that good mothers and healthy people cook every night, using lots of vegetables and whole grains -or no grains- and protein rich meat -or no meat, and certainly no msg laden products.

But cooking takes so much time and planning, and our whole family can eat a decent meal in the dining hall for a few dollars. It has lots of vegetables -and nutritionally empty white rice. I should cook less and then I'll have more time to spend on other things.

For example, I should blog more. I enjoy writing, and some people manage to blog all the time. But maybe blogging is selfish. It's not like thousands of people are waiting on my wise words. Plus, anything done on the computer is intrinsically selfish, and I should be playing with the girls instead. 

I don't spend enough time playing with the girls. They probably feel neglected. On the other hand, I probably focus on them too much, and they need to realize life isn't all about them. If I play with them too much, it will destroy their ability to self-entertain. And probably also destroy my sense of autonomy. And my marriage. And possibly the future of the world.

Every choice is a moral dilemma. Every decision is the wrong one. The expectations are ridiculous but somehow believable. Having unrealistic expectations of myself is not only frustrating, it sets me up for failure. I doubt every decision, even the smallest ones.

I am working to recognize these inner voices of expectation, especially the absurd or deceitful, and determine which of the "oughts" I ought to let go. 

I am trying to remember - what is really required of me? To love God and to love others. These are things I can do through cooking at home or eating in the cafeteria, accomplishing nothing outside or accomplishing things inside, playing with my kids or letting them play on their own. 

I can make a decision - maybe a different decision each day, and have peace that maybe there was no "right or wrong" in this matter. I can know that I will make wrong decisions, and that is the point of grace.

I can recognize that whatever others may think and whatever my inner voice says, God is not judging me for cooking or not cooking. It's possible he doesn't even care whether I take my kids out today or not. So maybe I can stop judging myself. I can step into grace.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes on the topic of expectations.]