The word ‘expectation’ is continually appearing in my thoughts during this holiday break. When the word shows up I inevitably shake my head, trying hard not to curse its very existence. I admit it … I went into the vacation with visions of what it could be like. Christmas is hard because I have the warm memory of it from my childhood still stuck in my head. A jumbled collage of the best memories – the smell of Mom’s chili bubbling on the stove while Dad’s Christmas records hissed and crackled their way through the carols while he wound the tree with lights; window quilts down and insulating the house against the chill of Colorado in December, lights blazing in the living, kitchen and dining rooms; the smell of snuffed out Advent candles, snow and neighbors and whispering with my older brother, waking early with excitement on Christmas morning and hiding together in the bathroom until it was time to wake up Mom and Dad.

I go into every Christmas break with those Rockwellian images cobbled together, hoping to give my kids memories to warmly remember in the future. There it is again, that damn word – expectation. The fact is, whatever my intentions are, the kids will create their own version of their holiday collage regardless of what I do or don’t do. I’m sure my parents Christmas messremember Christmases much differently than I do – cuz I wasn’t cooking dinner, shopping during whatever spare minute showed up, wrapping presents til who-knows-how-late Christmas Eve and waking with too little sleep to watch all that paper get shredded and scattered over every inch of the living room. Now it’s my living room and my lack of sleep and my frayed nerves.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy it because I do. I love listening to them try to guess what’s in the presents already under the tree, feeling their wild energy on Christmas Eve, seeing their expressions when they open gifts. I love it; however this year wasn’t quite the same. Isabella got diagnosed with walking pneumonia on Christmas Eve and had a high fever that medicine wasn’t touching, and Derek went down with a high fever as well. There was no normal to the evening. They were both asleep by 9:00 so Quinn and I sat up cuddling, him talking my ear off, all the while my awareness that my expectation of The Night Before Christmas got horribly skewed. And these following days have taken a beating as well.

Today I thought of it as EX-pectation. When I think of ‘ex’ I think of something no longer there; an ex-boyfriend, ex-partner, ex-whatever. This, I’ve decided, will be my way of humorously dealing with that damn word. It’s now an EX-pectation, a supposition or assumption that is no longer there.