on expectations

Maybe it was because of his unfailingly sunny disposition. Or maybe his state school education really did lead him astray, advertising some version of Residency Lite simply not available at all those hospitals with the fancy names on his match list. Or maybe he just started to believe all those things his grandparents say about him.

Whatever the reason, David was pretty convinced this whole Intern Year thing was going to be a cakewalk.

My dad chuckled whenever Dave talked about it, weaving his “home every night by 7 p.m. tale,” and I, always the pessimist, gave him a hard time too.

But the truth was, even as I was making fun of Dave’s fantasy, spouting skepticism, I was secretly harboring my own personal set of New York-themed expectations. They went something like this:

I’ll be able to speak English, during the day, to other human beings! I’ll have lunch dates and happy hours – a filofax filled with scrawled symbols of my newfound social life. I’ll no longer have to rely on people being paid to tell me I look great in that top in order to judge whether I look great in that top. I’ll have a job that’s a better fit.

I”ll be happy.

And so here we are in August, on the other side of the expectations, knee-deep in the reality of residency and this new city. Here is what it really looks like: Dave’s working until 11 p.m. Franny’s gone totally nuts. And I’m doing the same job, except now next to a group of international translators.

It’s been an interesting summer.

It’s not all bad, not in the least. I think I’m kind of picking up Korean, for one. The Spanish translators are cheery, greeting each other each morning with a “Buenos Dias” so exuberant, it makes you feel like it really could be a good day.

And some days, in fact, are; they’re just like I thought they’d be. I’ve giggled with my cousins and downed house-mixed cherry cokes and taken in stunning art exhibits and zig-zagged many sweaty, happy miles on this giant, buzzing grid of a city.

But I’m learning the hard way that having lots of people you love anchored on the same island doesn’t insulate you from disappointment or frustration or very bad days. Plans get canceled, and friends change. Your puppy gets depressed and then angry and then eats your slippers, your fancy headphones, your new rug, your best-friend’s pony-tail. All those miles in flip-flops give you shin splints.

I’ve sat at my kitchen table, alone, over eggplant pasta, watching Dave continuously delay his hospital departure time via text, and felt like a 1950s housewife with a cheating husband, or like that 21-year old girl who once hitched her whole mood, her whole summer, her whole self to an ex-boyfriend who she just couldn’t let go of.

I’ve played the frazzled single mother, losing the parcels I was carrying and the leash I couldn’t get a grip on and the purse slung over my arm, in addition to my cool, in the process of trying to pry open my apartment door.

I’ve cried in oh so many public places.

These scenes and struggles are all part of life, I know. But I can’t help but think that a lot of it has to do with expectations. That if maybe I just didn’t expect Dave to be home by eight (because he won’t) or keep waiting for my dream job to magically appear (because it’s not), I’d feel a little bit freer, a little bit better.

The other day, my mother and I were talking about serious things like adulthood and money and success, and she mentioned how easy it was for her and my dad to feel like they had really made it, really started to build a wonderful life for themselves, even when they had mountains of graduate school debt and three screaming children and a house that was starting to look suspiciously like a money pit. The thing was, compared to the generation that came before them, to the way they grew up, as children of immigrants and plant workers and absentee parents, it was all better, it was all a step up. Every professional paycheck, every child who could kind of sort of pronounce his/her name before Kindergarten, was a victory.

Of course, their very victories are the reason that I wasn’t given that same lens in life. But that doesn’t mean, after 26 and a half years, that I can’t try to tweak my perspective.

It’s not just about aiming low – though, duh, that’s totally part of it. It’s really about just letting things happen and taking them for what they are, I think. Long days, work you didn’t think you were cut out for, early morning walks with a crazy puppy.

I was dreading that last one especially, spent days mourning the extra hour of sleep. But I’ve come to love our walks on the East river, eyes still a little blurry with sleep but vision clear enough to see the gray water moving on side, the cars whizzing by on the other, the puppy bobbing her head straight ahead. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

I wasn’t expecting that.

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One Response

  1. I LOVE this post. Love love love!
    I expect SO much ALL the time. And I can tell you – it’s led to a lot of disappointment 😦 I desperately need to change my perspective because I’m fairly certain my heart can’t take much more of the NOT MEETING MY INSANELY HIGH EXPECTATIONS.
    (And I was just in NY… such an amazing but crazy city!)

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