Wednesday Wisdom: the way of grace outweighs perfection every single time

If fall had an official mascot, in our house it would be, undisputedly, a buzzing drone honeybee: busy, with an all too short lifespan.

Still it’s been full of sweetness: walks in a seasonal kaleidoscope of changing leaves, falling toward us like confetti. Lola turning fourteen, surrounded by her friends who piled into our minivan when we took them to the mall and let them try an escape room (Lola picked the hardest room for the occasion, “Prison Break”, and dear reader: they did not escape). Hikes hugging the river throughout Taylors Falls with my favorite people, nephew included, and scary movies by candlelight at night. A bonfire with my baby brother on Hallloween, now that I’m no longer needed to supervise trick or treating (the joy!). And one big fat trip to experience autumn in New York (not the movie), as we celebrated Lola in a city that’s been on her forever bucket list. Check and check; busy as bees.

But before I spam you with pics from the big apple I want to share about another kind of apples, and about my tendency to idolize expectations at the expense of my reality. Spoiler alert: expectations are not a fruit of the spirit!

A few weeks ago we picked Lola up early from school and set out for the apple orchard, one of my favorite fall traditions formed back in 2019. 

After years of spending stressed-out September Saturdays sweating in line with the crowds at orchards, sometimes visiting two in one day to make sure we checked all the boxes of a perfectly photogenic orchard visit, I decided there had to be a better way.

Now our family goes to the orchard during the week, in the cool of October when almost no one is there.

Seriously – almost no one is there on a Tuesday after school!

Waiting until later in the season does mean the trees are pretty picked over, but still – it took our family just one leisurely hour to fill our bag, and we were done before dark. 

It was a fun and sweet time. And since I write to remember, I wanted to jot down every detail about how our family takes turns jumping for apples hanging from the tallest branches, how we smash the wormy ones underneath our feet, or how if we want to eat some while we pick, why not, when we’re spending $22 for a U-Pick bag at the tail end of the season!

Visiting an orchard together is one of our happiest family memories, though it didn’t always go so smoothly.

When Lola was younger, I used to take it all so seriously, which set the tone for my family to do the same. Perfect apple picking pictures were the priority, sipping cider under perfect sunny skies was the goal, and a perfect post with a witty caption had to be drafted before we even left the parking lot. I would get super annoyed if the moments I’d orchestrated in my imagination went wonky in real life. I became frustrated when we didn’t have the money to participate in every single orchard offering, or if I did splurge for something (like pony rides) and Lola didn’t exude enjoyment enthusiastically over the activity.

In short, I was not much fun to be around on family fun days.

I discovered the expectation of fun often eclipsed the actual having of fun, and that this is the case whenever I emphasize performing the experience over enjoying it. 

No longer. 

Now when we go to the apple orchard, we just exist in a beautiful place, together, which is way more chill – sometimes literally, as was the case in 2019 when frost gathered on our boots as we picked pumpkins at the orchard.

We laugh a lot. We goof. We learned we actually enjoy the experience of visiting an orchard much more if we don’t make a whole day of it and instead just go for a brief time right after school, with the sole intent to pick apples and have fun doing it. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. And friends, let me tell you this about our new approach: it is enough.

Sometimes Lola holds our hands in hers, an offering of togetherness that takes me off guard every single time, cool teenager that she is. We stroll hand in hand through groves of late season Haralson trees, their apples supreme for baking. And in this I feel the pay-off of taking things in stride most acutely, with reality far outweighing any picture of perfection I could construct in my mind.

It’s so simple. 

And this year, as we pulled out of the parking lot with the skies going pink just before dark, I smiled at the progression of our lives, at Lola singing loudly in the backseat to the CD we made for her eighth birthday party, all Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes’ Stitches, which was her elementary school anthem (Lola got stitches the year that song came out, so the memory is tied to her scar). She asks for this playlist quite often, proving our tastes don’t ever really change but evolve, and that we’ll always love the tracks that keep us tethered to our youth. Or maybe I’m overthinking it; those pop songs simply slap. 

Back at home we made soup (too salty, my bad) and ate it on TV trays in the living room while watching The Goldbergs. The simple pleasures of normalcy. But I’m not so naive as to think this is how it will be forever, though I try not to get too mournful now of how I’ll miss these times then, once my baby is off at college eating some version of her own TV dinners. We’re in the five year countdown, or, we’re trying to make every day count. 

These are the days, but not for trying too hard at anything except keeping my expectations low and my enthusiasm high. 

And certainly, there are moments of these days I’d like to forget: like that same day we went to the orchard when I picked Lola up from school and, thinking she couldn’t see me standing on the corner, I waved my arms in the air in giant gestures, much to her horror and embarrassment.

I won’t do that again.

She was pretty good natured about it, and by that I mean she walked right past me without giving a death stare as she beelined straight for the Subaru, as if she’d never seen me before in her life, muttering behind her mask, “you could have just waited in the car like all the other parents”. I forget that mom is, for 8th grade girls, a welcome presence only in context: in private, mom is a safe harbor, a soft place to land and a cheerleader, a friend. In public, mom is a weapon, a sign of weakness, a freakish necessity. 

I laugh and try not to get offended, because I get it – I just forget it sometimes.

I’m not a perfect parent as I’d once expected to be, and I don’t think that’s the point of parenthood anyway.

I’m learning that so much involved in parenting, from school pickup to apple picking, is about taking ourselves entirely less seriously – yet even this is counter-cultural, in a world obsessed with projecting perfection onto every experience.

But removing the expectations we place on ourselves and others is one of the ways our hearts and minds can heal from the disease of perfectionism.

As our couples therapist once said, “expectations are resentments under construction”. I believe it. And I don’t want to look back with disdainful resentment at the memories our family makes together, wishing they would have been different or more photogenic or perfect, up to snuff with my expectations of what they should be.

I want to let the moments of my life exist for what they are: gifts of time that moved through me as I observed my experiences in reality, instead of orchestrating their perfection.

How do you like them apples?

Going back to those sweltering September Saturdays years ago when we would visit multiple orchards in search of a perfect family day, stifled by unruly Lola + a nephew who never sat still for the photos, neither of them seeming to care that we were spending a small fortune on the activities, my wise husband said something I hated hearing in the moment but cling to as truth now: 

“It’s not about what it’s supposed to be, it’s about what it is.”

I’m so much happier, freer, even joyful when I let the moments with my family breathe instead of trying to control everything…and for an added bonus, everyone around me typically has a better time that way, too. 

Me, age 35 and just discovering I can set my expectations down to pick up grace instead.

The benefits of following the way of grace are a bounty all their own.

And thanks to timer mode we usually get a great family photo, even though I never bring a tripod; I just balance my camera on our bag of apples, set a ten second countdown to run into the shot, and whatever the image is, it is. 

And somehow, it’s always better than I expect it will be.

God is kind.  

DISCUSS WITH ME IN THE COMMENTS!

-Do you struggle with expectations eclipsing reality?

-How do you feel about the expression, “it’s not about what it’s supposed to be, it’s about what it is?”

-What is one way you can set down the weight of expectations today, and pick up the feather-light gift of grace?

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