The twins have become obsessed with animals lately, the post-work/pre-bedtime schedule was good, and the setting seemed lovely. John loved nature, and had even considered proposing to me at a butterfly sanctuary, so the whole event seemed designed for our first Family Mourning Experience.
I prepped the twins by telling them that we were going to go to a special park to see butterflies. I explained that we'd have our own butterfly to send up into the sky, and when we did that, we'd think about Daddy. I packed snacks and diapers and cups of milk. I left work early. I even remembered the camera.
But it was drizzly and grey.
And I got caught in a traffic jam on the way to get Maddie and Riley.
And I had forgotten their rain boots, so I had to make a detour home before going to daycare, which made me even more late.
And as we left daycare, Riley pooped, so I had to do an emergency change in the car.
And then we got caught in another traffic jam.
Despite all that, we had a nice drive down, although I was feeling stressed by the traffic and stifled by the sadness that the event was bringing up for me. We arrived—miraculously on time—and I loaded the twins into the stroller and put on their rain boots so that they could stomp in puddles if they so desired. They love to "splash agua."
There was a short ceremony before the actual release of the butterflies. It was quiet, somewhat somber affair, as befit the occasion. As we arrived in a room filled with a mostly older crowd, seated and appropriately reverent, I felt awkward and out of place. The twins were noisy, talking about everything they saw, demanding more strawberries and cheese from the refreshment table, wanting to get out of the stroller. Even during the special children's story, they wandered around and yammered. I felt judged by everyone there (not that anyone was actually judging me, but my own insecurities gave me the impression that they were), as though I could not control my kids. I wanted Maddie and Riley to be a part of the events, but I wasn't sure at what point they would be too disruptive and I would need to take them outside. I ended up taking them into a side room to let them run around about halfway through the proceedings, and, in doing so, missed the reading of the names of those being honored, something I really wanted to hear. I felt my resentment rising.
I suffer from a chronic ailment knowing as Misplaced Expectations (ME). I wish I had recognized the danger signs of an ME episode at this point in our evening. I'd pictured a warm, sunny evening, the kids running around outdoors during the ceremony and delighted by the sight of the butterflies. In my idyllic vision, Maddie and Riley called out, "Bye-bye, Daddy!" as our butterfly was carried towards the sky by a gentle breeze. The scent of flowers hung in the air and a string quartet played soothing music. After the ceremony, we felt emotionally cleansed, bonded together as a threesome, united in our love for John.
Recap to this point: rainy weather, traffic jams and other delays, uncomfortable ceremony. But I beat back my encroaching resentment (a sure sign of an ME episode) and figured hey, the butterfly part would make up for what had happened so far. We could still have our achingly symbolic sendoff of mariposas to the heavens. Our conversations in the car had given me hope that the kids would be enthusiastic participants in this most meaningful part of the evening.
We got our butterfly—wrapped in a slip of paper—and headed outside. The drizzle continued. Riley kept kicking off his boots. Despite the fact that I had regular shoes for him, I kept jamming the boots back on his feet. I had remembered to bring the boots and damn it! he was going to wear them. He complained. I forced. He whined. I insisted. Classic ME. In my mind, he was wearing the boots. In reality, there was no reason for him to do so. But my expectations said one thing, so I kept jamming that square peg into that round hole until it became clear to me that we were on our way to Misplaced Expectations Meltdown. Finally, I relented and put Riley's tennis shoes on, but that damn ME kept flaring up, causing me to remind Riley that he was being TOTALLY RIDICULOUS as I changed his footwear.
At last, it was time to have our Meaningful Moment. We found a lovely flowering bush by the path, parked the stroller next to it, and got ready to unwrap our butterfly and set it free.
"It's butterfly time!"
"Who are we going to think about while the butterfly flies away?"
"That's right. Daddy, we love you."
And so I unwrapped the butterfly. Maddie and Riley proceeded to recoil in horror.
"Look at the butterfly!" [Note: it did look a bit shell-shocked and sad.]
"No like it, butterfly."
"Let's put the butterfly on the flower."
"Butterfly hurt Riley?"
"No, honey, the butterfly will not hurt you. Do you want to see the butterfly up close?" [Note: OBVIOUSLY NOT. But my ME was casing me to force the situation.]
"No! No mariposa! No like mariposa! Mama no touch mariposa!"
And so on etc. and so forth. We abandoned our butterfly on the yellow flower and waved a feeble goodbye. I felt angry because none of this was what I had wanted. Nothing about the evening had gone as planned. ME is a preventable disease, but I had fallen right into all of its traps and failed to roll with the punches.
We strolled around the gorgeous gardens a bit, but all Riley could say was, "No butterfly hurt Riley?" over and over, which really irritated me. So we headed back to the car to go home. A friend was with us, and she gave me a hug after I loaded the twins in the car. "I'm so sorry," she said. Which made me cry, which made me realize how much sadness I was holding in and how sorry I was, too, and how a heartfelt "I'm sorry" is always such an appropriate and good thing to say.
I wiped my tears away and we drove home. We sang songs and chit-chatted and all was well until we pulled into our parking spot and thus began Boots, Redux. Maddie didn't want to wear her boots across the street and into the house. She wanted her regular shoes. Which I had, but didn't want to bother changing her into. So I insisted that she wear her boots. This led to a full-scale Misplaced Expectations Meltdown. Maddie screamed, "No boots!" all the way across the street. While I had been too lazy to put on her regular shoes, the principled guidelines of an ME episode allowed me to find the reserves to carry a thrashing, screaming toddler across the street and up our stairs, stopping numerous times to jam her kicked-off boots back on to her feet. I only allowed her to take the boots off once she was in the house,* after which she continued to scream to the point that she coughed up a bunch of snot that she'd swallowed during her sob-fest. Poor baby.
I finally got everyone—including myself!—calmed down. We had a snuggle. We read stories. I went to put Maddie in bed, so ready to put an end to an evening that had not in any way been what I wanted, an evening during which I had allowed myself to be a person that I don't like at all, a person ruled by Misplaced Expectations. "I love you, Maddie," I said. "I love you so much, and I'm sorry I was not very nice tonight. Mama's really sad."
"Daddy love Maddie."
"Daddy love Maddie. Butterfly go up high into sky."
And with that, she leaned in towards her crib, ready to climb in and go to sleep. Clearly, she got what she needed from our evening. There's a lesson for me there.
*Topic for another post: my other chronic ailment, If You Give in Once, It's All Over (IYGIOIAO).