Expectations

I don’t know why, but tonight I’ve been thinking about the idea of “expectations.”  I have never been good at “expecting” things.  Maybe that’s because I’ve never had much permanency in my life.  We moved a lot when I was a child, so I never got to develop solid friendships. Every time we moved and I started a new school, I’d get to be the “new kid” and get “picked on” constantly, which today’s parlance would call “bullied.”

Just about the time I was starting to get at least a lukewarm reception from the other weird kids, we’d pick up and move again.  As I got old enough to understand such things, I was informed why we needed to move (again), but before I reached the age of reason, it was just: out come the boxes, in go the belongings, and off to some other dwelling, echoing, empty and in need of paint and curtains–sometimes in need of a whole lot more.

It almost became a hobby, moving into a new house and fixing it up nice.  I wasn’t aware that most families did not move every two years, plus or minus.

There were other differences that were more important to me.   Sometimes I would go to some kid’s house and it would be lunch or dinner time, and they would invite me, and the mother would call my mother on the black dial phone so heavy you could kill somebody with it, and I would get to stay.

When it came down to the actual food, it got a little tricky, because I had never seen Chef Boy-Ar-dee** canned spaghetti, or Spaghetti-Os that they served to the children while the parents ate steak, and nobody seemed to mind.  Or Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes with brown gravy made from an envelope. Or Rice-a-Roni, “the San Francisco treat.”  It just did not look, smell, or taste like food to me.  I couldn’t eat the stuff, and the mothers would get frantic or angry, depending.  But I had never eaten anything out of a can or a box, so it seemed alien to me.

We couldn’t afford such luxury food even if we had wanted to.  We grew a big garden instead.  In the late summer, my mom and I would start canning Kentucky Wonder pole beans, squash, and tomatoes.  We finished up canning season in the fall with home-made apple sauce. Every time I invited another kid to stay to dinner with us, they refused to eat my mother’s home-made spaghetti sauce with fresh veggies out of the garden.  They didn’t think our food was food, and I didn’t think our food was food.

These children, whose parents fed them Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, had real beds with headboards and bed skirts.  My bed was a door–without the handle–on a metal frame with casters, topped with a four inch thick piece of foam rubber.  If you sat on it in the wrong place it would tip over and buck you right off.

They had dining room sets encased in plastic, living room sets encased in plastic, and gigantic color televisions.  We had a trestle table with a bench on each side, like a picnic table only my dad made ours out of some nice kind of wood, and it came apart and folded up, to move.  Our couch was another door-and-foam combo, with a blue slip-cover made by my grandpa, who had been an upholsterer in his prime..  We had a “bat chair” saved from the Beatnik days, that folded up, and a few other old and trusted pieces of furniture from various eras in the moving days.  When we finally got a TV after Kennedy died it was one of those little portable ones that you could actually put on the kitchen table to watch while you ate.  Bad habit, I know.

I never knew we were poor.  Since I never really liked other kids that much, I only rarely went to somebody else’s home; and since all I knew was utter simplicity and impermanence, the houses of what I came to think of as “rich kids” (although they were probably regular middle class kids) seemed opulent and even overdone.  I liked their big TVs and swing sets in the back yard, but I was relieved when I got back to my simple homespun surroundings, where I felt comfortable.  It was as if every time we moved, the physical dwelling changed, but the interior with the beatnik furniture and all the art and paintings on the walls, remained the same as though they had been picked up as a unit and dropped into the new house, all intact.

This normalization of impermanence may be why when someone asks me “Is this what you expected it to be?” referring to an experience, not an object–I have to honestly answer, “I can’t tell you, because I don’t expect anything.”

My Buddhist friends applaud my expectation deficiency.  According to them, it is something one must strive to accomplish.  I can’t take any credit for mine, since I didn’t do anything on purpose to achieve this state.  I think it is sad, to grow up in a way that is devoid of reasons to expect anything.  But since I was never aware that I was missing anything, and the only constant in my life was change, I simply never grew the “expectation organ.”

N.B. For those of you who grew up with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Spaghetti-Os, Ore-Idas, furniture covered with plastic, large color TVs, and/or swing sets, I beg you not to take offense.  It is simply that since I didn’t, they seemed strange–just as our house and food would have seemed strange to you!

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36 Comments

  1. It’s funny how things can change. Nowadays in urban areas the U.S., processed, canned foods like Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee are fixtures in the bodegas of poorer neighborhoods or even 99 cent stores, and are considered part of the “food desert” problem, while having access to fresher foods or space to garden is considered something of a luxury. Still, from an economic standpoint as well as a health one, I feel like we get more bang for our buck shopping for produce and staple foods like rice, beans, etc., than getting canned goods.

    Reply
  2. Exactly my point. While middle class children were chowing down on “prepared food,” we poor kids ate from the earth. Now much of that dynamic has flipped.

    Reply
    • songtothesirens

       /  January 6, 2014

      I was thinking about that while reading your post, and then writing my comment. I did not grow up on processed food. i grew up on home made food. None of our food came in cans. And, you are right, nor the “processed” food generation has created a billion industry fro “organic” food that only upper middle class and rich people can really affors. It is rather interesting.

      Reply
      • It’s tragic, really. I heard they have to teach children in school where their food comes from. My son went on one of those field trips and they showed the kids a cow pen and told them that they have to clean them every day, and all the kids went “ewww,” but since my son grew up on a farm, he grabbed a shovel and went to work and got it done in ten minutes! They really should have paid him 🙂

        Reply
  3. songtothesirens

     /  January 6, 2014

    That was very well written, and a very easy read although the subject matter was not. I didn’t move a lot when I was young (I saved that for my lat teens), but I was always the “new kid” or the “weird kid”, and got picked on a lot. I suppose we were low middle to regular middle class, but as you pointed out you only know what you live, and it is sometimes like having culture shock visiting some people. Their existence is so far of the radar of “normal” that it is nearly impossible to conceive of living that way.

    What is interesting is I did not think of families in terms of class. I saw differences, but I didn’t put them into neat little boxes. I knew my family was different than the one with the swimming pool next door, but I had no concept of rich or poor. It just was what it was. My mother made our clothes, I learned to cook at the age of 7 because my father worked while my mom went back to school and someone had to feed us. Thinking about it, I only saw Chef Boy r’Dee and Spaghetie-os (?) at other people’s houses. We always had fresh food on hand. We shopped at Farmer’s Markets so you could purchase only what you needed.

    I did not process that the first half of my childhood that we were poor, and even when my mom started working, and we had more money, we still either grew our own fruits and vegetables (if I never have to peel a parboiled peach for canning, it will be too soon). Now, I see that we really did not have more money because of my mom’s student loans.

    This is a very thought provoking post. I have never looked at my family in comparison to others. It was just the way we lived, and I, like you, many times just wanted to go home where I was comfortable.

    On the subject of expectations it gets a little tricky; I do have expectations, but I have a hard time believing they will ever manifest themselves. So, in a way I do not have expectations, but I am constantly disappointed in people, with myself, etc. Therefore, I have expectations. What I think I am lacking is trust…..in everything. I do not trust people because my experiences with them have been very abusive (emotional, verbal, physical and sexual). I am very contrary. If you cannot trust people then you cannot realistically expect anything out of them.

    Thank you for the “aha” moment! In writing that comment, I realized how much I did not observe visually or emotionally , but rather I observed intellectually. I just realized I still do that, and a lot of people think I am stuck-up, but its really a matter of being very shy, and very prone to intellectualizing that which I cannot process emotionally.

    Thank you for a great and thought provoking post (at least for me; cannot speak for others).

    Reply
    • Glad it got the “cog wheels of the mind” turning. It did for me, writing it and then reading it over. It’s something that needed processing, I guess….

      Reply
      • songtothesirens

         /  January 6, 2014

        I have written things that are kind of like letters to my younger self, and then held on to them, rereading when necessary, and finally, burning them when I feel I have achieved as much closure on that subject as can be had.

        I have found it therapeutic to “talk” to my younger self to reassure her that much of what happened was not her fault/

        Reply
        • I think that’s a great way of processing those issues that keep nagging at the corners of one’s mind. I’m doing a great big letter to my younger self by writing a memoir. Only I don’t intend to burn it. Just writing it is very therapeutic!

          Reply
          • songtothesirens

             /  January 7, 2014

            I wish I could organize my thoughts into a memoir. I have keeping journals since I was about 10. That’s almost 43 years of writing what I think, feel, have opinions about, have worked out solutions to seemingly impossible situations. But, having Bipolar and ADD, one or the other gets in my way 🙂 I think its cool that you are writing a memoir! I would love to do that!

            Reply
            • Wow, you have journals??? I wish I’d kept my journals. It would make writing a memoir so much easier than trying to pull things out of the deep, dark path. I didn’t start seriously writing till I was 58, so you’ve got a few years 😉

              Reply
              • songtothesirens

                 /  January 7, 2014

                I have journals going back about 25 years, and I have kept all of my school notebooks because there is great wisdom to be found in the margins 🙂 I think, in reality, I actually have a very, very mild form of hypergraphia. I cannot just not write. I make notes on any piece of paper that is handy.

                However, my brain is so scattered that it is hard for me to write chronologically. One sentence on a subject may spawn paragraphs that loosely relate to a timeline. That’s always been my Achilles’ heel. Being able to think and write in a straight line.

                Reply
                • Ah, but I think that could be a great bonus in writing a memoir. Memoirs don’t have to go in a straight line. In fact, doing it in a notebook/diary format, with notes scribbled in the margins, would be really unique, set it totally apart from the mountains of boring linear memoirs, catch the attention of an agent, and be totally mesmerizing for your readers!

                  Reply
                  • songtothesirens

                     /  January 7, 2014

                    It would be like going in and out of “fugue-type” states. I have never thought about that. Most biographies and memoirs are linear. Although I picked up an interesting Kindle freebie about Manic-Depression that is anything but linear, and it is more interesting. With 25 years of journals (I can actually count 20 in my immediate surroundings), I would have wade through so much stuff. I have gotten old(er). I read them sometimes, especially the ones from high school, and can’t even relate to what I was on about. It’s weird.

                    So, what made you decide to write a memoir? It would seem to me to be a bittersweet affair….

                    Reply
                    • I, too, have been trying to write this damn thing for thirty years or so. Very traumatic. So I took advantage of NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago to just START and keep going. It’s only on a seven month period of my life, and I’m only on month 5 and over 90k words! Have you read “Fair And Tender Ladies” by Lee Smith? It’s an epistolary novel, made up of letters. She ages the protagonist beautifully, like a diary.

                    • songtothesirens

                       /  January 7, 2014

                      I have not read that. I will write it down so I do not forget it. Okay, it’s on a sticky note. I think you have hit the nail on the head. My life has not been easy; easier than many, and harder than many. It would be a very traumatic thing to write. Not too much paid attention to life until I was 7. That’s when I first have clear memories of my father. My mother went to Law School that year, and I was 7 and my sister was 5. She and i had very different relationships with my father. I suffered from severe depression, bullying at school and emotional abuse at home. Some other traumatic events that really shaped my view of the world. One minute the world was wide open and beautiful, and in the next, it became very dark and ugly.

                      I would have to write them on my computer or in pencil, because ink would smear. 🙂

                    • Gotcha….sometimes we need window wipers on the computer screen….

                    • songtothesirens

                       /  January 7, 2014

                      I have a passionate love of sticky notes. 😛

                    • songtothesirens

                       /  January 7, 2014

                      I just sent a sample to my Kindle. The full price for the Kindle version is $10.99…Kindle is usually cheaper.

                    • Let me know what you think of it! It’s always interesting to see how a book that I love strikes other people. Some people love it, some can’t stand it. Myself, as soon as I finished it I went right back and started it over and read it three times in a row. For the story, for the writing, for the craft. I found it in a used book sale!

                    • songtothesirens

                       /  January 7, 2014

                      I found a book like that once at a book sale. It was C.S.Lewis “Til We Have Faces”. I am not a huge C.S. Lewis fan although his writing is excellent and he is a genius. It is the reworking of the classic myth of Cupid and Psyche. With a twist. It was really quite good…I surprised myself. I read it years ago, and it well worth reading again, You can probably pick it up for a song on Amazon…

                      I’ll let you know what I think. Samples are usually only a chapter or two.

  4. Now a days, with the GMO and crappy ingredients in such items, your food is prized stuff indeed. Finding fresh organic food is a costly business. Do you still can? We did one year, what a load of work!

    Reply
  5. It is funny. When I walk into a Super Super market, I get very dizzy. Like Empathic Dizzy. One time I had to really leave FAST since I started to have a panic attack. The reason? I do believe when I really began to look at what was in people’s bas-carts, I wanted to cry. And most people were morbidly obese. (I was at one time so I know how it feels). It is P-O-I-S-O-N, They don’t put that on the label. Truly, there are times I still eat a little of that stuff but it is REALLY rare. I can’t always afford the Whole-est of Food but boy-r-dee, when I eat clean, it is like dining with “Magic”. The more I train myself to avoid processed and preserved foods, the more my intuition carries me into higher places. Put that on a commercial!!! LOL!

    Reply
    • I canned all the way through med and grad school, and grew a big garden, and made my own jam…how DID I do that, with a husband and small child to boot? Oh yes…hypomania, that’s it! I keep intending to can, but never get around to it. I planted a garden last year and it got flooded and washed away in the torrential early summer rains, so I threw in the spade on that one. Maybe this year….I really don’t like eating the crap from the supermarket, and I can’t afford the health food stores (like, every time I shop at Whole Foods I can never get out of there for less than $100, obscene!). In Israel we have fresh hydroponic veggies year round, and you just eat what’s in season. No such thing as things imported from South America! And it’s all naturally bug-free because of special enclosures that keep the bugs out. By Jewish Law we are not permitted to eat bugs, so it’s either spray the heck out of them or figure something else out. Being Israeli, they figured something else out! Am Yisrael Hai! (Long Live the People of Israel!)

      Reply
      • Oops, that reply was supposed to go to Gimpet. Sorry!

        Reply
        • OK, Holly, this is my reply to YOU. First of all, what is a bas-cart? I mean, I know what it is, but can you translate “bas”? What language? I love shopping-cart languages. Where I am now in North Carolina it’s a “buggy.” In Israel it’s an “agalah” which is Aramaic for “cart” and also “fast.” It’s used in Hebrew to mean “anything on wheels that does not have a motor,” like a wagon, baby carriage, or donkey-cart.

          I know what you mean about the big-store panic. I dissociate when I go to those places. I panic at the idea that some day I might have to work at one, if things go badly in the economic direction for me. I would have to be heavily drugged, but perhaps so heavily that I wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone do any meaningful work! Please G-d it never comes to that.

          It does make me want to cry when I see obese people with obese children checking out at the grocery with carts piled high with empty carbs and saturated fats. I don’t know if this generation has ever eaten home-made food. The previous generation of mountain people here ate fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, corn bread and pies, and very few of them were fat, because they were out digging in the garden and mucking out the cow shed, burning it off. Now they just sit in front of the TV and eat frozen pizzas and “Co-Colas.”

          I believe wholeheartedly in community gardening. Not only do people get much better food, but it establishes a healthy (literally) social milieu where like-minded yet diverse people come together for the common goal of having something better to eat. It also makes use of otherwise “wasted space” that can be put into service feeding people.

          Reply
  6. savemefrombpd

     /  January 6, 2014

    Sounds like it was difficult for you. And reasonably so.

    But maybe it’s taught you to appreciate life more now, as you had the bare basics growing up.

    And I hope that your situation is different now. You deserve more my friend. I wish everything for you as you full well deserve it.

    Sometimes we take for granted for the things we own in life and money etc. it’s true to say that there is more to life than money etc sometimes but you still didn’t have enough. So I’ll say that I am thankful because of hearing your story.

    All the best.

    Reply
    • Actually, I never knew that we were poor. I never felt deprived. I thought that it was those “other” people who were deprived, because they were living on fish sticks and TV dinners and never had vegetables fresh out of the garden. We didn’t eat much meat, and if we did it was the cheaper cuts, but then again since I didn’t know any different it wasn’t a hardship. Now I do have a comfortable private disability income, for another four-and-a-half years, and then I’ll be in real poverty. I don’t know how I will live. The good Lord will take care of me, in some way, so I don’t worry about it too much. Thanks for your sweet thoughts–you’re the best!

      Reply
  7. I grew up in a chaotic environment, not so much that we were poor; though we did struggle with finances for my first part of childhood. But the chaos, the yelling, the drinking, all that… I never processed that other kids didn’t live like that. Same with my depression and ulcerative colitis as a kid. On top of that I had no friends, so what could I compare to?
    When people asked me how I survived my childhood. I say that’s all I have ever known.

    Reply
    • It’s true: what you grow up with, you just take for granted that’s how everybody lives until one day you realize….And so you just go with it, because that’s all there is. Here’s hoping things get better and better!

      Reply
  8. I, too, was always the new kid in school and I HATED it!! We moved about every 2 years or so from the time I was almost 5 until I was 11. By the time I’d turned 11 we’d actually lived in one place for almost 3 whole years. I FINALLY had a whole group of friends and we had SO much fun together!! I was looking forward to the next year — such plans I had for my life. My best sister was graduating and I was going to get her bigger room. My school had taken all of us on a tour of the school we’d be going to the next year so no one would be afraid. I wasn’t good at sports — clumsy due to things I won’t get into — but I was tall and I just KNEW I could play basketball. They had us in the gymnasium, talking to us about things that were coming up next year. It was such a HUGE place and I loved that smell that gyms have after they’ve been polished. I was looking at the basketball hoops and envisioning my future. Then my stupid oldest sister convinced my stupid mother it was necessary for her to divorce my dad. No one asked me. No one told me. My mom shot down my dreams one day when she took me in the car to go somewhere & told me she was leaving my dad, I was coming w/her & we were going to live with my grandma in the country. I just remember trying so hard to escape, I was pushing my body so tightly against the car door part of me was afraid I’d push it open & fall out. I was petrified with shock (that was in the days when divorce wasn’t common and it was against the laws of the denomination I was raised to believe,) terrified of an unknown future, and I crumpled myself up inside my body — not the first time and certainly not the last time I did that.

    We were not rich, but we weren’t poor either. Probably lower to middle middle-class. I thought anyone who lived in a two-story house was rich b/c those were the only kind of two-story house people I knew. I was always in awe of these homes when we visited these people. We never had plastic-covered stuff, but visited people who did. I hated to sit on those couches b/c I’d either sweat all over them, stick to them or slide off them. My mom sewed our clothes, but she cooked every vegetable out of cans. She did can fruit, but I have no memory of why — except for the time she canned before our first move. The house my family owned when I was born had tons of fruit trees in the backyard. I remember her neck turning red from the heat as she canned the fruit in the kitchen.

    Boy howdy, you sure brought back lots of memories!! 🙂 Sorry I couldn’t respond before now. Haven’t felt well for a long time. I know you’re down with something icky now and I hope you feel better soon. Mine’s the kind that physically comes along w/all my mental/emotional illnesses, so it’s practically a day-to-day thing for me.

    Thanks for this post and all your others!! You know how much I love reading your stuff!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Wow, what a life-story! Have you written it down? Are you/have you writing/written a memoir? You’ve got the seed of it right here, if you haven’t. That is so cruel, to be really getting into feeling normal and accepted and having aspirations of basketball and BAM Mom drops the bomb. I can’t believe it, it’s like WHAT? Although I must temper that statement with the admission that I have made that announcement to my son not once but twice, with disastrous results both times. I don’t know what the answer could have been to that, since I really can’t stand his father: separate homes? I don’t know, and now it’s a moot question since my son is 28. But he is thinking long and hard before he gets married, about the moral character of the woman he finally does marry, and for that I am very grateful. Maybe that will be the rose among the thorns. I haven’t heard “Boy howdy” in lots of years, gave me a chuckle! Thanks. And glad I could be a catalyst for memories….

      Reply
  9. Vow. Do best, expect little and worry least. This is what a true Karma Yogi desire to achieve.

    Om Shanti.

    Reply

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