the cost of expectations


“Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.”

– Alice Walker

I have a modest proposal for all parents or parents of incoming babies: lovingly tell your child(ren) to have no expectations.

My therapist (yes, I went there already, perhaps a new record at just 21 words) once told me a phrase that was new to me back in 2005: “having expectations creates built-in resentments.”

Ooh, built-ins.

I’m not down on people or the world, but I have noticed lately that if I come to expect kindness, professionalism, decorum out of people in the manner with which I endeavor to conduct myself, I’m a dolt, a bozo and essentially screwed for the rest of the day emotionally because I stew in disbelief at the callousness of people.

This is sort of a rant.  Gentility is dead or at least on a DNR.

Case in point: just yesterday with global coffee powerhouse Starbucks. I bought the VIA “ready-brew” packs for a trip. When I opened the packages to prepare for the trip, four of the “sticks” as Starbucks calls them, were pilfered from the packaging.  I paid full price, $7 for two packages of 7 sticks and I got 3 in each package.  The packaging is clearly the problem. In Starbucks’s mission to impart a Green (right, whatever) sentiment, they use austere packaging: a cutesy clear spot of tape here, a special fold/cut to the paper there, soy-based ink on recyclable paper, job-enhancing sustainable agriculture and a perfect cup of joe.

I contacted their customer relations department via the web (the fact that I had to contact them via the web was annoying; no customer service phone number on any packaging) and detailed my situation.  I gently suggested they use a more resilient type of packing, like a cereal box, that clearly indicates tampering and even went so far as to suggest using maybe those paper “zipper” inspired types of packaging like on frozen fish sticks.  Beyond my frustration level, this was also a matter of food safety.

Starbucks replied within 24 hours, which was great, but the response was woefully inadequate given its impressive financials and global branding imprint.  I could envision the employee sipping from his? (the name was Jasyn, so …?) fair-trade Balinese coffee mug made by indigent children to pay for the goat they were going to share in their village and typing on his ergonomically exquisite keyboard made of recycled aluminum while sitting in his bamboo office chair wearing hemp clothing and listening to Sufjan Stevens (whom I happen to like very much) as he typed his expression of gratitude for detailing my experiences and sharing my frustration and letting me know he was going to pass on my comments to the marketing team.  But I feel confident saying Jasyn wasn’t sitting in a bamboo chair and sipping from a fair-trade mug.  He was likely an overworked denizen of an overcrowded, poorly lit, poorly circulated, cubical farm in India.  He was however, probably listening to Sufjan Stevens or Julian Casablancas because, hey it is Starbucks.

Starbucks made no offer to reimburse my expenses (I wasn’t looking for a handout, just hopefully expectant for a compensation coupon for my trouble) but Jasyn didn’t care.  I figure Starbucks figures they got me by the short hairs because I’m a coffee addict (not) and can’t go a day without their elixir keeping me alive.  Well I’m not and once I finish the two other 7-stick packages I have of their VIA, I’m not buying any more.  In 2 weeks, I am DONE with VIA.  And they can suck it, to quote my friend affectionately known as “C3.”

I’ll go through all my beans they roasted that I have in my house and then I’ll switch to Maxwell House or some other openly dishonest pre-fair-trade, pre-Seattle / consciousness conglomerate like Procter & Gamble who knows how to treat its customers:

Almost 14 years ago, when Thing 1 was very wee (about six months) and I was a new mother, we were out running errands.  He had a diaper on for a longer-than expected (see, there’s that word again) time.  When we returned from our jaunt and I prepared him for a nap, his diaper was massive.  I opened it to change him and I discovered a clear, gel-like substance all over his little pelvic area.  I thought his kidneys had exploded all over himself and that he was in dire need of dialysis.  I thought his pee had crystallized and he was on death’s door with his bright eyes, funny toothless grin, chubby cheeks, dimples, pre-nap chortles and sticky hands grabbing at my necklace that dangled about his face.

Quickly I called my mom who had no clue because when we were children she had a diaper service so, she couldn’t help, but she did add to my level of panic and primal fear, “Oh, Gad, Mally. It saounds ahwfal.  I think yooo shud caal the haspital.” (She was a Buffalo, NY, resident until her 48th year, so I have to do that Great Lakes accent for you.)

I didn’t know if we were at that critical “caal the haspital” stage yet so I called the 800 number on the box of Pampers.  Within two rings a very mellow woman (I could tell by the sound of her voice) named Maureen answered the phone and asked me what I was calling about.

With no shortage of pithy anxiety I told her that my son had a clear, springy, crazy goo all over himself and that I didn’t know what was happening.  He seemed fine, he seemed alert, he seemed like himself (YES HE DII-ID, HE MOST CERTAINWY DII-IID, SWEETUMMMS…) but what the heck?

Maureen calmly cleared her throat and said everything was fine.  She asked me if I was a new mom, (D’Oh!) and assured me that everything was just fine, hon.  She didn’t make me fear she was pantomiming “GOT A LIVE ONE!” waving the LUNATIC! flag from her cubicle to her co-workers.  She didn’t make me defensive for wanting to ask for help or feel angry for voicing a concern.  She told me the crazy goo was some form or absorbent property that enables the diaper to take on bodily fluid.  She explained that the release (explosion was more like it) of the material indicated that it had reached its maximum capacity.  So in my best anxiety-induced Star Trek’s “Scotty” impression, I suggested to her that  the diapurr had geeven ahll it cooold, cap’n. shey coooldn’t geeeve nue morrrre and she laughed.

Utterly relieved and grateful for her calm and her stories about her first crack at motherhood, “Oh hon, that was yeeeears ago. My kids are alllll grown up now…” I released a lot of fear and sorta whimpered on the phone, breathing deeply and slowly.  She asked me if I was ok and I said that I was but that I was terrified earlier.  She got real quiet on her end and it was like I could feel her reaching out to tightly grasp my hand, a hand hug.  After a few moments, she said, “Hon, can I get your name and address?  I want to do something for you.”

I gathered my composure and finished up Thing 1’s new, clean diaper, smooched his forehead and put him into bed and closed the door.

I gave her my information.  She listened to me carefully put my infant son in his crib with love.  She sighed and told me the worst of that moment was over.  She told me my son was fine and suggested that I might want to take a nap and relax while he did, that the laundry will always be there, that it could wait.

One day later via FedEx a coupon for a free case of diapers arrived with some coupons for laundry detergent and other affiliated products and a hand-written note from Maureen thanking me for trusting her and wishing me and my family health and peace.  I don’t care that this massive company wasn’t especially earth-friendly, Maureen was Molly-friendly.

These are expectations that I didn’t have: that Maureen would be so loving, so human; that an employee of a huge, HUGE multinational conglomerate would be so kind.  Maureen set the bar that day and yesterday Jasyn ran into it, “clotheslined” it.

So this is what we get when we have expectations.  Expectations that people will hold the door for us, help us out of a car, help us with our groceries.  Expectations that check-out clerks will say “hello” (fellow human being trying to make your way) and “thank you” (for keeping me employed). And to Alice Walker’s point above, if we have no expectations, we get to live frugally on surprise, because we’ll starve if we think the nice random moments from random other people are coming to feed our souls and help us remember what coexistence means.

Am I in the wrong here? Am I so self-absorbed that expecting someone to treat me with courtesy or kindness or manners or decency is asking too much?  Has FaceBook and YouTube and Twitter and camera-phones and text-messaging and instant gratification and webcams and reality-TV made people SO self-absorbed that they actually believe they will be “discovered” or instantly famous?  Is Justin Bieber our benchmark for talent and fame?   That kid’s a train wreck.  Is “American Idol” an example of what the world really needs? Is anyone entitled to being rude and unkind and all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips –eqsue?  In one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen — “Mommie Dearest” about Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter Christina, I was amazed to see that Joan hand-wrote a personal reply to every fan she ever had.  She might’ve been insane, but she was polite insane.

What happened to not shouting in a restaurant?  Or turning down your cell phone ringer?  What happened to formality?  What happened to hand-written notes?  Is real reality so boring that we have to escape to one-dimensional virtual reality?

Uh oh, I can tell I’m getting tangential. Stay on track, Mol.

So, in my sage 44 years, I have come to understand that we could all do ourselves and our incoming human beings (aka babies) a favor by simply telling them this: “Have no expectations.  Don’t expect things out of life.  You are not entitled to anything.  Work hard, do your best and be good to society because it is right to do.  But, have no expectations.  Don’t expect kindness, don’t expect eye contact (certainly not in a full-grown adult or teenager) or full sentences or for someone to possibly relate to you on any level because they’re too busy thinking about themselves, what’s happening on FaceBook, if he’s lost at Words with Friends or how to be rich, famous or the next big thing.”

Repeat “have no expectations” throughout their lives reinforced with the beauty of occasional bouts of spontaneous kindness and the fact that being nice just feels right.  The point is not to beat the sweet innocent into submission, but rather to forge and hone a smart person, a self-assured person and someone who doesn’t make insanely poor choices or use poor judgment. As we mature, I would hope it would inspire equanimity and a quiet repose with the phrase of the century, “It is what it is” bolstered with the karma-hopeful reasoning that it’s simply right to be a nice person.  Have you ever heard, “Steve’s such a weirdo … he’s so NICE to people…” (sullen teenagers don’t count)?  I haven’t.  But I do have excellent radar for saccharine kindness. That’s just as bad as rudeness because it implies you’re stupid or gullible too.

I suppose I sound like Andy Rooney or my great aunt Alshee when I talk like this, but I think they had the Right Idea.  But in my house: Kindness begets kindness and rudeness gets the hairy eyeball.  So if you catch my Things being rude, let me know.  I’ll put them in contact with Jasyn.

Thank you.

12 responses »

  1. Gosh Molly. I am laughing along with some of this but it also really bums me out. Kindness does matter. It is right up there with being real in my book of what matters. I for one don't want our world to be without it. Sniffle.

  2. El!, interesting you should mention "what matters." Another friend and I were talking online the other day about focusing on Normal Things That Matter instead of the Abnormal Things that Don't Matter and just reminding myself of that mode of thinking has helped me focus and stay on course. It's a bummer how we can get pulled away by seemingly small moments of inconsiderateness. but they pick at us, don't they? xo

  3. VIva La Vida! (among my favorite Coldplay albums!) thank you for your comments. I am sheepishly nodding in agreement with you on the couple run-ins. I too had at least a couple more experiences myself. Customer service blows and I actually followed up with Starbucks today with my opinion of how Jasyn managed the situation and it probably fell on caffed-up deaf ears and bloodshot eyes, but I felt they needed to know. When I worked at a restaurant, we would mess up and that's just how it goes. To keep people satisfied, we bought the meal, the desserts, the something from the check – no questions asked. It just happened. Gone are those days; now we as customers are expected to come up with solutions. I have one: stop patronizing that vendor. RANT over. 😉 thanks for stopping by! -Molly

  4. They can and they do pick at us, yes. On the other hand, I can and so often am lifted by the small moments that DO matter. A smile. A nod from a stranger. A question . . . a child telling me for the 9,999th time that he loves me. A man's lips brushing against my neck. A friend who asks, "What are you really mad at?" I think one of the things that I do well, have always done well, is to catch glimpses of flowers growing out of concrete. xo. What we can get hung up on is the image of a mole on a beautiful face, or an out of tone note in an otherwise perfect chat, but that doesn't bother me so much anymore.

  5. Many "regular" moments outshine the dark ones. I too see, or am so thrilled when I remember to see the beauty, God, love and spirit in the everyday. or how about a flowering plant from a bird poop? I'm getting better at it too, rinsing away the insignificant rattlings. Insignificant Rattlings. I rather like the Sound of That. 😉 xo

  6. WOW! Way to hit the nail on the head. It used to be that no matter where you were or what you did, you always did your best to make others happy. Now n days it's just a bunch of people wanting to make themselves happy. Call me weird but, when I can make someone smile, it makes me happy.

  7. Kindness and courtesy in the world are sorely lacking, but you know, I've found that since I started writing my book, blogging and reading blogs like your own and El's that *I* am nicer to other people. I'm a hard-ass, always have been, so me? Nice? Wow. Some random guy at the gas station says, "Ma'am! I just want to thank you for doing your part in saving the world!" I'm wondering what he's gonna' preach at me, if he'll hit on me or not, and readying a snarky come back. But instead I looked at his smile and smiled back. "Really? How am I doing that?""By wearing them jeans!" Hand clutched to his chest, he was grinning from ear to ear. And that was all he did, no going overboard and he stayed where he was. I guess he was just in a good mood like I was, myself. I had to laugh and just say thanks and get in the van. No, it's not nearly as sweet as what the chick on the phone did with you, but it makes me have just a touch more faith that there are more nice, funny people in the world than I think.

  8. Kimberly! Hello! You're not weird. I still do my natural best to be kind to people. The other day the DHL driver dropped something off at our house and I picked it up and said "Thanks!" and he said, "you'rewelcomenoproblem." and didn't look at me. I continued, "beauty of a day, huh? you're lucky you don't sit at a desk on a day like this! take care and enjoy it!" and I could tell by his bodily reaction that he was sort of stunned that I even continued. He looked at me and said, "yeah, i guess you're right; sitting at a desk on a day like today would be a bummer." and he smiled thoughtfully. THEN, i let him go. mission accomplished. 🙂

  9. Astrea, Hello!! I am a hard-ass at times too but I've come to think of myself as a nice taupe shade of suede. Resilient, soft, flexible, warm, fashionable… Your story about the jeans is AWESOME. i have never ever ever been complimented like that. I would love it. And I'm sure you rocked the jeans. The blogs enable us to see other people as they feel safe to be. I write mine because I'm pushing myself to be more public, less reserved. I grew up in a family that had its shit, for sure, but in the end we have survived. I write as I am, I'm that person — that is my voice — and in my best endeavors in life I try naturally and earnestly to see the humor in things maybe as a defense mech but i think more as a "it's not that bad" sense. Life is tough at times, but it is surely survivable. Thanks for your comments and your loyalty. xo

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