First of all, come on. I am not property. I’ll marry whomever I want, ok? Even if he does carry out traditions from the dark ages. And second of all…Me? High maintenance? pfft (eye roll, hand on hip).
I once asked Beau, after a few years or so of marriage, how he was able to retain such a Honda-like demeanor. After traveling, going to school and working, money problems, infertility, I broke down time and time again. But Beau? He was so stable. He was reliable, even keeled, and to be honest sometimes kinda boring. He said, “I keep my expectations low.”
I’d rather be a sports car, I thought.
But I started taking him to heart. Perhaps my high maintenance was due to my high expectations. I started trying to imagine my life without the things I desired and dreamed of. I started thinking about the lowest denominator I could allow myself in life. I wanted grand things. I wanted two little girls, a Green Gables in the countryside, to be a famous artist and writer, to be thin, quiet and mysterious. It became clear that I was setting myself up for a roadside accident with my fast paced dreaming. So I put all those desires and unrealistic versions of myself to rest. Some of them I still imagined, but I promised myself I wouldn’t be frustrated or depressed with the way my life was, or turned out, if I didn’t get those things.
I am not thin. I am delectably at the top of the BMI range. I told myself my goal weight would forever be to be happy with whatever I was. To never gain too much, or to lose too much. To simply stay the same. Then I threw out my scale. I don’t even know how much I weigh. After almost two decades of crying over a pound gained in one day, almost every day, I suddenly freed myself from that expectation.
I am not quiet or mysterious. After years of social anxiety my very first counselor said to me, “I want you to make room in your mind for this: Maybe it’s ok for Bridget to be loud. Maybe it’s ok for her to be too silly or talk too much. Maybe that’s who she is, and people will love her for it. Not despite it. For it.”
When I found out my first-born was a boy I was devastated. Then we had Finn and he was the sweetest little thing. I was ok. But then I found out I was having another boy. And I broke down again. For weeks!
But then tiny Oliver came out with a club foot.
It was a much needed slap in the face for me. Not the club foot itself, but the idea that I could be so forlorn over something so trivial as gender. My boy was crippled. He could have been much worse off in other genetic ways, but with surgery and many, many casts he would be healthy.
When we got the ultrasound back for our third baby, and I found out it was yet again a boy, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t even remotely sad. I was overjoyed. Because he had two straight feet. I had a complete gear shift in my expectations, and it saved me. Once upon a time I would have expected three boys to be the end of my perfect life. But it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
(But seriously I still get a little teary eyed when I see tutus or ruby slippers.)
When we first bought a home we had to settle for a small rat-infested rambler in the suburbs. I was miserable at first. I pretended I was happy, but inside myself I was being a brat. About a year in, it became clear we would be stuck there for a while. Sweet Beau asked me why I wasn’t gardening. Before we moved there I had talked a lot about wishing I had a bit of earth, but once I had one I was too smug to do anything with it because I didn’t want to give in to living there for a long time. I’ll never forget Beau tenderly telling me I should try to make whatever place I lived into what I wanted, not wait for what I wanted to come to me. Basically, to grow where I was planted. (Or grow up, ha!)
That week I bought a tiny sprig called Jude the Obscure. It is a rose I’ve now had for seven years, buried one of my miscarried babies under, I’ve been showered by its lovely peachy petals and lemon scent every spring, and it reminds me to expect more of myself when it comes to my attitude about life. We lived in that house for seven years. What was once a place of regret became a darling cottage of light, surrounded by wildflowers, filled with memories of laughing toddlers and fun parties, and truly a home. I still miss it.When it came time to buy our dream home I still had my porch-sitting in the countryside dream. But out of nowhere, Mr. Honda said he’d really love to live in the city. I told him I would live anywhere he wanted as long as I had a back yard. I had learned I could make something lovely out of any bit of earth. (I also said I had to have a rounded front door. Heee. High expectation I know, but Beau found one for me, and he named it The Burrow. City life it is, but it feels like I’m in the Shire.)
The very first book I wrote and illustrated was a children’s story for Finn while my dad was diagnosed with a scary illness. We weren’t sure if he was going to live or die, and I was so heartsick that my boy would lose his best friend. I illustrated it, had some friends proofread it, but when it came time to query agents I froze. My history of high expectations had done a flip flop. I was a dusty Ferrari in a junk yard, out of gas. I thought the book was too obscure, the images too mediocre. I gave up on it. Yesterday my book agent asked me if I would consider working on a children’s book. I cringed. But I dug up that old story, that was so tender to me at the time, and sent it to her without any expectation or hope at all. I was sure she’d say it was cute, but not what anyone was looking for.
The one thing Beau has high expectations for is for me. He will not simply give me compliments and praise unless he means it. If I work on something he doesn’t like, or I wear an outfit that looks bad, or cook something that’s not a real winner, he’ll let me know. I used to hate it, but I’ve learned that when he does love something it really is the truth. (I’ve also learned not to ask him if he likes something.) On our eleven-year anniversary Beau wrote me a letter. He rarely gives me cards or writes anything to me other than a two word text. To paraphrase, he let me know he has no regrets. It’s been an adventure, I’ve made his life beautiful when it would have been drab. I’ve created a magical world he gets to travel in.
And then as a premonition (or wet blanket?), he said, “…but I know your greatest work is yet to come.”
My agent wrote back to me this morning, “Is that all your artwork? It is stunning!” She said she saw potential, and if I wanted to see it in the world she would love to work on it with me. A little spot of the old, miserable me brightened.
So along this road of life, what my dad told Beau was true, I would need a lot of work. But this Ferrari is shifting gears and vrooming into the sunset, and I can’t wait to see what is just beyond the horizon.
Bridget is the artist behind Flora Forager, the mother of three wild boys, and a believer in everyday magic.