The Not So small BIG Things in Life
A friend of mine recently told me, her nephew was getting married. With emotion in her voice, she added, I haven’t been to any of my brothers or sisters weddings. And now… I’m missing this. She’s been living outside her home country, the Philippines, for the last seven years, working in Hong Kong, Saudi, and currently, Oman. I understood what she’s feeling—that heavy weight of not ‘being there’ for the moments that ‘count’—because I’ve felt that before. Her tale of missed celebrations and family gatherings, echoed my own memoir.
But to be honest, my perspectives on things that ‘count’ and ‘matter most,’ have changed, dramatically, over the years. And I think it’s worth asking, What are the BIG things in life? And if the big things are BIG, then what are the small?
When you talk to cancer survivors, like my remarkable mother, they can tell you that just waking up in the morning is cause for celebration. For them, eating a piece of buttered toast (and keeping it down), can be more thrilling than any cake they’ve ever tasted. They don’t even need a new outfit to be happy. Just a knit cap will do, and some cozy pajamas.
It’s all about perspective.
When my husband began working for the State Department, I silently kept track of the activities and events he missed when he traveled, counting them as the BIG things. But as the years rolled on and we moved and moved and moved again and there were stretches of months, that added up to years, when he would be unable to come home for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and family gatherings, I began to forget about the ‘important dates’ and see that any date I was with him mattered.
When he could do the bedtime routine or run the kids to school, that was reason enough to throw a party. And believe me, he did! (My husband is fun like that—way funner than me.) But when milestones were missed and dad couldn’t be there, my kids didn’t fall apart or claim life wasn’t fair (they saved that line for other arguments), because they’d learned early on:
We don’t wait to celebrate the days that ‘count,’ but count the reasons to celebrate each day.
My mother-in-law has this thing she does, for birthdays. Okay, let’s just say, she’s not the greatest at remembering when her children, or grandchildren, were born. So when we do manage to gather at Grandma and Grandpa’s ranch, she goes around the table, handing out twenty-dollar bills, excitedly exclaiming “Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!” From the youngest to the oldest, whether you just had a birthday, or won’t blow out your cake candles for another six months, at that moment, you are celebrated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Tuesday or if it’s July and raining, she’s got her fanny pack open, and she’d doling out the cash. No one is about to say, But it’s not my birthday.
This kind of exuberance for life, the joy and wonder for everyday living, is contagious. And why not? If you only see people once a year, twice if you’re lucky, then don’t waste time, pop up the tent and bring in the dancing ponies!!
But… what about people who see their family all the time (maybe even a little too much time)? What does this narrative hold for you? I reckon you run the risk of having all the BIG things, along with all the little things, so it can get overwhelming. Feel free to take it down a notch. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. You know what I mean?
Living abroad, we don’t celebrate holidays in the traditional sense. Every country is different and we’ve had to adapt. There’s no Valentine’s in Oman or trick or treating. And Easter is on a Sunday—a work day here in the Middle East, (Friday is the holy day)—so that feels different too. In Sweden, our kids had school on Thanksgiving, but Cooper had the U.S. government holiday off. So for three years running, we dined out for lunch, on Thanksgiving, at our favorite restaurant, sans kids, and cooked the turkey and trimmings on the weekend.
Yes, I miss being in the U.S. for holidays, walking into Target and coming home with all kinds of fru-fru. But on the other hand, I’ve been liberated from the near impossible expectations of the ‘crop-and-cut’ digital culture. When you can make everything look more perfect than it actually is, that’s pressure.
Back in my day, we had rolls of film, and they were limited to 12, 24, or a whopping 36 exposures (for you youngin’s out there, that means photos you can take). There were no delete-oops-do-overs. That family photo where you blinked and the other person didn’t smile… that was the good shot. Nowadays, we gaze into the photo shopped world of friends and neighbors and risk feeling that our lives ain’t-quite-up-to-snuff. The quickest way to make the BIG moments feel small, is to over inflate your expectations and start comparing. They ‘NAILED IT,’ and you only sort of, kind of, not really, ‘nailed it.’ Ouch.
For Easter this year, my teenage boys got one sandwich-sized ziplock of the odds and ends of candy I could rummage from around the house—the stuff they hadn’t eaten yet. Oh yes. I hid their bags behind the X-box and made them play ‘hot and cold’ for 10 minutes. (I had to get some fun out of it.)
For my daughter, who still wants me to tuck her in every night and kisses my cheek before she leaves for school, I went to the extra effort of dumping some of her toys out of an old crocheted rag basket she uses, and filled it with three Junie B. Jones books and a zip-lock candy bag of her very own. We also played hot and cold. It was a humble and simple Easter, and just as delightful as anything I can recall, because I wasn’t exhausted afterward and still had energy to actually sit down and read books with my daughter.
Not surprisingly, my husband was out-of-town and missed the whole thing. But it’s okay, because when he gets home we still have plenty of other reasons to celebrate. Like eating dinner together, going for our beach walk, or watching him try to match socks from the laundry—I promise, it’s entertainment.
Transforming the little moments into the BIG moments gives you a reason to put the sparkling grape juice on the table, pull out the good paper napkins and order pizza on a Wednesday. We don’t have to do, like we’ve always done. We don’t even have to do things like our neighbor, or everyone else on Facebook. We can just ‘count’ today as lucky because we think it is, and that’s really all that ‘matters.’