Newfound Lake is a very important place for our family. It has been our summer destination for decades. It is where we gather as an extended family – brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandchildren and cousins. It is where we rest deeply. It is where we play hard. It is where we retreat from our full, often busy lives at home to nestle into what feels like a suspended reality. A place where we step out of our regular roles – executives, teachers, lawyers and students – for a little while to just be ourselves.
When you come to the same place year after year, it’s nearly impossible to avoid expectations. They come part and parcel with treasured memories and traditions that have been forged and re-forged by three generations. You yearn to repeat the amazing day of waterskiing on glassy, smooth water. Your heightened anticipation for the annual trip to play miniature golf is almost beyond reason.
Expectations provide excitement and anticipation. They create energy and enthusiasm for the trip that makes the long drive totally worthwhile, no matter your age. Expectations make things easy when you arrive. Your days at the lake almost plan themselves – exercise in the morning, days spent on the boat, evenings around the giant dinner table, putting on a sweatshirt for the trip for ice cream each evening. So do your weeks. “Remember to save a day for shopping at the outlets!” “We have to go to Polly’s Pancake Parlor!” “Don’t forget our traditional meal at the Bristol House of Pizza!”
This happy place has showed us the very best side of expectations. Annually, we are thrilled to be headed here. Annually, we are tearful to leave. Our expectations of this place are rarely disappointed.
At the same time, however, this place so steeped in tradition and history and habit has taught us to hold our expectations lightly or we will certainly be disappointed. There was the year that it rained for 7 full days. Had we not been flexible with our expectations for our vacation, we could have spent the week feeling trapped and irritable. Instead, we look back on that vacation fondly as the week we put together every jigsaw in the house, played epic rounds of board games and went swimming in the rain daily whenever the thunder stopped.
Seven separate summers there was an infant in the mix. Nursing and napping babies shortened our waterskiing trips appreciably. As babies are rarely quiet in the morning and require a great deal of quiet in the evenings, our daily schedules shifted. We discovered the joys of breakfasts at the country store and hardly missed our second beer in the evenings. We went to the town beach and laughed ourselves silly in the sand, hardly missing our late afternoon hours floating in the boat. Staying flexible with our expectations and simply being happy to be here made those weeks as special as the new family members we were spending them with.
This summer, two of those infants are now working and living at the lake. When we arrived for our beloved vacation, we found ourselves moving into “their” space and fitting ourselves into the rhythm of their days. They are licensed and excited to take the boat out on their own, leaving us sitting happily on the dock and teaching our puppies (more “new” to add to all this “old” this summer) to swim rather than hauling skier after skier around the lake.
Sharing our vacation with (mostly) self-sufficient teens is allowing my husband and me to spend much more time together, a silver lining to not getting as much quality time with our kids as we once did. Our schedule is wide open – no breakfasts or lunches other than our own need to be made. We need only to apply sunscreen to ourselves. Movies can be rated “R” if we so choose. While a victory at ping-pong is no longer a sure thing, we are guaranteed an exciting, close game.
New, it turns out, can be good. It’s exciting to reconnect with nieces and nephews who have formed different passions and opinions since we were last together. It is exhilarating when one of us comes up with an entirely novel idea – like the year my husband bought a wake board and we had another water sport to master, or the year we found a hike none of us had ever heard of, or the year I discovered how beautiful it is to practice yoga on the little porch on the front of the house. Change here has been as constant as our traditions. And, like our traditions, change at the lake has been pretty darn sweet.
Upon reflection, maybe what this happy place has taught us is how to have healthy expectations. Yes, we arrive here every year excited to be together. Yes, our expectations are at a fever pitch to do all the things we love to do while we’re here. But decades of visits have taught us that change here is sweet. And that new traditions are as easy to create as old ones are to maintain. We come knowing exactly what it means to be here and simultaneously curious as to how the week will unfold.
Take a quick look at your own expectations. Do they leave you feeling sour or cheated when they’re not met? Chances are you’re holding on too tight. The key to keeping your expectations healthy is to temper them with an openness to the unexpected. In other words, make change one of your expectations!