So one Christmas, my older brother, younger sister, and I just knew we were getting a kitten.
I mean how could we not?
We’d definitely been nice (most of the time); we’d definitely dropped enough hints to everybody: “Santa”, that other guy at the mall, our parents, anybody with ears. We’d definitely shown pictures of all kinds of cute, furry little cuddly kittens, created lists that merely repeated the word “kitten”, drew kittens every time we made artwork, and quietly meowed anytime we passed our parents around the house.
So, we knew we’d get one. Of course. Like 0% chance of not getting one. Totally happening.
That Christmas Eve was quite possibly the longest night of my life–to date. Around 4am somebody nudged me from my floral comforter and coveted white, weathered blanket. Now all three of us were wide awake. Collaboratively complicit, we silently snuck downstairs, thick as thieves, quiet as mice, while our parents were nestled all snug in their bed.
Or something like that.
An enormous pile of gifts were under the tree. Santa had come!
We had to find that kitten. We were on a mission: a mission for our kitten.
Excitedly, we went through each gift, one by one. Santa was so generous back then!
Three piles were made, all equal in number, as always.
Yet one box was hidden, tucked back in the corner behind the tree. There it was! The tag read: “To Jason, Meg, and Amy”. One last gift for all three of us? IT MUST BE OUR KITTEN!
We gently lifted the box. It was kind of heavy. It definitely moved around. We could not wait until the 7am wake up time for mom and dad to photograph and enjoy watching us open our gifts, but especially that one little box!
What would we name it? What color was it? Who would hold it first? Second? Third? For how long? Who would feed it? Change its litter box? Where would the litter box go? We had to take into account mom’s OCD with cleanliness–the litter box locale was a dilemma…that took us some time figuring out.
All the while the box sat in the middle of our trio of a think tank, as we pondered the answers to all of our stimulating questions.
(In hindsight, you’d think one of us would have realized that the box had no air holes, didn’t make any kind of sound, didn’t move around unless we touched it.)
But we were kids.
Hope is a powerful force. It denies rationality nor line of reasoning.
Our parents awoke at 7am on the dot–how ironic! They made us wait to open the box addressed to all three of us until it was the very last box left to be opened.
Eagerly, patiently, painstakingly–enough anticipation to blow up our home–we finally opened it.
A bowling ball.
Our parents beamed. “Strike”!
(That was the three of us looking at one another, by the way. “Gutterball”.)
We fell, one by one. “Schleifer”.
Our own claws came out: “A bowling ball?! What is this for?! Where’s our kitten?! We didn’t get the kitten?! We seriously didn’t get our kitten?! We got a BOWLING BALL?! Why would we want a bowling ball?”
Something about my grandpa’s famous bowling career, family tradition, bowling runs in the family, we’d have bonding time, blah blah blah.
The rest is a blur.
Disappointment shadowed us throughout the remaining Christmas day, the remaining week, the remaining month. And not just among the three of us; my parents were severely disappointed as well.
But as I type this 35 years later, I smile and I laugh, and apologize to my dad via FaceTime and my mother in my prayers.
We did end up getting a kitten eventually because Jason adopted one for the family; he named her Jonesy (from the movie “Alien”–so J). And Jonesy made all of us purr. Mostly my mother, who adored her and doted on her quite possibly the most.
This past week in real time, disappointment came lurking with its scythe in hand. (I expected something at work that I did not get.) When other people get your hopes up about something, it’s contagious. And therefore my hopes were high.
I expected a “kitten”, yet 35 years later, I ended up with another “bowling ball”. I swear the pain, the depth of disappointment, was so heavy, it’s what reminded me of this buried Christmas story.
So I hissed. And cried. And grieved.
And spoke with my accessible and compassionate boss about it.
He empathized. We all know he, too, has been overlooked, overshadowed at times. We spoke honestly about the balance between individual recognition versus long-term hidden triumphs, not so obvious. The everlasting impact teaching has, and does have, and can have, which we may never see.
Luckily, as both parents of children, he reminded me of the Pixar movie “Cars” and Lightning McQueen.
When Lightning could’ve won the Piston Cup, he instead stops before the finish line, reverses, heads back behind The King, and pushes him ahead.
When The King asks Lightning about giving up his chance at placing first and finally earning his beloved Piston Cup, Lightning replies, “It’s just an empty cup.”
I have a great boss. 😉
And I again realized what mattered: my own kids, each and every single one of my students, my life outside of work, my fiance, his three kiddos, the magic that happens within my classroom, the past, the present, the future.
No empty cups. Hope could never be so contained. And it’s way more powerful than disappointment.
I just work on filling other people’s cups these days. And my own.
When processing all of this, I went back to my notebooks…I knew I had written something down about resiliency after setbacks. It’s a muscle that needs training in order to become stronger.
Here it was–the 3 P’s of growing resilient:
- It’s not personal–outside factors caused your disappointment, not you. I had no control over the decision that was made.
- It’s not permanent–this too shall pass. I already feel better about the whole darn thing.
- It’s not pervasive–this was only a work thing, not a life thing. My home life, Valentine’s Day, all of that was wonderful. My kids are happy and healthy, my relationship is thriving in all aspects. My job is still fun and enjoyable, my blog makes me happy; I could really go on and on…see?
So the next time you’re faced with a gutterball, p on it. Three times. You have my permission.