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A FOILED BIRTHDAY PLAN… AND LETTING GO OF EXPECTATIONS

Last Friday was my daughter’s tenth birthday. I fished for ideas on suitable outings that didn’t involve too much bank holiday queuing. After a quick sift through Facebook suggestions, I plumped for the outdoor adventure trail at Manley Mere – a muddy, mile-long rump through the great outdoors that her older brothers would also enjoy. Sorted.

Despite the relentlessly wet weather earlier in the week, the sun shone on Friday and conditions were perfect for our outdoor odyssey. Hooray! After a leisurely opening of cards and presents and a pancake birthday breakfast, we finally got ourselves ready to roll around midday.

Having been pre-warned that we’d end up covered in mud at Manley, we packed changes of clothes, piled in the car, set the SatNav for the 35-minute journey and headed off – only to reach a grinding standstill a mere couple of miles later. The world and his wife had, inevitably, also planned to enjoy a sun-filled Easter bank holiday in the outdoors and were now sitting alongside us on the M56.

So there I was faced with a choice:

  1. Plough on with the trip to the adventure trail, even if it bloody well took two and a half hours to get there.

Or

  1. Ditch it.

After a moment’s deliberation and a quick turn of the steering wheel, we parted company with the world and his wife. With no plan B, and us all starting to get peckish, I headed homewards and pulled up at the new Coffee and Kitchen that has recently opened up a few minutes’ walk from our house. The view from our table was not, as we had planned, of the attractive lake at Manley. Instead, we ate our lunch in full view of a distinctly less attractive Co-Op car park.

But it didn’t matter. The food was first-rate, the atmosphere laidback and all the staff, including Ben the chef, absolutely delightful. They even brought out a mini cup cake with a candle and sang a rousing Happy Birthday.

While my daughter raced home to play with her presents, I took advantage of the sun via a leisurely walk with her big brother – not around a grand RHS garden or one of the other bank holiday hotspots, but by a river that’s walking distance from our house. It wasn’t the birthday cum Easter bank holiday we’d planned… but it was a lovely day after all.

Fortunately, I’m not in the habit of posting photos on Facebook of my family on a day out, so I didn’t have the additional pressure of trying to produce a “Tah Dah, look at us having fun on an adventure trail” image.

(Speaking of which, I recall once chatting to a mum who said she was having a perfectly nice bank holiday with her family… right up until she logged onto Facebook and saw what fabulous, adventurous days out everyone else was on. Suddenly, she recast her day through the prism of everyone else having more fun and felt utterly rubbish and insecure about herself for the rest of the day.)

To end off, here are some lessons gleaned from Friday:

  • We tend to believe we have to travel far and go “big” for an outing to be worthwhile when, sometimes, there are gems right outside your door.
  • Being flexible is more important than sticking doggedly to a plan when circumstances change, as they are very often apt to do in life.
  • It’s very easy to impose our own vision for a perfect day on the very person it’s meant to benefit. My birthday girl was, in fact, eager to stay at home all along because she was itching to play with her Playmobil birthday present (and was also less than keen to get muddy). She was happy as Larry organising her little figures in her bedroom and didn’t give the adventure walk a second thought.
  • When we create high expectations for a birthday, bank holiday, anniversary, Mother’s Day or whatever and the day fails to materialise as hoped, we can end up missing what else is good about it and ruining it for everyone. It’s always the gap between our expectations and actual reality that creates stress, anxiety, disappointment or resentment (all inflammatory to the health, let’s not forget).

Over to you. Are you harbouring high expectations that may cause you and those around you stress? In what areas can you choose flexibility over perfection? Feel free to share…

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