Expectations – appropriate or otherwise – seem to shape most of our life experiences – our marriages, our parenting, even our day-to-day existence. From the day school begins, and even perhaps earlier, we form expectations of the summer. It’s time off. It’s swimming pools. (It’s pool parties!) It’s barbecues. It’s camp. It’s vacation. It’s travel. It’s relaxation.

These expectations reside deep within us. They aren’t rational but they have an intense emotional resonance. It doesn’t even matter whether our childhood summers actually reflected those expectations; they do now – in our imaginations and fantasies.

This can be a recipe for disappointment and dissatisfaction. We don’t all have the luxury of spending the summer traveling to exotic locations (although if you make the mistake of browsing Facebook, it certainly seems like everyone else is), we aren’t all close to friends and family who delight in Sunday barbecues or have pools to share. Yet those images are pervasive and our dissatisfaction may run deep.

As with all expectations, we need to apply rational thought. There may be some people whose summer experiences seem to resemble a non-stop party – but that’s not most of us. And, if we’re honest, it’s not what we would want anyway. We don’t really want to travel all summer, we don’t really want to play all day – and definitely not all night anymore! We just don’t want to feel like we’re missing out – and we all want/need a little break.

Sometimes one or two days at an easily accessible spot (I define that as no more than 2-3 hours drive away) can be all we need – to regroup, to relax, to reconnect – and to return. It can be satisfying, rewarding – and yes, even fun. But not if we compare ourselves to that 3-week trip to Europe our neighbors are taking. Not if we are following our friend’s photos from her African safari. Not if we constantly wish we were elsewhere. Not if we take for granted that other people are having a better summer, a better time.

Comparing is totally destructive to our ability to enjoy the moment. Not only will we never really know if those acquaintances in Italy are truly enjoying themselves or not, but it doesn’t really matter either way. That’s their lives, their choices, their opportunities. Ours are different. Our challenges, our lives and our opportunities may vary widely from what’s presented to them. Our job is to make the most of our circumstances. Our job is to be happy whatever our circumstances (and they are some people on exotic trips who nevertheless complain the whole time). Our job is to battle with expectations and lay them to rest – and then just enjoy the experience of the moment.

Sometimes staying home can be more fun. Sometimes road trips – even to less than luxurious locales – can create better memories. I won’t reveal where we went one summer. Suffice it to say that, although it came highly recommended, we were never able to figure out why and the highlight of the trip was barbecuing in the parking lot of the motel. (Here’s a hint at the type of place we were at: there was a sign on the lobby bulletin board: Missing Child: $25 reward!) Okay you get the picture. And yet, – we have great memories of that trip, so many moments of laughter – because it was either that or cry! But really because we were together and each aspect of the experience was something we all shared.

Sometimes we are able to take a wonderful summer trip that truly fulfills our expectations – and beyond! And that’s terrific. That’s a gift. But if we are able to let go of our expectations, if we are able to let go of investing summer with expectations that no season can live up to, then we will be able to truly have a great time.