The relief of not planning
“You don’t seem to plan much anymore.”
These words from my sister stopped me cold. I’d begged off making decisions about an upcoming holiday — and an upcoming weekend. Like so many occasions lately, I dismiss them with a wave of the hand and a vague “we’ll see.” I thought nothing of it at the time, but . . . was she right? Was she? I thought about it that afternoon, that night, into next morning . . . and yes, I think it’s true. The old planner Meg — obsessed with calendars, constantly looking ahead to the next birthday, holiday, family event — has leaned back in her easy chair, let her hair down and taken a siesta. Or something like that. It’s all thanks to parenthood, of course. One of my earliest lessons as a new mom was to forget perfection, persnickety schedules and my obsession with punctuality . . . because it will only lead to torment. Though I make every effort to arrive everywhere “on time,” there are days my toddler just conspires against me. Usually by deciding it’s a naked day, whereby all clothing is chucked behind the couch.
If you’ve never tried to outrun a diaper-clad child hellbent on getting upstairs before you can wrestle him out to the family car, hey — it’s pretty exciting. And you can totally skip the gym.
Back in my student days, I thrived on routine. Having college classes divided into 50- or 75-minute chunks meant my days were easy to manage. I’m all about efficiency. I quickly discovered the best times to hit the overcrowded student union, arranging my afternoon around when I was most likely to get a seat to scarf down my Chick-Fil-A sandwich before heading upstairs to nap — um, read, I mean — in the commuter lounge.
Some of those naps were, in fact, built into my schedule. If it seems bizarre or even dangerous to sleep in a public place where anyone could come along and pluck that remaining $9 from your wallet, you’re right. But we looked out for each other. The tired 20-something commuters with no other place to crash on campus would gather in chair circles to draft notes, read or snooze.
This was 2005, friends — a world pre-smartphone. I’d imagine today that the commuter lounge is nothing but sweatpant-clad kids with their faces buried in Instagram. But back then? We all wordlessly watched out for each other, taking turns “just closing our eyes” before our cell phone alarms jarred us awake . . . just in time to walk a mile to our next class. I miss those days, really. After college, my routines became even more predictable. I knew I could get up around 6:30 a.m., grab breakfast and coffee and watch “Good Morning America” until 7:18 (the end of the daily weather segment, incidentally), at which point I would shower and get dressed for the day — a 25-minute process — before leaving our apartment at 7:55 for my short commute.
That probably sounds ridiculous and OCD, and I get that. But it’s a testament to my strangeness that, even two years later, I can recite that routine by heart. It was developed for its efficiency, you see — even down to paying attention to how long my typical makeup routine takes. It took a while to decide the best order in which to do everything (apply concealer, blush, lip balm, eyeliner, then blow dry hair — and end with mascara). I still loosely follow this, but the schedule is often interrupted by Oliver howling from his crib, opening all my cabinet drawers or trying to climb into the tub.
When we’re home, my husband and I are on Oliver Time. OT does not care if you’re running late to a family gathering or important meeting or doctor’s appointment. OT also does not care if you’re stressed beyond measure, in desperate need of a shower or want to actually eat your now-deceptively-named Hot Pocket.
As a toddler, it’s Oliver’s prerogative to look adorable while causing untold mischief. How my routines are now accomplished is entirely dependent on OT, and that — like so much in life — is unpredictable. So no sense worrying about it.
I cut myself some slack, build in some leeway. At the risk of irritating others, I keep plans loose. I’ve stopped scheduling every moment of every Saturday and Sunday. I don’t know how I’m going to feel, for one — or how Spencer or Oliver will feel, either. Switching this up allows for spontaneity . . . something I never, ever thought I’d say.
Sure, I still keep up with my calendar. I’m an adult, and recording appointments and interviews and get-togethers is just part of adulting. (Also, doctors charge no-show fees, so.)
But I’m happier now. There’s room for a little impulsiveness, which has always been a gripe of my husband’s. It’s true that I was both an ardent schedule-keeper and a homebody, but now? Well, sometimes I like to actually get out and about. Plus, running errands as a family means Oliver is 900 percent more likely to take a much-needed nap in the car.
And let’s face it: that’s what really matters here.