It’s Almost Never The Things You Plan

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When I shuffle down the hall in the morning and find all of my kids, the kids I never planned on having, haloed by the sun streaking in through the front window, I know for sure that the best gifts in life usually end up being those normal, everyday experiences that could have never been orchestrated, even by the best planner in all the land.

As I’m working on this piece, I’m fighting the urge to toggle through web pages to plan the perfect fall season events for my family. Should we attempt the Family Series Symphony or the Children’s Theatre performance of Charlie Brown Christmas? Which pumpkin patches offer the most bang for the buck? How will I make sure we spend every second of fall, my family’s favorite season, enjoying enriching experiences while eating healthy baked goods and feeling warm and fulfilled?

Spoiler alert: I won’t.

I’ll try. Some people meditate in complete stillness, their minds void of words or plans. I meditate with my Erin Condren planner, pen ready to orchestrate days filled with laughter and exceeded expectations. It’s a dangerous practice, one that makes me feel securely in the driver’s seat. I’m also pretty sure it’s not really meditation but more of a mania that other mothers participate in on our way to achieving the goal of planning the perfect day.

The problem is moms have kids. That in itself is not the problem, but different personalities and moods blended together under one roof means taking the crazy on the road in search of perfection is usually a fool’s errand. And I am apparently a practiced fool.

Here’s what I know, despite my tendency to forget: it’s almost never the days you plan that end up being the golden memories of tomorrow. When everyone in the family carries the weight of trying to create a big, memorable event, it’s inevitable that at least one person, possibly all of them, are going to break.

Plus, there are always accidents and uncontrollable forces. That perfect day we were going to spend at an outdoor splash pad followed by museums ended up being the day my daughter received 11 stitches after busting her chin the first 30 minutes at the splash pad. That day we were going to have a picnic in the park and laze under the trees reading stories ended up being a day full of tears when the park was closed for construction after we had already driven there.

This is the essence of life, and it’s good for kids to understand that plans are ultimately things we want and try for that are never really under our control in the first place. We learn to recalibrate, to move on, to try an alternative. These lessons for kids are necessary but painful, and they aren’t much easier for parents.

So this fall, I’m trying to hold on loosely to everything. We’re starting mornings slowly, lazing around in the autumn chill and eating breakfast in the backyard wearing pajamas. We’re putting many options on the table, choosing what the majority agrees upon and discussing what happens if it doesn’t work out. We’re saying thank you at the end of the day for whatever was offered, even it wasn’t the original menu item we chose.

I’m remembering that last minute, unscheduled trip to the arboretum, a day I was sure would fall apart after a 45 minute drive where everyone wanted to know why we were going to stare at flowers. Unexpected friends showed up and we played for hours until everyone fell into the car, drowsy and happy. I’m recalling the time I took my oldest daughter to turn in an overdue book at the library to find a science expo happening there. Without the built up expectations, everything was magic. We lingered for hours and bonded, just the two of us when she usually shares my attention with three other kids.

Basically, I’m remembering these non-planned days to help me reclaim this season from the madness it’s become in the past. I’m trying to focus on the people and not the places or things, because the perfect experience means nothing without the loved ones I want to share it with, and the most imperfect day is survivable as long as we all land home safely together.

While I will make loose plans and choose events I think my kids will enjoy, I will not place the burden of happiness on these events turning out perfectly. Contentment is not a destination. We’re already there. When I shuffle down the hall in the morning and find all of my kids, the kids I never planned on having, haloed by the sun streaking in through the front window, I know for sure that the best gifts in life usually end up being those normal, everyday experiences that could have never been orchestrated, even by the best planner in all the land.

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