Saturday, December 15, 2012

Get Prepared



Most mornings my kids get up early.  They have plenty of time to wash, get dressed, eat breakfast, practice instruments and homework, and still usually have plenty of time left to play, all before school.  Why then, do we end up scurrying around like mice three minutes before the school bell rings each weekday trying to make it out the door in time to run to school without being tardy?

I think it has to do with overconfidence.  They get so proud of themselves for doing their morning chores without being prompted that they pat themselves on the back, and kick back on Easy Street to relax the morning away.  Conversely, I start each morning quizzing them if they’re on track in their morning routines, and am usually pleasantly surprised to find out they’ve already completed most all of their morning tasks.  I then congratulate them on a job well done and go about busying  myself with some other task that needs done.  We all then look at the clock in horror five minutes prior to the school bell time, realizing everyone still has to hit the bathroom, find shoes, coats, and book bags before we can leave to sprint to school.

It’s the same every day.  No matter how early or late we get up, or how much we prepare the night before, we’re always manic for a few minutes before leaving because we’re not totally prepared.  It makes no sense how we start out so strong and then fizzle out in the preparations.  It’s like singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and getting all the way down to 1 remaining bottle and not finishing out the chorus.  It’s like spending all day hanging outdoor lights and then never turning them on.  It’s like taking the time to write a book and then never trying to publish it.  It’s nutty.

My gut instinct is to get angry with my kids and ask them what they’ve been doing that they’re not ready to go to school.  Then I look down at my own pajamas and bare feet and wonder what I’ve been doing that I’m not ready to walk them to school.  I realize they’ve learned their preparation techniques from me.  How can you not pick up my smooth moves when you’re faced with it every day?

When invited to the Mother Daughter cookie exchange I immediately have my daughter pick out the cookie recipes, quickly scan the ingredients needed so I can jot down the things I need at the grocery, and buy them 2 weeks in advance so I’ll be ready to roll on the day of the party.  I get so confident in my prep work, though, that on cookie-making day, I realize I don’t have the pan I need to make them, and send my daughter to the neighbors upstairs to borrow a pan.  Relieved we don’t’ have to run out to buy one, I quickly realize I have no parchment paper, and then run to the neighbor across the street to borrow that.  Finally fully prepared to bake, I get the layer cookies in the over, leaving myself 30 minutes to prep the next layer that will be added as soon as they come out of the oven.  Impressed with my own ability to pull off the first half of the layer cookies, I spend this prep time doing dishes and busy work, so that when they come out of the oven, the whole family has to be drawn in to scramble to chop the chocolate that needs to be melted on top of the piping hot cookie base layer.

Maybe it’s self-created drama, this preparing almost to completion, then leaving the last step undone, so as to elicit intentional hysteria in the 11th hour.  Maybe it’s learned behavior, as I’ve witnessed my mom doing the same type of stuff both when I was a child and now as an adult myself. Maybe it’s genetically encrypted in my makeup, as I can’t help but think of my dad’s recurring taunt that Heredity is a Bitch.  Or maybe it’s just what it appears to be where we get proud of ourselves for accomplishing so much so quickly that we then overcompensate by backing off too intensely. 

Whatever it is, I wouldn’t actively change it if I could.  While I love the idea of always being on time, fully prepared, and ready for action, the reality is that life doesn’t happen that way. Life in general is messy and unpredictable, with lots of curveballs being thrown.  If my kids are always ready for school on time and never have to hustle to beat the bell because we’re too busy futzing around at home, will they ever have the wherewithal as teens to run after a bus they just missed, filled with the possibility that they just may be able to catch up with it at the next stop?  If they never have to settle for one blue sock and one black because there’s no time to find the matched set, will they ever be able to improvise in the moment when a full cup of java is spilled on their work suit on the way into a client meeting?  If my kids didn’t forget their lunch or homework or show and tell every so often and be forced to deal with the ramifications of hunger, punishment, and embarrassment, would they ever learn how to handle life’s bigger disappointments like failure and loss?

Maybe, just maybe, the lack of preparedness my kids are learning from my actions, is actually helping them prepare for life on their own one day.  Whether they keep my trait or they've already decided that this one quality is going to be the thing they handle differently as adults than their parent did when they were kids, they're unconsciously growing into the adults they'll one day become.