Embracing the schedule
By now, I think I've spotted some of what's getting in our way. For starters, I apparently have no concept of time. Either I sincerely think I can get somewhere (it should absolutely take no more than eight minutes to travel eight miles) or I just want to think I can get there (planning to get in and out of the grocery store in under five minutes) or it is too late to get there before I've even started (if I don't get up until 7:15, no power on earth will get Sam to school by 8:00). This combination of magical thinking -- everything will go exactly as planned and take less time than ever before -- and lack of discipline is deadly.
Rob's problem is the triumph of optimism over experience. He seems to believe that if he tells the kids to put their shoes and coats on and then goes back into the bedroom to tie his tie, he will emerge and they will be standing there in their shoes and coats. This would be nice, but I'm not willing to bet the farm on it.
Yet recognizing our mistakes has somehow never kept us from repeating them. My dad was wrong. We did need an expert, and Mary Caroline Walker, mom of four, creator of Todaysbalancedmom.com, and author of Managing Life With Kids, a manifesto for punctual and organized living, was happy to provide some help. "It's always something" is her mantra, and she takes her cue from the Boy Scouts -- whatever it is, she's ready. She can teach me, but only if I'm ready to be taught. If I will accept that a smooth and pleasant morning is more important than an extra five minutes of sleep -- and remember that before I roll over -- Mary Caroline can help me. She can create a schedule that stops the "magical thinking" by freeing me from the need to think about timing at all and provides ample time for shoe and coat issues.
I immediately balk. I have never thought of a schedule as "freeing." I like to relax and wing it. Won't writing down when we're supposed to do everything just mean I have to freak out about sticking to it?
Mary Caroline gently points out that we already need to be places at certain times. I'm not supposed to worry about the schedule, I'm just supposed to follow it. Then, realizing that she's got a real novice on her hands (she may mentally be using another word), she starts to create the schedule. To do that, you write down what time you have to be somewhere, and then reason backward from there, taking into account things like the end-of-playdate meltdown and the inevitable missing sneaker and, most critical, allowing plenty of time to load people and gear into the car. "Never think about what time you have to leave, or what time you need to be there," she declares. "Think about what time you have to load."
I admit that I have never differentiated between the "leave" time and the "load" time (and sometimes not even between leave time and arrival time -- I tend to expect Scotty to beam us wherever we need to go). "That's why you're always late. Everybody thinks about what time they need to leave the house, but what really matters is when you tell everybody to get in the car." She tells me to allow 15 minutes for this step every time, no matter where we are. "I know," she forestalls my objections, "but it's a cushion. That way, when you realize you have to take the trash to the end of the driveway" (which happened to me last week) "or you lift up your toddler to put him in and suddenly you smell something" (I am beginning to think this woman lives in my garage), "then you have time to deal with it without it being a disaster."
Just leave the house earlier? It's so crazy, it just might work.
Mary Caroline seconds all of my mother's advice about packing up the night before and laying out clothes -- the same prep work, now endorsed by a professional: "Those things help stack the deck in your favor." I should put things like errands and laundry on my schedule so I won't be tempted to try to squeeze them into the gaps -- and if I account for load times, I'll see that those gaps aren't so big after all.