I am coming out and saying something in public that my family has known for a very long time: I am a creature of habit. I do not like change. I thrive on routine.
Unfortunately, routine, having things stay the same, is not how life works. And for me, that has caused a lot of stress in my life, in ways both big and small.
I have spent a lot of my life ignoring the fact that life is messy, or maybe not so much ignoring it as trying to make mine not messy. I make lists, I make plans, and I envision in my head these days of normal routine. Then something comes along to change my plans, and I freak out.
It wasn’t too hard to have a long string of “normal” days when I was single. Things did happen to change my plans and throw me in a tizzy, but nothing compared to what was to come as I got older and moved on in my life.
For one thing, I married a man who had a son from a previous marriage, and instantly became a stepmom. I love Bill with all my heart. He not only is the most wonderful husband, but he is one of the world’s greatest fathers, and that’s something I knew even before we got married, watching him and Craig. That being said, becoming a stepmom didn’t come without its challenges, and one of those was a whole new schedule. Every other weekend Craig was with us. Every other weekend he wasn’t. Which was my normal weekend? Really, neither. Or both. I don’t know. It took me a while to figure that all out. And man, if it was that hard on me, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the children of divorce, going through shuffling from one house to another.
Then I had a baby. Talk about disruption to a schedule! A few months after Caroline was born, I started working from home. In some ways, my need for schedule and routine is perfect for working from home. After all, you have to be self-motivated to meet deadlines when there’s no boss standing over your shoulder. When Caroline was a few months old, we got on a pretty good schedule of nap/work time, and I thought we were good to go. Then someone told me not to get used to a schedule, because with a baby it was always changing. And boy, were they right!
Over the years, I would come up with a new plan for what my work/life routine would be for each new stage of life the kids went through: toddlerhood, preschool, elementary school. Every time I had an idea of what our days would be like. And every time, I would enjoy a few days of “normal” routine, but they were few and far between. Ear aches, snow days, unexpected trips to the vet, it seemed like there was always something coming along to throw off our schedules. And every time, I would freak out. I hadn’t planned on taking the dog to the vet because she pulled her toenail off! How would I ever get my work done! I had phone interviews scheduled!
Somehow, I seemed to manage to get my work done. After all, I’ve been freelancing for about 10 years now. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now if I couldn’t turn things in on time. But I still had a vision in my head of “normal” days, and didn’t handle things very well when something came that deviated from the norm.
This summer, the kids and I decided we didn’t need a babysitter while I worked, that they were old enough to entertain themselves and give me some time to work, uninterrupted. So I came up with a plan for our summer. But the first week the kids were out of school we went on vacation, and the second week they had soccer camp. Yesterday, Monday, June 22, was going to be our first “normal” day of summer. The plan was for the kids to do a few chores after breakfast, and then play for a couple of hours. Then I would take a break and we’d all have lunch together. Then maybe another hour after lunch of work time for me, but this time would be “quiet” time, where they do something alone in their room. We made a list at breakfast of all the things they could do, both outside and inside. Monopoly Jr., soccer, Frisbee, Legos …
And then, while Caroline was watching the Today show, they broke in with news that there was a shooting in Jonesville. What? Nothing ever happens here, where we live. That’s one reason we live here! We waited, impatiently, for the next local news segment, and this time they gave one more detail, that it had happened near Bethel Road. That had us even more worried. We have friends that live near there.
It turns out, something happened that I didn’t plan on. No one did. Dear friends of ours were involved in an incident that was like something from a movie, not from our life here in the laid back Yadkin Valley. Instead of sending the kids off to do their chores, I was on the phone with people from church, and glued to the television hoping for more news. I got the kids calmed down somewhat and playing, and tried to get to work, but every time the helicopters flew over searching for the suspect, my gut clenched up. I was filled with stress and worry, as well the knowledge that the upheaval I was going through was nothing compared to what my friends involved in the incident were facing.
The suspect was apprehended right before lunch, and every one breathed a sigh of relief. I was able to salvage a couple of hours of work that afternoon, and the kids watched a movie that made them laugh, something they desperately needed.
We ended the day by coming together with members of the community at our church to pray for everyone involved in the incident that day. I have never been part of a prayer vigil, and never expected to be. But I learned last night that there is something truly powerful about coming together with others that share your faith to offer up prayers.
This morning I woke up to a new day. A day that we will try out our “normal” summer schedule. And I realized something. Yesterday, I didn’t freak out about things not being normal. Something totally unexpected happened, my kids needed me for comfort and support, and my head was with my friend and her family and not focused on work. I might have thought I needed to work, but in fact, I needed to be in the present. And I was.
I can’t promise that I won’t freak out the next time a kid gets sick or snow starts falling on what I had hoped would be a “normal” day. But I feel like, after more than 40 years of living this life, I have started to learn something important. There aren’t normal days. There are just days. Every day brings something new. Sometimes it’s exciting and fun. Sometimes it’s tragic. But I am here, and able to live it, enjoy it, learn from it, revel in it. I might have to give up on my dream of normal days, but when it comes down to it, I am living the dream every day, just by living my life as it happens.
Being one of 5 children, I was born into a 3 ring circus of a family. That kinda was normal for us! So when I had 3 of my own…I adopted a laid back attitude. Or maybe it was my personality. I didn’t freak out when my 3 year old drove into my friend’s dining room. Or when he drank root canal dressing and had to have his stomach pumped. Or when my daughter broke her arm at camp. Or when our kids built somewhat of a treehouse about 45 feet high. Or much WORSE things when they got older! I chose to pick my own battles and let other things slide. And you know what? They turned out fine.
You, Karen, will be just fine if you realize no one’s family is perfect!