Our family struggles with punctuality. Individually, any one of us can be on time to anything, but put us all together and 15 minutes late seems to be the best we can muster. Perhaps we dawdle because we assume that someone else in the group is taking longer or moving slower than we are. Perhaps we just aren’t eager to hop in the car together. It’s hard to know exactly why we can’t achieve timeliness. A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty proud that all four kids and I were going to be in the car and ready to make the 30 second drive to church from grandma’s house three minutes EARLY. Bells were ringing, angels were singing, I think I felt the earth move. Three of four were loaded and one was fully clad and exiting the building when not three feet from the door he made a detour—-the bathroom. Uh oh. Now this particular child is one of the younger in our family and has not yet mastered his bodily functions sufficiently to schedule them around planned activities. “How long do you think you’re going to be in there?” I inquired, since the car was running and people were waiting. “I don’t know,” echoed a little voice faintly from behind the door. Twenty minutes later he emerged with a grin on his face and feeling much better. We were only 25 minutes late to church that day.
What I realized at that moment was that no matter how much we schedule on this trip, there will always be a chance that circumstances will preclude us from fulfilling our plans. Upset stomachs, lack of clean clothes, misplaced cameras, and bad moods are just a few of the potential spoilers out there. Yesterday he of the ill-timed bowels simply did not want to be upright at the designated hour and was deposited in the car against his will, causing yet another lengthy church delay. This child seems to specialize in dragging his feet (and forgetting his shoes), but the remaining five of us are equally inclined to cause disruptions to a schedule.
As if we needed reminding of this fact, I donated the past two weeks of my life to some nasty, untreatable bacterial/viral hybrid lung and throat ailment while Tom managed to throw out his back lifting weights in our basement. I struggled to remain functional during my illness, but Tom ended up supine and completely looped for two days. Friends brought him meals and muscle relaxers and our imaginations carried us to places we didn’t want to go: would we have to stay home, postpone our departure, go through another difficult surgery and long recovery? Should I return to Georgia to feed him, console him, and drive him to appointments and possibly work? I videoconferenced with him and could see the state of the house from the computer screen. If he couldn’t walk, how could he clean up? Assuming he improved enough to travel to Utah, what kind of debris was he going to leave behind in his temporarily handicapped wake? After a long weekend of suffering, a friend took him to the doctor last Monday morning. After examining his X-rays, he made the diagnosis: lower back sprain. The treatment: no surgery, just lots of pain killers and avoidance of extended periods of sitting. That’s going to work well for our upcoming 35 hour series of flights from Salt Lake to New Zealand!
Rather than shaking me, our recent experiences have actually reinforced my philosophy that despite my Type A, control freak personality, I must resist the urge to overplan. We have plane tickets, yes, but with the exception of one flight I booked two days ago (New Zealand to Australia), everything thus far is completely changeable and refundable. If someone get sick, sprains an ankle, or we fall in love with a particular locale, we stay put. If we all get bored, can’t find any good restaurants, or learn about a new place we simply must see, we move on. Though we still won’t be able to control the length of bathroom breaks, if we operate on a premise of flexibility and resist the urge to set an adult-paced schedule, we should wend our way around the world successfully and without any undue, self-imposed stress.
Just remember, if you’re meeting us somewhere along the way, it might not hurt to be twenty minutes late.