Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Joy of Not Rushing

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to estimate how long something will take and plan accordingly. I'm rarely late and usually early for appointments, school drop-offs and pick-ups, get-togethers, and so on.

Having four kids, two of whom are toddlers, has made everything take a little longer. It took me a little while to learn to pad my time estimates, but I'm pretty much on my game these days.

Unfortunately, the more personalities involved and the more you have going on, the likelier it is that things won't go quite according to plan.

It's when things start to derail that I am at my worst as a parent.

A three-year-old does not live his life by the clock. He does not care if you need to be somewhere in 15 minutes. He doesn't know what 15 minutes is. He doesn't understand that if he gets to finish watching this episode of "Blue's Clues," Mommy will be late to pick up his brothers from school. He doesn't understand (or care) that if he doesn't walk just a smidge faster, he'll throw off Mommy's carefully laid-out timetable for the afternoon. And he doesn't realize Just. How. Slowly. He's. Eating.

One recent Tuesday, I had the brilliant idea to go to the bank, then hit Target, then eat dinner, then head off to drop my two older boys at Hebrew school. I worked backward from the Hebrew school start time, estimated how long dinner would take, how long Target would take, what I needed to do at the bank (make a deposit in the ATM), how long it would take to get there, added 10 minutes for security and wiggle room, and set out at the appointed time, after filling everybody in on the plan. Everyone was on board, and my oldest even made it into a game to see if we could really hit all of my timing goals.

We got to the bank exactly when I estimated we would. The ATM gave me trouble, so it took a few minutes longer than I expected, but we were still on our way to Target exactly when I hoped to be. I had left us an hour for Target and knew exactly what I needed to get. Of course, once you actually get to Target, you find many other things you, er, "need," but I would have had plenty of time except for three setbacks: the pharmacy, where I just wanted to ask a quick question, was packed; it turned out the last item I needed was across the store from where I was; and the lines at the checkout were long and slow. Still, we had time to eat dinner. If we rushed.

I tried to rush, except...except I forgot to factor in the time it would take to walk across the parking lot to the car with a pokey toddler, unload the Target purchases, then walk back across the parking lot (with a pokey toddler) to the restaurant, which was right next to Target. I tried to rush, but I was met with resistance. He didn't want to hold my hand, so I had to half drag him, fighting and screaming across the parking lot.

And when I saw the line at the restaurant, I knew my timeline was blown. We were going to be late, and there was nothing I could do about it. Had I known it would then take half an hour to get our food after we ordered it, I would have gone somewhere quicker to begin with, but we all had our hearts set on this particular restaurant.

So obviously the three-year-old decides to eat one tortilla chip at a time, one grain of rice, pick at his food. This is how he always eats, but just this once, just this once, I hoped he would hurry himself a bit. But no amount of cajoling, explaining, or chivvying got him to pick up his pace even a little.

I tried to rush, and in the trying, I became more and more impatient. I yelled. I berated. I sighed heavily. Time stretched out. Every little thing seemed to take three times longer than it really did. I was angry and agitated. And when we finally, finally, all got in the car, we were already 15 minutes late, before even driving away. Did it even matter anymore if we rushed? What was another five minutes at this point?

I was so annoyed. I really dislike being late, and I especially dislike when other people make me late, even if those other people are small persons who live their lives marching to a whole different drummer.

By contrast, the following Friday, I had very little to do. I had work to do, but I had largely given up on doing it, because the baby has been clingy and the three-year-old needed attention. I had one short errand to run that was not time-sensitive, and we had a few hours before we had to pick up the older boys from school. I decided to run my errand and then take the little ones out to lunch at McDonald's.

I ran my errand, which took longer than it needed to, but was enjoyable for the relaxed nature of the thing. Then we got to McDonald's, ordered our food, and ate, slowly, savoring every bite of chicken nugget, every french fry, every dip in the ketchup. I set the three-year-old loose in the Play Place, where he climbed up and down and around, calling, "Look, Mommy!" Every glance at my watch showed plenty of time. Plenty of time. He can play for ages. He can just play.

I was so patient. I enjoyed watching him. I enjoyed just sitting, playing Candy Crush, listening to his imaginative game as he climbed through the play structure, narrating his ascent. "Look, Mommy! I can touch the rocks here. Look at this wall! Hi, Mommy! See?" I enjoyed letting the baby explore a little. We were the only ones there. We had the place to ourselves, and it was quiet and pleasant and lovely.

And when we finally really did have to go, we still had a little wiggle room. It didn't matter if we left McDonald's at 2:10 or 2:20. We'd get to the school in time. The only difference would be whether I was first or last in the car pickup line, and did that really matter? Not really. So we made our way to the car, headed on up to the school, and were early for pickup.

As we sat in the car line (we were the second car), I resolved not to rush so much. I resolved to savor the space to breathe a little, to explore, to toddle slowly along, to eat one chip at a time. I want to be on time, but being on time doesn't mean rushing. It means leaving more time to let things fall as they may. It means letting go of an errand or a bit of work to instead let your kid be a kid. He'll have to live by the clock soon enough. Maybe it's time I ditched the watch and joined him in the play structure.

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