Every morning when I take my son to school, I have to remind myself that, aside from heavier traffic during rush hour, I have to leave earlier than I would any other time of day because someone is going to get in a hurry and cause a car accident. It’s why I eventually quit using the interstate, even though it would be, otherwise, the fastest way to travel. And for the person who causes the wreck, was it really worth it to take whatever risk caused the accident? Not only is the answer “no” for that person, but it often negatively effects others, too. This was a terrible lesson my family learned twenty-four years ago when my grandmother (a passenger) was the victim of a driver’s impatience.
This is not a blog that I’m going to fill with excuses for running late. Actually, it’s not even about being late but more about the things, such as tardiness, that push us over the edge and cause us (and others) to be miserable. My problem is that I am dependable to a fault. In fact, my grandmother used to say that “if Sarah said she’d be here by noon, it must be noon because Sarah’s here.”
Of course, “used to” is the operative phrase. One child slowed me down a little; two make me feel like I’m slogging through a pool of Jell-O. I’ll think, Finally, I’m going to leave early, and then the baby needs a diaper change, or his big brother forgets to brush his teeth. For someone who plans everything, sleeping through my alarm can put me into a self-directed rage, which is exactly what happened over the summer. As I went ballistic, scaring both of my children and my husband, I had somewhat of an out-of-body experience, wondering what was wrong with me. Why did I allow being a few minutes late to stress me so severely? If you quit freaking out, you’ll have time to do everything you need to do, I berated myself.
I was worried because I was going to be late for my baby’s doctor’s appointment. I just knew that it would be the one day they would take him on time, and our lateness would annoy the staff, or worse, we would get passed over and have to wait, thus making my other son late for his pre-k orientation. After my initial blow-up, everything else seemed to go wrong that day. If I’d calmed down, would my attitude have made me less panicky, less of a wreck? I can’t help but believe that was a big part of it.
I understand there are important deadlines. There are flights, appointments, meetings, and any number of other things for which we are responsible, yet getting in a frenzy and acting while distracted causes more harm than good. I am proud of myself that I’ve let go slightly. (Baby steps!) While I stressed out if I didn’t leave my house by 7:10 a few months ago, I’ve come to a sort of peace with leaving closer to 7:25. If my son is late, at least he arrives safely and with a much nicer mother.
I am particularly mindful of the added stresses this time of year. I absolutely love Christmas and don’t want worries about Christmas cards and shopping and baking to rob me (and, by extension, my family) of the joy of the season. My day job, however, is busiest this time of year. One of the services my parents’ business offers is Christmas cards, and the trend seems to be that, either a customer will get a date in her head about when she has to send her cards and be an absolute monster if the order isn’t ready by then, or (more commonly) an absolute slew of people will wait to place their orders until the week before Christmas and wonder why we’re so busy. My mother received an e-mail a couple weeks ago, in which the customer said he needed a proof of his card as quickly as possible because Christmas was swiftly approaching. Really? We had no idea. It’s not like we had any other customers’ orders to fill. If he got his cards the first week of December instead of the last week of November, were all the people on his Christmas list going to send him nasty-grams?
Seeing my mother’s frustration with that customer made me consider how I act when I don’t get my own way. Most of my busy-ness is of my own choosing. I decide to take on projects that occupy my free time, so I need to be a big girl and not complain. One of my self-imposed deadlines is for this blog. I feel like I need to write something every week, and if I don’t have it ready to go by Saturday or sooner, those little fingers of tension start scratching. But you know what? Not the first person has e-mailed to chastise me for being late. And I had high hopes of baking a different cookie every night this week, even though I also worked late and had two parties and extra shopping to do. So you know what? I only made two batches of cookies. Oh well. I’m not going to let undershooting my own expectations ruin my week.
With a son in pre-school, I cannot ignore what happened in Connecticut yesterday. I was shocked by the reality that such a horrific act of mass violence could just as easily have happened at his school, where I volunteer and bring my baby to visit. Of course, it also could have happened at a church, a mall (like the one in Oregon), a park, a restaurant, or any number of public places. But the point is, tragedies are tragedies (no matter the cause) because no one expects them. If a mother knew she would never see her child again, would she lose her temper over something trivial? I’m sorry to say that I roll my eyes and give my son the silent treatment too often, when I should take the time to be patient and slow to anger.
Instead of living on autopilot, what I can do (when I have little to no control over what others around me do) is live with intention. I can decide not to stress out, not to let everyday things drive me to distraction. I can decide to watch out for myself as well as others because their lives are precious, too. Most importantly, I can act in a way that will model for my children how to be good citizens.
When I’m disappointed that I’m not the successful, published author I would like to be, I need to remember that even if I were, that wouldn’t keep someone I love from dying suddenly. When I’m stressed over my son not learning his letters quickly enough, I need to remember that academic smarts won’t help him make good choices in life. And when I’m stressed from running late and think that my world is going to fall apart because things aren’t going my way, I need to remember that hurrying can cause more trouble than being late to begin with.