There’s a difference between being a planner, and being rigid. I am a planner. I am not rigid. I embrace change in my life, which means that I choose to be flexible when necessary. At least I think I do. But there is no getting around the fact that I am a planner. In fact, I usually have a plan for making my plans.
I believe there is a gene for planning, and if you have it, it’s hard to fight. If you don’t have it, it’s hard (not impossible) to develop. I was destined to be a planner. I grew up with a mom and a dad who had a plan for most everything that happened in our lives. They did not dictate our lives, but we always knew what was happening in our lives well in advance. My mom planned meals, grocery lists, school events, family reunions, and fundraisers. My dad ran a family business with his brother and father and he was a master of making lists.
There is a difference between having a plan and following a plan. I’m pretty sure that my parents may not have always considered me much of a plan follower when I was growing up. I was the one who “had a mind of her own.” At the end of my first student teaching experience, my mentor teacher, Jenn, gave me a gift. I don’t remember what the gift was, but I still have the wrapping paper. It was red with small white polka dots on it, and she had added six stickers as decoration. One sticker was a mama duck leading her ducklings in a row. The second to last duckling in the row was yellow instead of white, and it was turned the complete opposite direction of the other ducklings. Enough said.
Anyone who has known me over the years, no matter which chapter in my life they happen to appear in, has more than likely witnessed me planning something. Currently, every morning I tell Clark what my plan is for the day and ask him about his plans. I have planned silent auction fundraisers for my children’s preschool; I have been a wedding planner for a few friends; I always planned unique theme birthday parties for my children; I had a plan for training for my sprint triathlons; I plan my Jazzercise class sets daily; I planned numerous field trips as a teacher and I can’t begin to count all of the lesson plans I created since 1982. My most grand plan was my plan for BUSY STREET Children’s Museum in 1998, which turned out quite well while it lasted.
My children will attest to my family vacation planning. I still have some of the written plans we followed; especially from the years I was a single parent. Our beach trips and trips to Ohio were planned to a tee. The beach trips were planned for each day, including the menu for all of the meals, the videos we would watch, the activities we wanted to make happen, and of course, the packing lists. The trips to Ohio, whether they were road trips or plane trips, were planned minute -by – minute and hour by hour, including surprises to open every hour during our nine hour drives to Ohio. I have planned trips to El Salvador with our church. I think our friends in El Salvador get a laugh out of how planned we try to be. They often remind me in a calming tone and a relaxed smile on their faces, “Paula, don’t worry.”
My first trip away from Austin, was to attend an early childhood conference in CA, when he was just two years old. I thoughtfully numbered and labeled bags and filled them with different treats, games or activities so he could count down the days until I returned. A couple of years later, I similarly planned out several days worth of surprises for him for the days I might be away from home while in the hospital after giving birth to Callie, including a recording of me reading one of his favorite bedtime books to listen to at night. Turned out they came in handy. Now, I know you may be thinking I go a little overboard, but it works for me, so that’s what I do.
Usually, planning pays off. I try to take two short vacations alone every year. Writing this blog entry was on my list for this few days at the beach. I began planning what to write about, as I took my hour-long bike ride. The bike ride was planned to happen between 11-12, which allowed time for the beach in the morning, some scrapbooking work before the ride, and most importantly getting the ride in before the predicted thunderstorms this afternoon and evening. For me, planning for thunderstorms at the beach is crucial. It would frustrate me if I missed out on a bike ride because I chose to do indoor activities in the morning and ride later in the day… and then it rained all afternoon. That would turn this planner into a grumpy person for sure. Perhaps I would not feel the need to plan if I had a few weeks at the beach (a luxury I doubt I will ever experience), but when I only have a few days, I want to make the most of every minute. That’s what planners do.
Truth be told, sometimes plans don’t work out. This is where being flexible can come in handy, but I find that it takes more than that for me. I can roll with it if everyday plans change at the last minute. You cannot stay sane as a teacher if you can’t be flexible in that way. (I know my teacher friends are reading this and wondering if I believe any of us are really sane anyway)
I often need to dig deep to make peace with myself about plans that don’t turn out the way I had hoped. I had planned for my children to grow up experiencing a loving happy marriage between both of their parents. I had planned to be fit and thin the rest of my life. I had planned to spend more time with my mom and my family and friends after my children grew up. I had planned to have a savings account at this point in my life so I would not feel vulnerable financially. I had planned to write a book about my teaching experiences. And so it goes. I haven’t necessarily given up on these plans, but as I reflect on my life and where I am now, I realize that my planning may need to shift so that my plan is simply to enjoy life and those who are in my life.
Now that sounds like a plan worth sticking to for now. Wish me luck.