Plan B

Things don’t always work out the way we had planned.  Sometimes in simple ways, such as when I recently brought home a lovely wooden bookshelf that I had carefully selected to store my ever-growing collection of photo albums.  The shelf seemed perfect:  it was the right color to go with my living-room furniture, and the shelves were tall enough for my photo albums.  Or at least that’s what I thought when I measured them in the store.  But when I got the bookshelf home, I discovered the shelves were actually a half-inch too short for my photo albums.

My immediate reaction was not my finest hour.  I stomped around the house, said a few ugly words, and felt very sorry for myself because I had wasted an entire Saturday morning scouring second-hand shops for this shelf, then hauling it home and cleaning it up before I discovered that it wasn’t going to work after all.  I thought about calling my kids to see if either of them wanted the shelf, but then I realized that would mean I still had no place to store my extra photo albums.  And I really did like the bookshelf.  So I decided there had to be a way to make it work.

IMG_4733I measured an another bookshelf I already had and discovered that if I adjusted the shelves a little bit, my photo albums would fit.  That meant moving the books that were already on it, but I did have that brand-new shelf that the books would fit on nicely.  I spent the next hour moving books and photo albums around, but in the end, I found I did indeed have room for all the albums and the books that I wanted to keep and that the new bookshelf looks just fine in my office.  (I even found several books I want to give away, which means I now have room for more books!)

Sometimes our plans that don’t work out are much bigger, and much more important.  I spent years trying to break into the world of children’s publishing, because I was convinced that being a writer of children’s books was the perfect career for me.  But after a tremendous amount of time and effort, I only managed to publish one single book.  Eventually,  I had to admit that this particular dream just wasn’t panning out, and for a brief while, I gave up writing altogether.  Then a friend convinced me to give blogging a try, and I became an active writer once again.  I may not be writing and publishing children’s books, but I honestly enjoy blogging and feel a true sense of accomplishment when I get a post “just right.”

I think it’s important that we all have plans, goals and dreams, and that we do our best to attain them.  But I also think it’s important to realize that just because something doesn’t work out exactly as we had planned or hoped doesn’t mean we’ve failed.  It just means that we need to be flexible enough to try a different option or to explore an area we hadn’t considered before.  Because success can be found in many different ways, particularly when we’re willing to try “plan B.”

The Best-Laid Plans

My schedule has been very hectic lately, which is why I was really looking forward to Saturday.  Saturday was the first day in over a week when I actually had a big chunk of free time, and I was planning to use it to get caught up on some of the things I still needed to do for Christmas.  I thought I’d get up early, hit a few stores before the crowds came out, and then go home to make a few batches of Christmas cookies and stash them in the freezer.  Afterwards, I planned to go out somewhere casual with my husband for a pizza dinner.   I planned to make Saturday both relaxing and productive, since I could move along at my own pace without having to keep a set schedule.  But things don’t always go according to plan.

My day started early when my mother called to say she was feeling very sick:  extremely dizzy and weak.  I hurried over to her house and ended up taking her to an Urgent Care Center, where they discovered that her heart rate was alarmingly low.  The doctor recommended we go to the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital for further tests and evaluation, and said she would probably be admitted to the hospital.  It’s scary when your elderly mother needs to go to the hospital, but she was putting on a brave face and so I did the same.  I drove her to the ER, where they did a few quick tests before putting her in a wheelchair to wait for the next available doctor.

Luckily, her condition seemed to improve with each passing hour.  When she told me to wheel her over to the receptionist’s desk so she could ask why it was taking so long for her to see a doctor, I knew she was feeling much better.  When she finally did see a doctor and she passed all her tests with flying colors, I became very hopeful, especially when he said she could go home.  And when she started singing along to the radio on the drive home, I knew she was going to be just fine.

The “relaxing and productive” Saturday I had planned turned out to be neither relaxing or productive.  And that meant the already busy schedule I had on Sunday became even busier.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  Both my mother and I got through a difficult day just fine, and we learned a few lessons along the way.  The most practical lesson was that she needs to remember to keep her Medicare card in her purse, because she needs it to be treated at an Urgent Care or Emergency Room.  But there were other, more important, lessons to be learned as well.

IMG_4369I learned that planning is a good thing, as long as I bear in mind the possibility that things can happen that blow my plans right out of the water.  I learned that my mother can exhibit a great deal of grace under pressure, and that she knows how to be brave when confronted with the possibility of a serious health issue.  I hope that she learned she can count on her family to help her in those times, because that is exactly what family is supposed to do.

Finally, I learned that there is no need to worry about the unexpected problems that pop up in our life, because we can’t predict when the bad stuff will happen or what form it will take.  It’s enough to know that when the hard times come, we will find the strength to cope and to do what we need to do.  Because life doesn’t always go according to plan…

Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.

Planning Ahead?

IMG_0291As anyone who has ever met me knows, I am really, really, good at worrying. For me, worrying is almost as natural as breathing, and for the most part, if I’m breathing, I’m also worrying about something.  So I knew that when my daughter got engaged, I was going to have to make an honest effort to just go along with her decisions, to simply dig in and do the work that is required to pull off a wedding these days and try my very best to trust that things would all work out.

I’ve been making a very conscious effort not to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong, which is my usual approach to just about everything.  I know that sounds awfully negative, but it’s really not.  My theory is that if I have anticipated a possible problem and already figured out a solution, or at least an acceptable reaction to the problem, then I don’t have to think about it anymore.  Because if the problem happens, I already know what I’m going to do about it.  Still, I knew my habit of obsessing over potential problems was going to drive my daughter, her fiancé and my husband all crazy so I tried very hard not to do it, and mostly succeeded.

IMG_0297So that might explain why I wasn’t as prepared for this, the week before the big wedding, as I would normally have been.  When a representative from the church called yesterday to say that our minister had been called out of town for a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to do the wedding, I didn’t have another minister already in mind who could do the service.  (Luckily, they did.)  And when my husband called early this morning to say that when he called the limo service to verify where they are taking the bridal party for their after-wedding photos and got a recording saying that the phone number was no longer in service, I had no back up plan handy.  And when my daughter texted me a little later to let me know that the dentist just told her she needs to have a root canal tomorrow and asked what I thought she should do, I had to fight the urge to tell her to call her father and do whatever he advised.

Now I know that the odds are very high that everything will all work out just fine.  The problem with the limo service was simply with the phone system, and they didn’t really go out of business three days before the wedding and two days after we made the final payment.  My daughter is going to a very good dental specialist and I’m sure the procedure will actually make her feel much better, as who wants to get married with a sore tooth?   And the church’s Wedding Coordinator has been in close touch, assuring me that he will make sure everything goes well during the ceremony.

I still think that I would have handled the problems that have arisen in the last forty-eight hours a little bit better if I had followed my usual routine of thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong with the wedding and had already identified some solutions.  My system of planning for potential problems (also known as worrying) may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I have reached the point in my life where I realize that it’s what works for me.