Monday, April 21, 2008

Confessions of an Over-Planner by Diane LeBleu

My name is Diane …. and I am an over-planner. My best friend, Holly, coined the phrase ‘over-planner’s anonymous’ when we were deciding what we’d pack on our next girl’s trip to Las Vegas - ten months away. I make my plans for the day, week, month, and year in a dizzying system of calendars although most of the information is locked away in my head. The only reason I have a hard copy schedule at all is to be able to communicate it with my husband, who is my co-conspirator on these numerous excursions and appointments that make up our lives.

I have three day planners - one large leather-bound one that fits into my computer bag and travels to work with me, a family month-at-a-glance version that is affixed to the refrigerator and contains all the kids’ activities and my husband’s travel dates, and a pocket sized version to fit in my purse. It is sadly low-tech and I spend more time synching these schedule than I do in executing most of these events.

Most days, I feel like an air traffic controller as I juggle all my inbound and outbound responsibilities with work, swim meets and practices, baseball games, preschool, birthday parties and an occasional (but too infrequent) date with my husband. Even more unusual to see on the schedule is any me-time recreation but then I feel as if I were just a little more efficient at time-management, I could write that novel by the end of the year.

I suspect there may be a genetic link to this tendency to try to control every minute of the day. My mother is a planner as is my twin sister and older brother. Holly’s mother is also a planner. I married a non-planner, however, so who knows how our children will end up. Tom’s is about as far at the end of the non-planner spectrum as you can get, although the discipline of work, travel, and raising four children is starting to chip away at the edges of his spontaneity. He’s the man who packs the morning of a 6AM flight for a five day business trip. He leaves the house with a baby for an all day excursion without a diaper bag, sippy cup, or stroller thinking that he’ll just wing it if something comes up.

I’ve already started to map out the summer months. Ten weeks of swim team, out-of-town visitors, vacation bible school, and a plane trip to visit our relatives in the northwest. Whew! It’s exhausting just thinking about it. I tried to recall what my siblings and I did in the summer months when we were old enough to be by ourselves. Back then, in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was a group of children called ‘latch-key kids’. We were the ones that let ourselves in after school because both parents worked, fixed ourselves a snack, did our homework, and tried to get along until mom got home and fixed dinner. What did we do on summer vacation? We didn’t have all the camps and schedules of activities down to the last hour of the day that working parents must spend a king’s ransom for to keep their children out of trouble and brain-engaged all these days out of school. My sister recalled that ‘we mostly hung around with our friends, made forts in the vacant lot, went swimming, or took the bus to the library or mall.

When did we get so regimented as a society in over-planning our children? I feel some days like having a blank schedule for the kids would be a blessing – it would be refreshing to have them around to merely take advantage of the fact that we live in a fantastic, safe neighborhood with lots of kids their ages. Then I flinch in this modern day game of chicken because all the neighbor kids are at camp or engaged in one of their myriad of activities so my kids are left hanging around the house – with me.

I do recognize this need for me to over-plan and control robs me and my family of any spontaneity and the chance to just do nothing. Why, in our hyper-competitive society, has it become a crime to just do nothing once in a while? I need to learn that just winging it as my husband does, more often than not opens up new, fun possibilities and is not in fact opening the door to disastrous consequences.

I’ll never pack for a trip the morning of a flight (because usually I’m packing for my self and four kids) but I do need to learn to look at a blank space on a calendar as something to be cherished and embraced and just let the day and it’s possibilities unfold. Who knows what might happen?

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