Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Some people are habitually late.  I am not one of those people.  Call me habitually punctual.  I have difficulty with parties because I know I'm not supposed to arrive at precisely the stated arrival time but have no idea what "proper time" to target.  When I am running late, which inevitably happens with kids, I get anxious.

I had never given much thought to my punctuality until I was engaged.  My husband and I were married in the Catholic Church and required to attend pre-cana counseling.  We were living in California at the time and were assigned not to a priest, but to a psychologist who taught at a local seminary.  It was a perfect fit.  Neither my husband nor I is particularly religious (the church was for our mothers' and extended families' sakes), so when the psychologist realized we were both raised Catholic and shared similar religious views, he told us we didn't need to talk about religion anymore. Instead, we took some personality tests, talked about the ways my husband and I differ, and discussed how we cope with the differences.  Truly helpful.

The test measured each person on several 0-100 scales of personality traits.  On one scale, a score of zero was Impulsive and a score of 100 was Self-Disciplined.  I scored a 93.  Self-Disciplined was defined on the results page as "controlled, methodical, persevering."  Yep, sounds about right.

The psychologist inquired how I responded to chaos.  I explained that, fortunately, I had not had much chaos in my life.  He clarified that he didn't mean huge life disruptions, but everyday chaos, such as being late for an appointment.  "Oh no, I don't like being late,"  I described.  He told me he could tell that from the test;  what he wanted to know was how I dealt with it.  Because I had gotten lost on the way to the appointment, my reaction was fresh in my mind.  Anxious, stressed out, generally unpleasant to be around--that's how I respond to being late.

Taking it a step further, the psychologist gently said, "You know that kids are chaos, right?"

I suppose that should have given me a clue.  To a degree, I have learned to live with the everyday chaos of being a parent, but running late still freaks me out---and we're often running late.

I recently read an article explaining that the common perception that our kids are stressed by their overscheduled activity level is false.   Kids do not seem to be stressed out by their schedules, but they do respond anxiously to their parents' anxiety.  That sounded like a recipe for disaster and, as I thought about it, seemed borne out by my experience.  As a result, I've tried to to avoid my anxious, hurried, inevitably snarky natural behavior.

First, I've tried to create systems that work to keep me organized (remember the "methodical" bit above?), such the weekly whiteboard calendar I mentioned here.  When I have calendars and lists and everything written down, I feel more in control and less anxious (see "controlled" above).  Even when we're running late, I've tried to roll with the flow a bit and, more importantly, not hustle the kids along in an anxious tone.  Strangely, they actually seem to move a little faster and definitely with less attitude when I'm explaining that we're soon to be late for school in a matter-of-fact tone rather than a Come-ON-Already tone.

This afternoon, I had seven different pick-up and drop-off times to hit in less than three hours.  I was running ten minutes late after stop two.  On the twenty-minute drive to stop three--ten minutes late and convinced that drivers on cell phones were going to kill me before I could arrive late--I could feel my anxiety level rising.  So I pulled out the big guns;  I called up Enya on my iPod.  That's right.  I went there.  It sounds absurd, but it actually helped.  Even more than the music, beginning to compose this post in my mind distracted me and calmed me down.  I was nice-ish by the time I picked up my daughter.

Even better, I was on time for stop four.

What can I say?  I'm a work in progress.

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