Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't forget to plan ahead, but allow some flexibility

From today's Briefing:

Tuesday afternoon, I drove Katie and a friend home from school.

“We planned our play date over the past two recesses so we wouldn’t waste time deciding what to do today,” Katie informed me from the back seat.

“Yeah, 30 minutes plus 30 minutes is an hour,” her friend added. “We spent an hour planning.”

I totally get it. Time is precious; you want to make the most of it. I believe that if you’re going to spend time and money to go somewhere, you should have an idea of what you’re going to do when you get there.

That’s why I spend hours before a vacation researching maps, public transportation, hotels, restaurants, museums, festivals, neighborhoods, shopping and more.

I plan so much, in fact, that my plan sometimes backfires and a vacation feels like I’ve already been there. (There’s a delicate line between not enough and too much planning. It’s a problem I’ve been working on for years.)

I also believe in planning meals for the week and shopping all at once — even if the plan includes simple dinners. I don’t want to waste time making multiple grocery trips every week.

And I believe in planning summer weeks. In the past, this has been a luxury, but this year, it’s a necessity as I can’t drag two children into my new office every weekday through August.

That means employing a spreadsheet and calendar to chart which summer classes are offered, and then registering for courses as soon as possible. Competition for some spots is fierce.

Our school district hosts a weeklong middle-school science and technology program each summer. Parents were warned that last year the class sold out online in less than an hour.

My graduating fifth-grader plans to be a scientist or engineer and was passionate about taking the class.
The morning of registration, I hovered at the computer, as if waiting for Madonna concert tickets to be released. As soon as the course was listed as “open,” I clicked and got Cooper in.

I was lucky. The class sold out in 90 seconds. Even moms and dads with the best-laid plans were disappointed that morning.

Katie and her friend were passionate about their playdate plans, which included playing home (not house) with their dolls, a fancy dinner party on the front porch for their dolls (requiring a change from school clothes into dresses) and school with their dolls.

Katie also wanted ice cream. But a trip to an ice cream shop would rob them of important doll-playing time, and our freezer was bare.

I proposed a compromise: When the ice cream truck drives by, I suggested, you can take a break from playing and we’ll buy treats.

The girls agreed, mostly because Katie knew it was a safe bet that the ice cream man would drive by. His music taunts neighborhood children every afternoon between 4 and 4:30.

So they played home and dinner party, always listening for the ice cream truck.

The truck never came. Their expected afternoon snack was in jeopardy.

“We can get out for ice cream,” I suggested, “but you’ll miss the last of your playing time.”

Without hesitation they voted for ice cream, shelving plans to play school.

“Ice cream is worth it,” Katie’s friend said.

I totally get it. The best plans allow flexibility for unexpected detours.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

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