My life has been run by writing reminders in a planner since I was in middle school. What used to be perfectly written homework assignments organized by subject in my pre-teen years has turned into quickly scribbled, don’t-forget-to-do-that daily tasks now that I’m a mom. Regardless of what I’m listing or how it gets noted, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing something AND being able to cross it out is truly liberating.
It’s safe to say that I am a planner by nature.
I like lists and knowing what to expect. I follow the rules and turn things in on time. It’s just how I operate. The middle school version of myself absolutely hated when a plan changed. If I wrote it down and color-coded it, I wanted to see it through. Obviously, over time I realized that life happens, and expecting plans to never change is unrealistic, but the middle school me always cringes just a little bit when things do. Then I had kids and that entire part of who I was met its match in the form of six-pound little humans who were absolutely unpredictable. I don’t have to tell you that children come with tons of unexpected situations. You can’t schedule teething or tantrums or sleepless nights–and you most certainly wouldn’t want to put those things on your to-do list anyway. I’ve learned to do my best to get them into routines while understanding that life will go on if the routine is off at times.
You may not relate to my love of order completely, but I think as moms we can mostly all relate to being the one in charge of all the schedules. In my current season of life that includes feeding and napping schedules for my little people. But it’s not just everyone’s individual day to day timeline that constantly counts in my mind, it’s also weekly things like dinner ideas and staying on top of laundry. My head hits the pillow at night calculating what time I have to wake up in order to make myself slightly presentable before tackling the battle that is getting all of us out of the house (extra points if we’re only running 10 minutes late).
My need for plans also follows me in my professional life because, shocker, I’m a teacher.
Lesson plans, unit plans, and management plans revolve around me. Schedules, class times, and meeting times are routine and wonderfully predictable–a planner’s dream. But, just like motherhood, my professional life has taught me that plans have to be adjusted at times too. Technology fails, lessons take longer than expected, and here’s a new one for all of us–global pandemics shut it all down.
Recently, teachers in my district returned to school after being gone for 5 months thanks to COVID. Initially, I felt so anxious to return. And I’m not just talking about the germ risks. Since becoming a mom of two, my life has been, well, simply put… a hot mess. I’m in survival mode daily and the thought of returning back to work has been so frightening to me. On top of that, I’ve devoted most of the time I would be spending prepping for the school year to my own children so I showed up for the first teacher day back for the first time ever without a single thing planned. Yikes. I felt like a fish out of water. I hoped to keep it secret and stay quiet while everyone else rattled off all the work they’ve done all summer while making mental lists of what I needed to do. All summer long I’ve battled a small level of guilt for not being that teacher who was devoting a ton of time toward the upcoming school year, but being a mom these days has rocked my world and I’m just trying to stay afloat.
It came as an absolute surprise to walk onto campus and notice that I wasn’t the only one feeling unprepared.
None of us have experienced teaching during a pandemic. Plans seem to change by the minute. We may not like it, but we can’t quite change it. This year, getting back to school means we must alter and tweak our years of traditional, hands-on methods to reflect a more sanitized and socially distant, masked experience…and we really don’t know where to begin. I realized immediately that nothing is set in stone. And you’d think that would have thrown me into a frenzy but it didn’t. Do you know what I felt? I felt relief. Relief that there’s some unity in the madness, a sense of solidarity in the fact that we are all kind of sinking. No one is more prepared than the next, and everyone is relying on each other like never before to just keep swimming. Best of all, there’s a sense of expected grace and forgiveness for when we most likely will fall below the waves. No one knows what perfect looks like in these times, so there’s no pressure to have it all together. Instead of fighting the current, we’re being forced to go with the flow. Surrendering that control may be hard if you like to know what to expect, but it might just be a bit more relaxing to go with the unexpected flow instead of fighting the impossible current.
This school year feels like it will be a mess for everyone because no matter what situation we are in, we are being affected in some way.
We are all being faced with choices and trying to make plans that are best for ourselves and our children because we are moms and that’s what we do. If making those plans seems stressful because you just don’t know what to plan for, can I ease your mind and say none of us do?
Planning with no flexibility is like writing with a pen and then being upset when you have to scratch it out. I may not like for plans to change and wish my cute little planner never had to be altered, but life happens. I decided that my motto for the school year will be this: Pencil It In. I’m not saying don’t have plans. I’m a mom and a teacher… I always have a plan. But, if you plan with some room for change in mind, then moving things around won’t be so frustrating. Maybe things will be added, changed, or erased altogether, but you can still have some sense of order if you’re not resting all of your hopes in pen-permanent plans that are bound to be messily scratched out. Right now, the only thing that is certain is that most things are uncertain.
So, take a deep breath, erase a few worries and write this one at the top of your to-do list: Sharpen. Your. Pencil.