Monday, June 20, 2011

Prepare for departure

It wasn’t hard for me to calculate that if I wanted to fit in a bare-minimum one-mile run on Sunday before my 8:10 a.m. flight to Colorado, I’d need to set the alarm for five o’clock at the latest.

So it would have made sense for me to get to bed early on Saturday. In fact, even without counting in time to run a mile for the sake of maintaining the running streak, I knew I’d need to get up early to make an 8:10 a.m. flight, and should concomitantly get to bed early.

But that never happens. It’s an area in which, despite the accumulating years of adulthood and accrued experience with travel, I really haven’t improved at all. I’m always up into the wee hours the night before flying out of town.

In part, this might be because I don’t travel a whole lot in any given year. I’d like to think if I had a job that required weekly or monthly travel, I’d have the routine a little more under control.

I can’t even blame the kids this time around, because they aren’t traveling with me. I was going away by myself. And I really wanted to break my pattern; I really wanted to prove myself able to be organized enough to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before departure.

So I started lining up my tasks, errands and other To Do items at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, and I stayed very much on task all day. I didn’t waste any time and I didn’t run into any unexpected obstacles. I did everything I needed to do on Saturday, everything I’d put on my list. But it took me until 12:30 a.m. the next morning.

I wanted to clean the house really well before I left. I had about four weeks’ worth of trash and recycling to load into the car and take to the transfer station. I needed to stop at the post office. I wanted to weed the garden. I felt obligated to buy a week’s worth of groceries for my family, since they were staying home and making do without me. For that same reason, I wanted to write up a document listing everything they needed to remember while I was gone. (Tim’s orthodontic appointment; Holly’s class picnic; the dog’s heartworm pill.) I made a batch of homemade macaroni and cheese, and listed some other dinner ideas for them. And I really felt I had to fit in a five-mile run, knowing the following day wouldn’t allow for much exercise as I sat first on a plane and then in a van for hours on end.

When I was finally done with the house and grounds and errands and paperwork and also trying to fit in some time just having fun with the kids since we’d be spending the next seven days apart, I felt good about all I’d done. But there was one thing I hadn’t done yet: pack. And that’s why I was up until 12:30 a.m.

What I kept thinking about was how when I was growing up, my family drove cross country for a month every summer, and I couldn’t imagine how my mom prepared for that trip, if this was what it took me to get ready for one week away by air. Not only did she presumably have the packing and the house to think about – and in greater depth, since we went away for a month at a time – but there was the additional issue back then of what we’d need for a five-day car ride. Packing the food alone for that kind of undertaking might take me the whole day.

It’s a matter of overcompensation, I realize. I try to leave everything perfect so that it won’t matter that I’ve left. Whether I’m traveling with or without my family, I want whatever I’ve left behind – people or household or both – to be absolutely fine in my absence. I want to cover every contingency, from kids having a menu plan for the week to the floors being spotless, so that it won’t matter as much that I’m not there.

And of course, this is an impossible goal. I can’t leave everything perfect. Something I’ve overlooked in the fridge will spoil. One of the kids will forget something they were supposed to bring to school. It’s just not possible to exert quite that much control from away.

Nonetheless, my hard work paid off. The departure Sunday morning went without a hitch, and 24 hours later I haven’t thought of anything I forgot or didn’t get to. Plus there’s always the remarkably liberating feeling that comes with boarding the plane, knowing you did all you could and now it’s time to just enjoy the trip.

So now I get to forget about all of my responsibilities at home and just concentrate on why I’m here. The house is (or was) clean. I packed everything I needed. The refrigerator is stocked. The kids’ schedule is recorded. All should be well. And someday I’ll learn to get it all done before midnight.

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