Life as Plan B

I was at the kitchen table writing when our 4-year-old son appeared from his nap smiling sheepishly.
“Ben! You cut your hair!” I tried not to scream.
He had taken the scissors from an earlier project to bed with him and gave himself a magnificent reverse Mohawk—all the hair on top of his beautiful blonde head chopped off, with the sides intact.
“No I didn’t,” he declared.
I sighed. We were going to have family pictures done later that week for holiday gifts for loved ones. I went into the room he shared with his brothers and discovered all his cut hair shoved under his bed as if hiding the evidence would fool me.

On to Plan B: I postponed the photos a month and took him to a barber for a trim with the little hair that was left.

Life has a way of turning our best-laid intentions upside down, especially where kids are involved. They get sick, they go AWOL emotionally at a family reunion, the perfect pre-school you worked so hard to get your daughter into is not a good fit. Welcome to the world of parenting. You have options: You can get angry and stomp and thrash at the Universe crying Why me? You can crawl into an emotional cave to try and feel nothing, or you can suck it up and move onto Plan B, the secret weapon for a meaningful life. Denise Roy puts it beautifully:

“My trouble is that I think there is a track things should stay on. I’m hooked to a belief that life should go a certain way. I develop an attachment to Plan A and set up my expectations accordingly. An important part of spiritual practice is to learn to let go, to recognize that Plan A exists only in my head. When I find myself irritated by change in my schedule or resisting whatever is happening around me, I tell myself, ‘We’re now in Plan B.’ In fact, it’s become a daily mantra: Life as Plan B. It makes it much easier for me to relax and surrender to the moment.”

Here are some thoughts to nudge you toward Life as Plan B:
What are your priorities? It is easy to say love, family, relationships, but are we walking the talk when we collapse and rage at an abrupt turn of events? By the way, it is okay to feel depressed or fury when we are blindsided. The trick is not to dwell there, but to simply feel the emotion, note it, and move on. When our son was 5 years-old, after days and days of attempts, he learned how to tie his shoes at the precise moment we were supposed to catch a ferry into town to meet out of town friends at the airport. “Mommy look! Mommy watch! I can do it!” he crowed. I told him he could show me when we were on the ferry. He was crushed, all that work and Mommy’s ferry ride was more important. I drew a breath and stooped down to watch. It took a couple of tries but he did it. We missed the ferry. Years later I don’t remember the reaction of our friends who had to wait, but I do remember my son’s exultation and pride in showing me his new trick. And that leads me to:
• Have compassion. At that moment showing me he could tie his shoes was the most important thing in the world to our son, and that sudden bolt of understanding shifted everything for me. When a child is bored or restless or angry Plan B asks not only for that understanding, but that we come up with alternatives—a box of special art supplies, a story told of danger, a cooling off room, a missed ferry.
• Be resourceful. I was in the car on another ferry ride with the grandkids (3 and 5 years old). They were cranky and twitchy and bickering. I pulled out a piece of paper and began drawing a story. “Here you are Finn, and here is a shark ready to attack, what are you going to do?” I drew terrible little stick figures but I know how to draw sharp teeth and the weapons he asked for. “Are you on a boat? Do you have a bucket of candy with you? Are you frowning or smiling? “ Yes, and yes, and frowning he said. And suddenly he was in charge of an adventure. I drew a magic water bottle for Poppie that could make her fly when she took a swig. It doesn’t matter what you do, sometimes we need to use whatever is handy to move onto Plan Bkeep-calm-and-plan-b-4
• Change channels. Switch from the derailed plan (babysitter cancels, child is sick, your job requires weekend work when you were preparing for a break) and be flexible. Do you have an alternative to child care? Use the time with a sick child to watch a show together or teach him how to tie those shoes! Lean on friends and family to help you out. Life unfolds cinematically with drama and joy, with or without our anxiety. Let it go. In the end you will remember the times that were more detours than freeways.


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  1. This definitely resonates! I realize I have expectations when those expectations aren’t met. Lovely and practical advice:)

    • Thanks Alexis! There are seasons where life feels like nothing but Plan B, and no choice but to move through with grace and flexibility.

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