Recently our family spent an afternoon in Chicago with some family visiting from out of town. We don’t often make it downtown and when we tried to brainstorm fun things to do with our time, my husband suggested ice skating. It seemed a perfect plan to keep the kids happily entertained while the adults could either join in or sit on the sidelines and talk. The whole crew thought it was a grand plan.
Until we got to the ice arena and saw the line for skate rentals. The crowd looped around the perimeter of the ice rink so far we soon realized that the crowds of onlookers we thought were simply whiling away the time watching the skaters were actually people willing to wait in excess of two hours to put on a pair of skates and join in the fun. For us it was time for plan B.
As we reassessed our afternoon plans we began explaining to the kids our need to move on. But their hearts had been set on skating, and seeing the newly-zambonied ice beckoning from the other side of the plexiglass barrier made it tough for them to imagine having any fun doing anything else.
They asked if we could go skating another time soon. Thinking realistically, I said maybe. And without hesitation my son looked me in the eye and plainly said, “I don’t know; I’d really rather have a guarantee.”
And I thought Oh buddy, wouldn’t we all?
Wouldn’t we all love a guarantee that our desires will be fulfilled? That our plan A will work out or at least that our plan B will somehow be just as good? I think of all the things I want for my children, all the desires I have for them as they grow and learn and make decisions and experience new things and of course I want to be able to guarantee all will work out for the best—just the way I imagine it.
I was talking with a friend this morning and she reminded me of the gift of recognizing each small thing that gets us closer to our desires, even if it falls far short of the full dream. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the ways reality falls short of our expectations, isn’t it? I wish I could organize my time in such a way that I could still read out loud to my kids, at a leisurely pace, every day. I wish I could allow them time to settle in after arriving home from school so they didn’t feel rushed as they unpack their backpack, put away their lunch boxes, and start in on homework. I wish I could play a game of chess every afternoon with my son, I could snuggle on the couch every afternoon with my girls, could make a nutritious dinner for us to share around the table and then enjoy some down time in the evenings.
I can, in fact, do all of these things. It’s just that reality dictates that I can’t do all of them every day. I wish I had a guarantee that the afternoon would run smoothly, but there’s no accounting for the day when someone comes home in a grumpy mood and it takes forty-five minutes to sort out, or the day when homework is extra hard and takes twice as long as normal. Life happens—we like to say it “gets in the way” but really, aren't the interruptions what life is all about? There are very few guarantees; very few promises that my plan will come to fruition just as I imagine it.
But each little step does make a difference. Not long ago I committed to keeping the computer off once my kids come home from school. For me, the computer was adding stress during a time when I needed to slow things down and allow each moment to unfold. This new habit does not guarantee me success, but so far I see evidence that it is a step closer to the calm and relaxed evenings I desire.
What do you desire? What’s one small step you can take this week to get you closer? It may not seem like a big deal, but I can assure you—I guarantee—that in the end, little steps can make a big difference.