I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I could be spontaneous on a dime. I was always up for an adventure and rarely turned down an impromptu chance to make a memory. In college, a group of friends and I drove down to the beach three hours away from campus just so we could wake up to a coastal sunrise. I’ll cherish that spur-of-the-moment decision for the rest of my life and it helped me solidify some of my closest friendships to date.

Yet, after I settled down, went to work full-time and decided to start a family, it was like I put on my Responsible Adult hat and I couldn’t figure out how to take it off. Ever. I took to planning every little detail of our day so there were no unexpected interruptions. In the early years of our marriage, we loved to take long road trips that lasted a week. That was great, but what made it even better was my trusty three-ring notebook I’d bring along, with every restaurant, hotel and tourist destination pre-arranged and sorted into sheet protectors, divided by day. I kept a massive calendar at home and used it to plan every commitment and activity, from work potlucks to conception timelines and I got really comfortable with using my red pen to circle dates.

I even bought a label maker if that tells you anything, though I still maintain that’s one of my greatest investments to date. When our children arrived, I’d pencil in playdates and dentist appointments and preschool snack day with the fervor of a college kid studying for exams. Our schedule was so jam-packed yet perfectly allotted that I thought it was fail-proof and lock-tight against any sort of interference.

Then, one day we were out in town for a three-year checkup for my daughter. I know it was on a Friday because we had our first soccer practice that afternoon. I had just enough time to pick her up from school, run home for a quick lunch (already cut up and ready to go, of course), go to the appointment and be on the soccer fields by 4:30 that afternoon.

Everything went smoothly until we were heading home from the appointment. My daughter suddenly had to use the bathroom and if you’ve ever been in the car with a toddler who needs to go, you know it’s akin to the sky falling and you must find a potty immediately. You’re probably also aware that when the moment does strike, you’re usually in the middle of a busy highway with no discernable exits in sight.

I was in such a situation myself and I promised my daughter we’d pull off as soon as I found an exit. A few miles later, one appeared and the only signs were for a fast-food restaurant. I took it and we went in. I’d planned to do our business and leave, but you can’t take two toddlers into a play with soft-serve ice cream and hot apple pies and expect them not to notice. Before I knew it, we were snuggled into a corner booth, each of us with a vanilla cone in hand.

My first instinct was to get the treats to go. We’d make a mess in the car, sure, but we’d be on time for the soccer practice. Yet, I went against it and gave in to their pleading to sit and look out the window at the cars going by in the drive-through. We stayed like that for the longest time and eventually, I totally forgot about anything else we had going on.

I wasn’t thinking ahead to dinner and I wasn’t worrying about work commitments waiting for me on my desk back home. I forgot for a moment that my daughter’s read-a-thon money was due in a week and that we needed to bring a meal to a family friend who’d just had a baby. Every other thing on my mind and on my calendar just took a breather for a minute and for the first time in what felt like forever, I just lived in the moment.

I looked over at my two children, both with sticky vanilla chins and I was grateful our little adventure. We ended up missing practice that evening but it was okay. They’re still three and soccer at her age still looks like tiny cats just chasing after a big ball of string, with no real order to be found. She’ll be just fine and so will I. It’s funny how kids can remind you of the innocence and awe you used to know. I lost it for a little while, but I hope to hold onto it for a little longer this time around.

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