Mom, Nothing Happened How We Planned

‘Tis the season for all sorts of get-in-the-holiday-spirit celebrations, occasions and parties. I can be a bit of a Clark Griswold this time of the year. If fun things are happening, why not partake in them?

This past weekend, I was perusing the events calendar of a local website when I discovered that the annual Empire State Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting was slated for Sunday, downtown at the State Capitol. Stanton, the girls and I had gone last year and enjoyed the festivities. Why not make it a family tradition?

I ran the idea by my husband. “There’s a free kids’ concert at 3 p.m., ice skating at the plaza right after and then the tree lighting. What do you think?”

We had just returned home from a friend’s birthday party. Stanton blinked. “OK…sounds good.”

“There’s free parking too,” I added, gesturing to my laptop.

“That’s great, Mel,” Stanton said.

On Sunday afternoon, our party of four headed downtown, as planned. Our first stop was The Egg, an oval-shaped performing arts venue, to see the concert by the local Zucchini Brothers. Grace and Anna loved their fun music; Stanton and I appreciated the witty lyrics to their songs, such as “I Can’t Put This Toy Together.”

After the concert wrapped up, Grace said, “I can’t wait to go ice skating.”

“It’s going to be so much fun,” I agreed. We made our way outside to the plaza.

It was December in upstate New York, so we had bundled up with layers, hats and gloves. But walking outside, we all felt warm. This year was warmer than last year had been. Possibly because of that, the plaza also seemed busier.

Lots of people were outside, sipping hot apple cider…and ice skating. The ice skating rink was packed. We all needed to rent ice skates, and we soon found out there were no rentals left. It was 4:30 p.m.; the tree lighting was scheduled for 5:15 p.m., at which time the rink would be closed.

“Let’s go buy ice skates, and then come back,” Grace suggested.

“Just buy some,” Anna seconded.

“Buy some”—my daughters’ go-to solution for life’s inconveniences. We need to work on that.

“Honey, we don’t have enough time,” Stanton told Grace. “We can’t ice skate today. But we will another day.”

Grace frowned.

“Why don’t we get a snack?” I said. “That would be a fun thing to do before the tree lighting.”

“Not as fun as ice skating,” Grace said, but we all agreed on getting a snack.

The food truck that was serving hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts had a long, long line. So we made our way to a nearby McDonald’s for McFlurrys.

“I love McFlurrys,” Grace said, perking up.

“Me too!” cheered Anna.

I smiled at Stanton. We had salvaged the situation.

At the McDonald’s, Stanton ordered a round of McFlurrys. The lady behind the counter smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, we’re out of McFlurrys.”

Stanton and I looked at each other.

Grace’s jaw dropped.

You have got to be kidding me. McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys?

“OK, let’s get hot chocolate instead,” I said.

“Yum!” Anna said.

Grace crossed her arms. “Mom. You said I could have a McFlurry.”

“Let’s wait over here,” I said, ushering the girls to a table while Stanton shared our amended order with the lady behind the counter.

The girls and I sat down. Grace looked at me. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey.”

“Nothing happened how we planned.”

Rain Boots

For better or worse, I’m an optimist. I tried to help my daughter see the bright side. “We did see the Zucchini Brothers…”

“What I was really excited about was ice skating.”

“Now we’re enjoying being together…”

“How could McDonald’s be out of McFlurrys?”

I paused, mid pep talk. “You know, Grace, that’s an excellent question. It’s weird that McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys.”

“So weird!” exclaimed Anna, shaking her little head.

Grace laughed; I joined in. (We can always count on Anna to cheer us up.)

Stanton rejoined us, with the hot chocolate. Grace peered inside hers. “There are no marshmallows—my favorite,” she observed.

I groaned.

Mom, nothing happened how we planned.

Reflecting on the spot you find yourself in now, friends—did you plan it this way? Did your journey unfold, step by step, just as you planned? Did everything go according to plan?

Or—if you glance around—are you in the place you are now somewhat unexpectedly? Somewhat by chance…or even accidentally, perhaps? Did you just kind of get here, despite best-laid plans?

For me, I would have to pick Option No. 2 (Plan B). And that’s OK. Actually…it’s good.

I folded my hand over my daughter’s. I told her I knew she liked marshmallows. But give this hot chocolate a try, I encouraged. It had whipped cream on top; that was something different that could be something good.

“Even when things don’t happen how we planned,” I added, “we can still find good things in what is happening.”

Grace sipped her hot chocolate. “It is good,” she acquiesced.

Both my daughters have been learning so much in school this year, so many good skills and important lessons. I’m deeply thankful to their insightful, patient teachers.

I also want to instill in my girls the value of being flexible. The ability to adapt and roll with the punches when life doesn’t happen perfectly. Because based on my experience, that’s a vital, sustainable skill—being flexible and accepting that some days aren’t perfect, and then moving forward with fortitude and grace.

About two months ago, I finished writing an essay I thought would be a good fit—actually, the perfect fit—for a magazine. I sent it to the editor there, hopeful that she would like it and that my byline would appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

A week later, she emailed me back. My essay wasn’t a good fit for them at this time, she said. I was surprised, and disappointed.

Not giving up, I reworked my essay and sent it to another editor at another magazine. It’s been a month now, and I have yet to hear back from my second try. That’s usually not an encouraging sign, so I’ve begun tweaking my essay again, readying it to share with a third publication.

Life, in general, is not easy. Work, usually, is not easy either. Necessary, yes. Meaningful, yes. Fulfilling, hopefully. But work, life and work/life can be difficult, can be discouraging.

The wisdom I’d like to impart to my daughters is to keep going, even when nothing happens how we planned, or hoped for. Keep going; keep moving forward. Don’t stop.

…that was something different that could be something good.

And don’t look back. At least, don’t look back too much. Don’t regret, or wish for, roads not taken. Because this is where you are now. And you can do wonderful things here.

Is anyone among us exactly where they planned to be? Has everything been perfect, and positive, every step of the way?

I can’t imagine that’s true for anyone. And the beauty in that—the universal silver lining in everyone’s imperfection—is that every one of us has something in common with the other. Disappointment, loss, various Plan B’s.

We’re more alike than we are different. We’re not alone.

Darius Rucker—formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, now a solo country artist—came out with a song in 2010 that I love to this day. It’s called “This,” and these are the lyrics that often resonate with me:

“Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned
Maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man…

Thank God for all I missed
‘Cause it led me here to
This.”

For me, “this” is my family—all of them, but especially Stanton and our two girls. If, years ago, one of my meticulously plotted plans or first-choice scenarios had actually happened, then possibly (probably) I wouldn’t have “this” now.

I also wouldn’t have all those things that only imperfect paths and Plan B’s can give you: humility, strength of character, guts, courage, gratitude.

(What is your “this,” friends?)

One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Steve Jobs: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” We need to keep trying, even after professional setbacks (ahem, multiple rejections to what I think is a quality piece of writing). We need to make the best of could-be-better personal disappointments.

All that being said…have you ever heard of McDonald’s being out of McFlurrys?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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