Planning and Potholes

My son, who turned 23 today, worked the early shift at his job yesterday. I enjoy him working an early shift more than he does, because it means we get home at about the same time.

When he hadn’t arrived home 30 minutes after his shift ended, worried-mom-mode clicked on and I texted him a screenshot of a Simpson’s episode we both find hilarious.  He texted back a chatty reply, which probably meant he was with friends, maybe having a late lunch with friends in a pre-birthday celebration. I shifted my worry to relief and went about my evening.

Two hours later, visibly angry and temperamentally short, he slammed the front door on the way to dropping himself on the sofa before even taking off his coat.

“I would have been home sooner,” he clipped, “but I hit a pothole on the interstate on the way home and screwed up my tire and my rim. I’m pretty sure it’s busted and I’ve got to get a new one.”

In my usual peace-to-your-drama response, I assured him that it would be fine. He and his dad could check it out and take it for repair today, when the auto shops opened up.

“On my BIRTHDAY? Yeah. Great way to celebrate a birthday. I hate this,” he growled. “My birthday is always screwed up.”

I thought back to last year, when we had taken him out to his favorite restaurant, given him some fun money for the casino now that he was old enough, and had spent several hours laughing over video poker. I do not claim to always have the best memory and recall, but I didn’t remember a car problem. I kept that to myself.

“Yes, on your birthday.”

“But I had plans. Now I can’t do anything on my birthday.”

“Plans with friends?”

“Of course.” I overlooked his subtle ‘you and dad are not invited’ subtext.

“Your friends don’t get up until afternoon,” I reminded him. “Go do your car in the morning and do whatever you want the rest of the day.”

He grumbled, moaned and eventually wore down my ‘just take care of it now’ approach, so I left the room so he could stew alone. Besides, he was far more angry about not seeing the pothole in advance than he was the damage to the car. That was his own internal battle I couldn’t help him resolve. Later, he apologized to me for his curt attitude and went out with his dad to assess the damage on their way to a basketball game.

His unfortunate accident somewhat paralleled my attitude over the last five days, the first week back at school after Christmas break. Fully rested and excited to teach a lesson my students would love in this final week of the grading period, I’d roared into Monday with a full head of steam and a tightly written lesson that would wrap itself up perfectly by Friday.

Mother Nature, however, had other plans. A snow day on Tuesday, several student absences on Wednesday and another snow day on Thursday left my lesson—a thorough unit on the history of New Year’s Resolutions which was to culminate in each student setting their own meaningful resolutions to guide their year—in tatters. Looking at the lesson on Friday afternoon, to see how it fit into next week’s lessons as we start a fresh grading period, frustration took over. With the absences on Wednesday, I had moved up the end of my lesson for those students who came to school, and skipped over a crucial piece of the middle—thinking I could go back and present it to the full class later. But Monday, we were to start new novels, a new writing focus and a new cycle of fluency and reading conferences.

If I had known better than to plan so tightly at such a crucial week in the grading period and thought about weather patterns…

If my son had simply seen the pothole a few moments sooner and had swerved

Being in a leadership position requires a constant eye towards adaptation. Not only do we have to adapt daily work to meet the occasional interruption, we have to adapt our thinking, emotions and reactions based on the reality of our days.

That’s up to leaders to do on their own, and leaders without the ability to adapt will struggle. Instead of completely abandoning my New Year’s lesson, what could I keep to make something out of? The 6th graders were most curious about the idea of using a resolution to make themselves better students. The 7th graders were more interested in how to help other people or causes. And the 8th graders, the ones who never fail to amuse, were fascinated by the idea of setting a weekly goal, based on their yearly resolution, to track using Post-It notes. All the grades were enjoying the writing assignment, and none of them were clamoring to find out the history of resolution-setting.

I had my answer. I could wrangle my time on Monday and Tuesday to finish those particular areas with each group, and disregard the rest. Yes, understanding the history of New Year’s is important (as were the comprehension-building questions) but hooking them with curiosity so that the lessons finished by Wednesday—when we started our new grading period work—got me much further than lamenting the change in plans.

As for my son, he made an appointment to get his car fixed the next morning before his friends even got out of bed and still had plans for the rest of his birthday-day. I overheard him laughing later at a text message when a friend teased him about his driving skills, so that worrier-mom in me got a little rest. Until he woke up, anyway.

Beth Morrow is a middle school educator, blogger and co-program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for youth ages 7-17 with diabetes. Connect with her on Twitter @BethFMorrow.