Why is it that some lessons have to be learned a hundred times before they stick? Even when they’re so utterly obvious that you can’t understand how you’ve got so far without taking them on board?
I learned one of those kind of lessons last weekend.
We spent a couple of days in Lyme Regis – fossil hunting, catching up with an old school friend of mine and nestling together in a tiny cottage in the heart of old Lyme.
The journey from Cornwall to the edge of Dorset is a mere 2.5 hours. But in Darke-Family travel-time that feels like 2.5 days – our kids get car sick, and any prolonged wiggliness in the road forces untold emergency fresh-air breaks.
These days I give them travel-sickness tablets if we’re going anywhere far. They tolerate one particular brand, which claims to work within 20 minutes and doesn’t taste too disgusting. I had two tablets left – enough for each child on the outward journey.
But I knew I’d need to get some more for the way home.
Living in a village, I can’t just pop to the chemist. But I could have ordered some online and got them in plenty of time for our trip.
Instead, I told myself that the easiest thing to do would be to wait until we reached Lyme (a place I’d never visited) where I hoped (correctly, it turns out) there’d be a chemist selling the right brand of travel-sickness tablets to buy in time for our journey home on Easter Sunday.
I even went into the chemist on our first day in Lyme to buy something else entirely and spotted our favourite brand of magic pills behind the counter. ‘Yes, I need to buy some of those,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ll do it later,’ I decided.
Of course, when I went back to the chemist to actually buy these essential items (on Easter Sunday, no less) it was shut. Cue excruciating car journey home with umpteen stops for fresh air.
I’m still not sure why I didn’t buy the tablets when I saw them. What on earth stopped me from doing the sensible thing at the time?
All I can say is that I had to be taught that lesson yet again. That opportunities must be grasped when they show up. Not later. Not in a bit. But right there and then.
It reminds me of a thread running through an audiobook I listened to recently – The Idea in You, by Alex Pellew and Martin Amor.
I have to say, I didn’t finish this book. I started out with high hopes, but unfortunately me and the actor reading the audio version didn’t gel. I wish the authors had done the audio themselves. Or that I could have unseen the image of Steven Toast and Clem Fandango out of my head whenever I heard his jaunty ‘interpretation’ of their writing.
Anyway, he/they have a catchphrase that runs all the way through and it’s: Do it now! The message being, don’t put things off, get into the habit of doing things as they show up.
Whenever I heard this catchphrase, I thought to myself – this has nothing to do with me. The ability to complete a task as soon as it arises is a privilege not granted to mothers like me. Because every single task I want to do when I’m in full-parenting mode is constantly interrupted, set aside, usurped, by the needs of anyone who’s smaller and cuter than me in this family – including the cat.
Trust a bloke to say ‘Do it now!’ I said to myself. Fat chance I’ve got.
But, actually, that’s not strictly true.
There are plenty of times when I can’t finish (or even start) what I’m doing – e.g. child falls over; child is distraught; child is [fill in the blank].
But there are also plenty of times when I could ‘do it now’ – that time in the chemist being one of them. Or during the blissfully quiet hours when the kids are at school and I’m holed up in my office, seemingly in charge of my own destiny.
What stops me at those times? The endless busy of life? The temptation of social media? Email notifications that march me down the road of other people’s priorities.
Yes, probably all of that. But also something within me. Some pervasive habit that I’m almost pursuing on purpose. As if I want to feel guilty about the things I’ve put off.
I’ve written about this before. About putting the small things off and the energy wasted feeling bad about that. Rereading my Instagram post reminds me that – two months on – I still haven’t taken Maud to the vet. Or booked us in for our dental checkups.
And – yes – I’ve been crazy busy during those two months. And – yes – it’s easy to prioritise work and family over the boring minutia of life admin. But still…
If I continue to shove those tasks to the back of mind, they’ll continue to taunt me on a semi-regular basis – whenever the cat or our teeth come to mind – so quite often, then.
In the spirit of wanting to learn my lesson, I’ve booked those two appointments.
So, hopefully, at kids’ teeth-brushing time tonight, I’ll no longer feel a pang of guilt as I load up the kids’ toothbrushes, because I won’t have to remember my neglected family’s dental health.
Nor will I feel bad when I give Maud her dinner, because my mind won’t automatically jump from cat food to cat flu and my deficient animal care.
And even though those tasks might seem quite minor, when you consider how much worry/feel bad/guilt time I have spent thinking about them, there’s a fair bit of freed-up brain space heading my way.
Just imagine all the good stuff I can fill it with.