There are some free spirits who eschew calendars and maps. They are content to see where the day and the road take them.
I don’t understand these people.
One such free spirit is my friend, JM.
I don’t understand her, either.
I’m a planner. I have a Daily “To Do” list. I have a monthly “To Do” list, with 3 different categories: Regular Work, Writing Objectives, and Miscellaneous (dates bills are due, household repairs, upcoming birthdays needing cards/ gifts, etc.) I even have a yearly “To Do” list that involves travel.
Before a road trip — before smart phones and Google Maps — I had road atlases and computer printouts ready. Last time I drove across the country, I had carefully mapped out interstate routes and made hotel reservations. It took me three days.
My friend JM? She drove across the country on back roads and only ate at non-chain restaurants. It took her a week.
Once upon a college football game, she drove us to San Diego.
As we approached the city, I asked, “What’s our exit?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “The stadium is at the university, right? So we’ll exit there.”
We exited at the university. We drove around the university. We found an overgrown stadium that hadn’t been used in years. We asked students for help. Given that we were wearing the opposition’s colors, we got very little help.
The help we did get nearly landed us in Tijuana. I think we made it to the game for the fourth quarter.
Our friendship went on hiatus after almost-Mexico.
But we reconnected about the time I started dating Andy. JM helped me find my perfect wedding dress. She even threw me a bridal shower.
Only she hadn’t accounted for 405 traffic and was an hour late. She was also driving my friend KL (co-bridal shower-thrower), so KL was late, too.
But that was okay. Because I am a planner. I’d dragooned Andy into making killer Martha Stewart hors ‘devours that morning. The day before, I’d baked several dozen cupcakes.
As she left — with leftover cupcakes — JM laughingly noted, “Wow! You threw yourself a great shower.”
I’m a planner because stress makes me psychotic. I lose my temper and I’ve been known to throw things. Long-term planning alleviates stress. Long-term planning also helps you get good deals on airline tickets and pet-sitters, though climate change is now making a mockery (and a misery) out of air travel.
Most of my siblings are also planners. Maybe it’s how we coped with all the divorces, deaths, and upheaval in our childhoods. We’ve been known to organize B&B takeovers during weddings more than a year in advance. We have the food responsibilities for Thanksgiving broken down by September. Secret Santas are set by Halloween.
And yet I hadn’t planned out the most important life choice of all.
Having a child. Or not.
Andy and I had done premarital counseling. I knew he wanted two kids, but would settle for one. He knew I was on the fence about having kids, but one was possibility.
Andy thought I’d change my mind and want kids.
I thought Andy would change his mind and want to keep having sex.
I bitched about it to JM over dinner one night. “Kids are so much work,” I groused. “And it would be me staying home with the kid, doing all that work. I’ve already got two dogs and two cats that interrupt my writing for food, bathroom breaks, and attention!”
“So no daycare for you guys?” asked JM. “No nanny?”
“Huh. We never really talked about it. I guess it seemed premature to hammer all that out before even getting pregnant.”
“Really? Stevie Hollywood and I did.” JM had recently married a TV producer. She still oozed unbearable newlywed smugness when she gave relationship advice, all prefaced with phrases such as: “Stevie and I think,” “Stevie and I would never,” “Stevie and I already solved that issue by…” Which was a bit much, given that JM met Stevie at the beginning of college football season and they were engaged by the Rose Bowl.
I made a rude noise and said, “You did not talk nannies and daycare during your whirlwind romance. You never had time, you sanctimonious liar.”
“No, really! We did!” JM protested. “Because my family doesn’t have your family’s ridiculously fecund record. I asked Stevie, ‘Do you want kids? Because my ovaries have issues and I might not be able to have one. If you must have kids, you have to be okay with IVF, or a surrogate, or adoption. And so we agreed we’d try them in that order, because he really wants kids and is partial to his own sperm. And then I said, ‘Okay, who is going to stay home with the kid?’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ll do daycare or a nanny.’ To which I replied, ‘The hell we will. Why have a kid if neither of us is raising it?'”
I said, “Damn.”
JM continued, saying “And then I told him he could stay home, or I could stay home, but one of us was staying home or there was no kid and if that was not okay, then there was no marriage.”
It took me a few seconds to close my jaw. It took me a few minutes to finally admit the truth. “I can’t believe it. You fucking OUT-PLANNED me.”
“Only on the important stuff,” she said. “I’m still a mess on regular things. Like, can you pay tonight and I’ll get next time? Because I left my wallet in my other purse.”
I was so flummoxed by her new, long-range planning skills that I agreed, even though it was a more expensive restaurant than our usual place.
Later, though, I wondered if she’d planned that, too.