Road Maps (#202)

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.

What one of my daily lists looks like.

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.

Andy started pushing for kids.

I pushed back.

He sulked.

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.


Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

24 thoughts on “Road Maps (#202)”

  1. I’m a lot like you. I am married to a man who is not much of a planner but he does do details (like remembering to get directions before we leave). His adult children are even worse. None of them live locally. When they come to visit, it’s never clear when exactly or what they want to do or whether they will be mostly out with friends. I always over plan for every contingency. Consequently I am stuck with tons of food when they leave. I’ve been working on it but can’t let it go. As for kids, my eggs were dead when I married current husband, ex-husband was fixed by first wife so there were no real discussions. There was a mini-discussion with the ex about reversing the vasectomy but men really don’t like their equipment touched (medically speaking). Looking forward to see what you did. Can’t believe your friend had those discussions especially since she married while still in what I call the “sex stage.”

    1. I know! I was shocked to find out after the fact that she and Stevie had an entire flowchart of contingencies surrounding children (spoiler: they used ALL of them). His mom worked, because in her mind, any woman who stayed home was “taking advantage of her husband,” so he always thought daycare was the way to go. JM’s mom stayed home, and so she thought that was far better. They were fortunate to be in a position where they had options, though. Some people don’t.

      Houseguests who don’t have an hourly itinerary?! Oh, the humanity!

      1. My nephew’s wife has babysat her two grandchildren since they were born. Kudos to her. It involves living in their home for 5 days a week. Most people don’t have that option but if you do, you are lucky.

  2. Some things are hard to plan for, no matter how organized we are. Childbearing (or not childbearing) is certainly one of them. It’s hard enough to get your own head straight on the issue, let alone getting your partner’s head in the same direction, and then of course even once you’ve both decided there is no guarantee your bodies will cooperate.

    It’s also strange being part of the first generation of humans for whom NOT having children is even an acceptable option (unless you’re a nun or a priest). We have no precedent to follow. Birth control was only invented a few decades ago!

    Can you tell I’ve been around the block on this one a few times? The topic still makes my head spin.

    Looking forward to the next installment. I know these must be hard to write.

    1. I think that because the desire for kids is often primal (either because of evolution or our own — often screwed up –psychology), it’s really hard for people to be logical and rational about it. And you are so right, getting two people on the same page and keeping them there is very challenging, because people do change. The only thing I know for sure is that birth control should be free and available — because no woman who does not absolutely want to bear a child should have to. And no man should be able to make her.

  3. Oh, if only my “road map for life” plan went as well as all the excruciating planning I do for my vacations and to-do lists. I think the same goes for planning a family–you may graduate from college and be fully prepared for your dream job, but then shit happens. I imagine having/raising a child is the same! Seems like no one regrets having a kid. All my friends with children are super happy and it seems like all the inconveniences are worth it for having a little human.

    As someone who will most likely be in your shoes in a few years, I’m excited for your next installment….!! I didn’t grow up with as many siblings, but I’m still not baby crazy. I want to see how things worked out for you!

    1. Well, you can never SAY you regret having a kid. (Unless you prize honesty above kindness. Like my dad.) I mean, you already had the kid. Damage done. But I’ve had more than one guy confide in me that he wished he didn’t have so many children.

      Since you aren’t baby crazy, do people keep trying to push babies on you? They do it to me all the time: “I bet you wanna hold her!”

      Me: “No, I’m good– oh my God! Do you see that Akita?! I must go pet him and make friends!”

      1. Haha yes! I have had to feign baby cuteness, too. People will introduce me to their babies and I have to put on my best act to go “aww…s/hes…so…cute….?” I was not born with the baby love. Some women were born to be mothers–sometimes I wish that was me, cause the baby kick just hasn’t hit me yet (or maybe it never will?)

        And yes, I have much stronger urges to pet a dog/cat than hold a baby, haha.

        My best friend H told me she will probably never have kids because she thinks the USA is too baby focused and gives no care/consideration to mothers. H made a great point… you have to scale back your career, you get stuck at home, your baby sucks up all your time–and people STILL expect you to be undoubtedly happy just because you have a newborn! Unrealistic expectations for sure.

        ….Yeah, I definitely need to be more positive about babies, haha.

  4. Like you, I am every bit the planner. Each day and week I have a to-do list and it feels like such an accomplishment when I tick every single thing off. It also satisfies the OCD side of me. Food, how to get to work, blogging, even anticipating parcels in the mail I all try to plan out. But I do hold back from planning things within a year because, well, things can be so different in a year. Things that go to plan is something that is just so peaceful to me, and the world is already impossible to control in many ways.

    ‘ I hadn’t planned out the most important life choice of all.’ I do not think having kids and how you come to have a kid is the most important life choice of all. It is a choice, and what’s important is relative and subjective. Sure, having kids is a lot of responsibilities – like you have a life in your hands to guide and you just can’t predict how a kid will behave or grow up. It’s great there is more acceptance around not having a kid these days – we should all be entitled to choice because having kids is not for everyone. Really looking forward to read how this all pans out!

    1. LOL, Mabel, you have a point that any definition of the most important life choice is relative (pun intended). If you don’t have kids, or decide NOT to have kids, then of course your career choice or partner choice would be more important. And if you choose to have a child and not be an active part of their life or make them a priority, then maybe they aren’t your most important choice.

      However, if you do choose to have a child and actively raise them, that choice will have the biggest impact on your life forever more. If you’re the biological mother, the physical impact will be immediate, and could alter your body permanently. Emotionally, as one grandmother on my block says, “Having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life.” And actually raising them? As Heather says, today’s Western child-rearing is a new field. You have to be prepared to learn about everything from nutrition to child development. There are schools, daycares, nannies, sports, music, etc. to research. It’s a job with mandatory overtime, no vacation, and no sick days. And if you don’t have extended family to help, you are the CEO, CIO, CFO, therapist, chauffeur, nurse, cook, nanny, night nanny, librarian, playmate, and teacher. WITHOUT PAY. You will also shell out U.S. $250-500,000 in order to raise them, not counting higher education. So they are a massive investment that requires 18-25 years of intensive care.

      Every life decision after kids often centers around kids: “If I put my child in daycare and they neglect him, this could lead to a stunted brain.” “Are the schools decent in this neighborhood or do we need to move?” “If I move for a new, better job, will this wreck my teenagers all-important support network of friends and send him into a depression that could impact the rest of his life?” “My adult child just had a kid of their own and they need financial help/ childcare help. Should we move closer or send money?”

      Having a kid is forever. If you do it right and get lucky.

      1. It depends on where you are coming from, I suppose – which you mnentioned there. It also depends on the position you are in (e.g. wealthy or not so well off, personal and professional opportunities) and your own personality that shape the importance of your decisions. Even if you are the laid-back kind, you could get lucky and your kid could turn out find.

        ‘Every life decision after kids often centers around kids’ – it’s a big statement to make, then as you said you are coming from the point of wanting the absolute best for your kids. Fair enough but even with the most careful of planning, things can – and probably will – go wrong. Maybe those who can’t give the kids the very, very absolute best (or look forward to their kid turning 18) are generally are more relaxed when it comes to raising kids – just letting them be, letting them fend for themselves and hoping they turn out fine. As a kid, my parents moved around a lot due to work and they dragged me along (didn’t get to see dad much, mum was always angry at something), until the times where they decided they had enough of me and walked away (this was much later in life). A lot of the times and especially over the last decade, I had to fend for myself by myself and apart from being an oddball, I think I turned out fine 😀

        I’ve thought about raising kids for the last 13, 14 years: agree on the last point there. When you have a kid, it is forever – if you care enough about them.

  5. Before reading this, I was going to say I I was a planner. I do have a datebook with my appointments and goals for the day. And I hate to get lost, especially when I’m alone. So I check the maps and directions. Sometimes I wish I were more of a free spirit because I always seem to be tending to work and never wandering off hoping to encounter an adventure.

    But after reading this post, I think I’m not much of a planner at all. I only plan ahead as early as I need to. And I hate to plan trips. When my kids and their families were here this summer, I had a very short list of things we might like to do if someone showed interest, and I did buy tickets to the terracotta warriors exhibit. But that was all.

    When it came to children, Eugene and I both took it for granted we’d have them. They weren’t exactly planned or we wouldn’t have had them so close together. But that worked out–as soon as I recovered after giving birth. I was in my early 20s when our first daughter was born. Maybe that’s why we didn’t think and worry about all the details of having kids.

    1. The younger we are, I think, the less we plan. I mean, that’s what parents are for, right?

      I don’t blame you for not wanting to plan trips — you lived abroad so long, and those trips must have been exhausting. Especially with all the stuff necessary for 3 girls. Did they travel well?

      1. When we lived abroad, the trips weren’t particularly exhausting, except for the heat and the traffic. The kids were good travelers. They entertained each other, and they all liked to sing. I think our trips worked out fine without much prior planning. There was always something to do once we arrived. My sister, on the other hand, likes to plan all the details of her trips to Europe. I guess I’m not such a detailed planner after all.

  6. Talk about making plans for life… 10 years ago if you ask me what I wanted to do, I would say get a job and stay in the UK, and that was one of my life plans. 10 years later, I am privileged to have lived in 3 countries – none of which I had planned. And every time I moved to a new place I’d think this is a permanent moved. I’ve now learnt that nothing is permanent and it is certainly impossible to plan everything. Who know where I’ll be and what I’d do in 10 years time. Sometimes, we just have to take the opportunity and risk it; as long as one stays true to the important principles. Perhaps that could be the same thing with the kids? No-one know what can happen 18 years down the line…

  7. Hahaha. The left the ‘ol wallet at home accidently bit. Yup. Works once on me. Hahahhaha. Yeah, I’m a planner too (*raises hand*) but I’ve learned to roll with it more. You kind of have to as an expat. Living abroad with visa hassles and crazy governments, etc, etc, beats it out of ya.

    But I totally understand, I hate getting lost when a little planning would avoid the problem. Yeah, I’m the planner in the relationship. And right now, I’m having to let go of the reins…

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