• Lijing Cobb

Family planning

Some days good wishes kick us in the teeth.

Instead of writing my beloved blog, I spent a good 2 hours drawing up 2 charts this morning. One is enigmatically titled “Whose turn is it?”, and the other one with the righteous heading “Family weekly commitments.” Let me explain.

Last night I settled down on the couch with my three kids for a movie that I promised I’d watch with them. What to watch?

My son has the clicker and they’d already settled on Netflix, kids profile, and are clamoring to watch a show called Raising Dion when I approach my seat. After cursorily glancing at it, I dismiss it for no reason. Despite vigorous protests, I exit Netflix and log into Prime Video, Mom’s profile instead, there to search for a title that would strike my fancy. Pretty soon my eyes lodge on The Bourne Ultimatum. My son says yes enthusiastically. My 7yo says she doesn’t care: all she wants is to watch a movie with me. My 10yo vehemently objects. So I say, let’s just watch for 10 minutes and decide if we want to change our mind. Since I now possess the precious clicker, I press the button to play the video. The movie is rated PG-13, but I think my kids are mature enough to handle it (how convenient for me).

10 minutes in, my son is sold. 7yo still doesn’t care. 10yo still wants to watch something else. I still have the clicker. Another 10 minutes, I say.

An hour and 50 minutes later, we finish the movie. Aside from pausing the movie twice for potty breaks, none of us move from our spots. My 10yo asks in the middle if she can read a book at the same time, and I say no, one thing at a time. My 7yo curls up in a ball in my arms and comments that the music is scary, and there’s too much going on on the screen. Great observations, I say, and coo her to calm down, covering her eyes when necessary. I stay awake for the entire movie, my 7yo conks out 25 minutes before the ending. We do not eat any snacks during the movie like we usually do.

When I say good night to my 10yo, I talk to her about the movie quickly. “I think you like the movie now, right?” I ask, looking her in the eyes as she tries to cover her face with her arms. She smiles and squeezes out a word, “Still…”

“Look, it’s about a man’s search for truth. To find out why things are happening to him, and why he did what he did. And when he finally finds out, he has to face the truth, which is still unbearable…” I stop because I realize my daughter is more eager to drift off to dreamland than having a philosophical discussion with me about a movie she didn’t want to see in the first place.

A good family night? Not so much. My mind refused to let my body rest. Normally, every night before I fall asleep, I look at the clock and calculate the amount of sleep I want, and set my mental clock to wake. Most days I succeed in waking up at the appointed time pretty accurately. Not last night. My goal was to sleep till 4:30 or even 5, but not only did I not fall asleep instantly like I usually do, I woke up at 1, 2, and finally 3. Enough already!

So I got up to start my day of good. First, I believe my lousy night of sleep was punishment for being the dictator and not giving the kids a say in choosing the movie last night, so let me change my unpleasant status. Let's work with a chart and take turns! If my 10yo can sit through a movie she doesn't want to watch with me, I can do the same for her. I’m the best because I reason with my people. The only possible reaction from my kids would be oodles of gratitude. I'm the coolest mom in the world.

Next I work on a sheet to solve a problem my son presented yesterday. He had his weekly guitar lesson, but since we had a little friend visiting, he did not want to go to his session. When he got in the car with a long, frustrated face and droopy head, I knew that something decisive must be done. This was not the first time he wanted to choose fun over commitments. It seems like kids always choose fun over commitments, and when they don’t get their wish they openly display their disappointments. Grownups probably prefer fun over commitments too, but we manage to hide behind an austere front instead and swallow the bitter pill of disappointment like we are supposed to. “Suck it up,” we say, “no goofing off.”

So like a responsible adult who wants to teach her kid the “skills to succeed later in life,” as I quote unabashedly to my son when I talked to him about commitments before fun. “As a student, a son, a brother, a friend: what do you need to do first on a daily basis before you can choose to do what you want?” I asked my 9yo this weighty question. Of course he had not the wherewithal to start answering that question. So we agreed that we needed to draw up a chart to make it clear so we can follow it without complaints.

True to that promise, I labored away on a “Family weekly commitments” chart. To show my kids examples (and how good and selfless I am) I filled in my blanks: things that I commit myself to do on a daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, and as needed basis. My kids will follow my example and consider duty before all else, and know that fun can wait. If the best sports teams have a strategy they follow to work with each other the best they can, and everyone knows and does their part, can’t a family who want to be their best follow the same model? Maybe we could win a trophy too this year?

On my chart, I’d given myself 5 slots for each day of the week, and 2 additional rows for every day tasks, so totaling 45 slots for all the things I’m committing to do to make money, do things for and with my family, and be kind to myself. Out of the 45 slots, 1 green slot is for my work, 9 slots are things I do for myself, and 35 slots for family obligations. Time-wise, I’m spending about 20-25 hrs per week for work, 21 hours to write, 45-48 hours for family obligations and quality time, 19-22 hours on personal time, 45 hours for sleeping, and the rest 7-18 hours for everything else. I’m striking a great balance. This is gonna be great. We will all benefit so much from such forward vision!

Even though we agreed he would sleep in this morning, my son sidles out of his room at 6am, wide awake. I am in the middle of planning our family out and have no patience to mind his unscheduled early rise. Left to his own devices, he goes downstairs and starts playing with our dogs. Goodness gracious, the girls are still sleeping! Sharply I shush him, and ask him to feed the dogs instead. Presently I hear him command the dogs to behave and wait for their food, and I’m miffed again that he fails to find his quiet voice like he was asked to. Indignantly I shush him again. 2 minutes later he sneaks back into my office to complain about an empty stomach. “Have you scraped your tongue yet?” I ask instead, frowning at his morning breath, disappointed that we see yet another day of him forgetting the same simple thing. 2 minutes later he comes back in and starts talking again. “Did you not use mouthwash?” I cut him off. Whatever he ate last night was not kind to his breath today! So he stomps back to rinse his mouth, gets shushed again for stomping, only to come back to complain about boredom. Aha, I have just the thing for you to do!

I print out the chart I had filled out for myself, and gave him a computer to fill out his. Now I can finally write my blog!

“Mom, I have no idea how to do this. I need help!”

“I have no time to help you with your chart. I have to write my blog!” I keep this to myself, and tell him to go and do what he sees fit.

Nothing is going according to plan. My plan is kicking me in the teeth. And I want to keep my teeth!

The day I got married, I experienced a day much like how my son must have experienced his morning. Or many such mornings in fact.

We got engaged in November 2008, and got married in July, 2009. While I chipped away at some of the planning for the wedding over the first 6 months after our engagement, it was next to impossible to arrange for many details of a wedding in New Jersey while I was teaching full time in Texas. So by the time graduation rolled around, I packed up my rental apartment and drove back to New Jersey to knock out the rest of wedding planning. For a month and a half I worked on every detail day and night, and when the big day finally came, everything was in place. We just needed to follow the plan. That plan was the fruit of my labor, my first baby, the plan that was going to start a wonderful life and lead to so many magical things later.

Such a big day, so many emotions, an occasion to make beautiful memories. I wanted to slow down time. The schedule seemed unrelenting. One thing after another, everything must happen exactly at the said time. My husband was on top of it. No more chitchatting: it’s time for photos! No more photos: it’s time for the dance! No more sitting at our table and enjoying our wedding yummies: it’s time to greet the guests!

Really? What’s up with that? I married the taskmaster anyway even though he hijacked my plan and executed it to the tee, but to this day I resent the feeling of being rushed about on my own wedding day. Yes we have a schedule, yes things “need” to happen and move along, but who the hell cares when and how they happen? Give me a break!

Nice. I just spoke on behalf of my terrorized son. I was that taskmaster this morning. Don’t you dare interfere with my plan, because it is a necessary plan, a plan for all our good. I didn’t do it for myself: I did it for you! For all of us! What? That inconveniences you? Suck it up!

No, on my wedding day when I was pushed about by the man I was marrying, I rethought my decision to marry him. It was that serious. I had no intention to suck it up. You suck it up!

My son is not yet at a point to say, you suck it up mom. Nor are my daughters. While I have good intentions to be their guide in life, so did my husband on our wedding day to be the perfect partner. He was feeling bad about leaving it all to me to plan and he wanted to chip in and make up for it the best he could. It was a bitter pill to swallow that I had made that schedule for us, down to the minutes, and yet I couldn’t stand it when he tried to honor my hard work by carrying it out exactly. What could I expect from 3 kids, the oldest of them 10 years old, in planning their lives out for them? If they, to follow their dad’s footsteps, were to follow every vision I lay out for them, would I just be as horrified as I was on my wedding day? If they follow their hearts and do what they want to do as kids, would I be happy for them, the way I would have been if my husband would have relented his exacting attitude just a teeny bit? Ok, a lot?

I was the bride at my own wedding. They are the people in their own lives. I deserved and would have appreciated some leniency. I’m sure they do too.

Family planning, wedding planning: how ironic. Some days our good wishes kick us in the teeth, but then we realize that just like the meaning of life is never in the end, our inevitable demise, but in the journey that leads us through life, the meaning of planning is never the perfect execution of the plan, but how we do indeed get to the point we want to go, there to witness the beginning of another wonderful episode of life that’s surely to frustrate our plans again. Perhaps that is the magic of life, this ability to surrender control and still persist in going in the directions our hearts know are good for us, respecting the needs of the moment and the wishes of the individual?

Out of 4 sessions I had on my schedule for yesterday, 2 sessions got canceled, so I used the time to make a video for YouTube, bake my favorite granola, and make a super delicious lunch for myself. Sometimes when the day doesn't go as scheduled, the outcome can be so darn good.

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