Oh Sweet Spontaneous

Carla: Love and hugs to anyone who know the reference for the title of this post–no Googling allowed! Anyway, I was watching the Rose Parade yesterday as I am wont to do on New Years Day. And every year, my husband and I tell our kids about the year we slept on the streets of Pasadena to watch the parade go by.

We were attending Fuller Seminary at the time and we lived just a few blocks off the parade route. We were stuck in the city for the holidays and decided to make the best of it. We made a thermos of coffee for Jimmy, packed lots of Diet Coke for me, made tuna sandwiches, grabbed sleeping bags and sweatshirts, and headed for Colorado Boulevard at midnight. We “slept” on the street, our heads on the curb, with thousands of other people. By the time the parade rolled by, we had made lots of new friends, drank lots of Diet Coke and coffee, and eaten tuna for breakfast.

We tell this story every year, and every year I am kind of sad that I will probably never sleep on the street–well not by choice at least–again.

For me, the loss of spontenaity has been one of the biggest–and most difficult adjustments I’ve had to make as a parent. We have a lot of free-spirited, artsy, young friends. They pick up and go to Thailand or to Africa or to New York. They grab friends for last-minute road trips to concerts and festivals. They meet up with friends and talk late into the night. So often, I fight back little twinges of bitterness that their lives are so free, so open to possibility, while mine is as predictable as a frozen January in Minnesota.

I know this is something a lot of moms wrestle with. We try to be spontaneous-ish as a family, but seriously, it’s not the same when “spontaneous” involves three hours of planning, packing food for 5, trying to think through every possible crisis that could arise in the next three hours, and making sure nothing conflicts with the increasingly elaborate social life of a 12-year-old. As one of my single friends once said as she was watching us prep to leave the house, “Wow, all I do is grab my purse.”

Caryn: First off, I don’t get the title reference. Seems like it should be sung wearing character shoes, but I dunno.  Second off, I hate your free-spirited, artsy, off-to-Thailand friends—and that one who only needs to grab her purse, too. I spit on their lives.

But, just so they don’t feel bad, it’s the sort of hate born out of pure jealousy—like a bully. I will be able to like them someday—probably in 15 or so years when my kids are grownish and they are saddled with little ones of their own and find themselves making pad thai out of a box (as I did on Wednesday), tears rolling down their cheeks as they tenderly slice a block of tofu, longing for the days when they skirted off to Thailand on the wind. I will like your friends then. I will even tell them, “Oh, to have those days back when the kids are small. I miss that! Okay. Gotta go. I’m going to be late for my flight!!! But, remember, one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble” (Sorry: I had to insert my own little lyric).

So, yeah, I’m with you. The tied-down-ness is one of the most difficult of parenting. Which is weird, actually, for me, because I really am a planner-kind-of-person. I never would’ve just flown off anywhere on a moment’s notice before kids, but I would’ve on maybe a many-moments notice. But it’s not just with stuff like travel and events that I feel this. It’s with ideas and work stuff too.

I mean, as you and I have talked about, Carla, I think we need to get this Revolution on the Road! Those Mom Hall Meetings we’ve talked about—where a bunch of us moms from all over the country get together and chat and raise all sorts of new questions and fresh answers—needs to happens. But, alas, the children.

Speaking of whom, while I’ve been plunking away, hating on your friends for their freedom, two of my three lovie kids have been making presents for me on the floor of my office. My six-year-old just handed me a cut of a blue-Sharpie-colored house with a real working door. When you open the door, there’s some blue Sharpie people, a dog, a bunny, and the fish. That’d be my family.

[Pause while I hug and kiss my kid.]

Okay, so I miss my freedom too. I miss being able to grab my purse and run. I miss not having it take hours of planning—as you say—to go anywhere, even when it’s without the kids. But I do so love that house full of blue Sharpie people (the bunny? not so much).

Carla: First, stop being funnier than me. I hate that. Second, it’s so true that just when I am most caught up in those feelings of stuckness, those who have me stuck remind me of why I am so willing to give up all of that other stuff. They are absolutely worth it.

At the same time, the Revolution is about giving moms permission to have their own dreams and not just live through their children. So the challenge is for us to create dreams that work in the lives we have, not the lives we had. As a friend told me recently, there’d be something wrong with me if I had the same dreams now I had when I was 25. And I don’t. My dreams now are very much about my family, but the are also about other people’s families, about how I can use what I’m learning and discovering in the midst of motherhood to bring goodness and light to others.

Our dreams shape the lives we live, but our lives need to shape our dreams, too. I think it’s okay for us to grieve for our freedom now and then–it’s good and deserves to be missed. But we also need to keep looking ahead, figuring out what dreams are behind the blue Sharpie doors.


14 responses to this post.

  1. Great post, C&C! My kids are 12 & 14, and I occasionally find myself daydreaming about having an empty nest. But then I have a night like tonight, where my 12 yr. old and I went out for sushi. We came home and he beat me at Scrabble. There is something bittersweet about having your child beat you at Scrabble. You’re mad, but so darn proud. Esp. when he beats you by 90 points. Caring for your kids is a short season. spontaneity will return. Live in the moment.


  2. As someone whose dreams hadn’t really even taken full form yet (except the one about marrying the best man in my life) when the honeymoon “took” and a premie child entered my life 8 months and 4 days after the wedding, I have lived in this world of wondering what it’s like without children for nearly all of my adult life. Perhaps having children right away (yes, the second one followed 12 months and 2 weeks later) was God’s way of sheltering me from KNOWING what it would be like without them.

    I will be an empty-nester at 40 – which adjustment will be hard? Age or lack of children in the house?

    I’ve learned that my dreams must coincide with my family’s life, but they are not necessarily defined by the family themselves. I certainly understand that life with children must be different than life without – yet, I rarely feel cheated or jealous. I don’t think I’m an odd duck.

    Perhaps I just resonate with Keri – live in the moment. For now, my children’s pre-teen social lives must be considered when I’m planning mine. Sometimes my social life is the social life of my children (we are also avid game players). Other times, I have to take advantage of the times when they are both “scheduled” elsewhere without need to transportation.

    The people who my children are and who they are becoming have the likelihood to be the very people that I would spontaneously head to some far-off place. I don’t just love them because they are my children, I like them. They are bright and full of the desire to learn. Many times, I prefer them to some of the adults in the world who have stopped asking important questions about life and God.


  3. Posted by Stacy Bender on January 3, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Sorry for the lengthy and error-ridden comment. Too late…but lots of thoughts!


  4. Posted by Steve B. on January 3, 2009 at 7:52 am

    On New Year’s eve, we were at a party with lots of people who have lots of kids, and I was lamenting about how simple and exciting our lives were just 7 years ago. “We rented a 3 bedroom in a 3-flat for $750 a month and would go sailing on Lake Michigan whenever our friends called us” I told them. Just then, our 6 year old daughter flew through the kitchen on roller skates, wearing a princess dress and sounding a noise maker. “But I wouldn’t trade this kind of excitement for anything” I added.

    Enjoy looking back on the spontaneity of your (our) “previous lives” but never do so with regrets. For me, the spontaneity that comes with being a parent is more than I could have ever hoped for.
    (is it still okay for dudes to add comments on this blog?)


  5. Do I get a prize for knowing that your title, Carla, is from an E.E. Cummings poem?


  6. Well done Marcy! I knew you’d get it. And Steve, dudes can comment as long as 1) They are dudes we dig, and 2) they say things with which we agree.

    When I wrote the original post, I told Caryn I thought it was whiney and that she needed to fix it. She did a fine job, but I think I still sound whiney.

    What I wanted to get at is less the loss of freedom in my life and more the need to remind myself of the spontaneous person I used to be. What I really miss isn’t the things I used to do but the person who used to do them.

    So much passes right by me because I am more comfortable huddled in my house. I say no to things that sound like they will demand effort or creativity or emotional investment from me. I didn’t used to be that way and I think the itch I sometimes feel to break out of my own life is a little reminded that spontaneous, fun, interested Carla is still in here. I don’t want to lose her to the demands of parenting. I want her to make those demands feel less like obligations and more like a gift and an opportunity to show my kids how to live lives of joy.


  7. Posted by Stacy B. again... on January 4, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Ah – I hate it when I miss the point. I’d love to blame it on the late night, but I don’t think that was it. I think I had an idea in my head, and I went with that.

    Carla – your clarification makes sense, and it would also make sense why I missed the point. I think that growing into the adult life with children coinciding has thrown me into some unique weird spot (often lonely as there are few of us out there). I have no idea who the person san infantes was – because she didn’t exist.

    My only question is this: is this change a requisite of parenting? I don’t think has to be. Claim her back if you want her back (obviously with some limitations – diaper bag or teddy bears might have to ride along) and be that person again!

    And I love that a) you want to model this for your children and b) that the mommy revolution includes dudes.


  8. Stacey–like any good piece of art, while me and Carla may have been trying to make points, you really cannot miss it, since personal interpretation is all part of the game. ; ) But really, I don’t think you did miss any points. I think you raised a good one.

    Both me and Carla were “older” (at least in many circles)when we became moms (I was 29.75 and I think Carla was about the same). We had had all our college years and 20-something years to focus on ourselves and a bit on our husbands, but either way, it was a life focused on doing what God put us on earth to do, darn it.

    And then came those kids. And then came the confusion about just what and how we were supposed to do and dream and whatnot when we had these little kids we loved so much, who demanded so much, and who seemed to erase much of who we once had been.

    So I can totally see how the view would be different had you grown into adult-hood with your kids. Actually, I know this to be true from friends of mine who had children early on too. But I will be eager to hear (and totally jealous of) your empty-nest time. I’ll be like 53 before my last kid is outta the house.

    Oh, and I have a fever right now as I type so forgive me if this makes NO sense at all. I’m just going to stop typing now.


  9. Posted by Cindy Schwerdtfeger on January 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Wow..great thoughts and comments. Yeah, some of the spontaneity went out the window when the kids were born. We still did some things here or there but yes, we brought along the diaper bag and all the necessities. Yes, I too like Caryn, have to plan somewhat…I can’t totally just grab my purse and run. And who has money to run off to Thiland?? Okay, back on track here…But then the repercussions came along the next day from the spontanous outing…crabby kids and catching up on lost sleep. I have been truly blessed and had the luxury of a husband who does a lot at home and loves to hang around the house so I have been able to volunteer in many areas, yet juggle time home with the kids. Now that I have one out of the house and the other one is a year & a half a away, I can see the light at the end of the ‘unspontaneous’ tunnel. Last summer we had a taste of the ’empty nest’ when both kids worked at our church camp and found we could be more spontaneous than we have been in years (although with teenagers we have been more spontaneous than we had toddlers and pre-schoolers). But with that ’empty next’ comes a load of other emotions…can I handle the nights with no sports activities, concerts or hanging out with the kids? What I have found is..yes! My husband and I spent more time together, bike riding, enjoying a new TV show and I picked up walking outside more often. I wish I could say I am doing that now at 0 degrees now! With our daughter who has been at college, we have email, Facebook and phone calls on the cell. It has been a fine balance and I can say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”. I have enjoyed each stage the kids were and are at. As we head into the empty nest years, I am looking forward to planned and unplanned spontanity…in the meantime, I am enjoying my teenagers/young adults.


  10. Posted by Cindy on January 6, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    It’s me again, the one with the totally different perspective–feel free to disregard or delete!

    Part of what you may be feeling is, gasp, a result, not of children, but of aging. Yes, children change the drop-everything-and-go-factor. But so do houses, jobs, responsibilities; all of which become “more” as you get older. And to be honest, focus and energy change. Part of the spontaneous thing is being young, having few obligations, having unallocated money. Even if you didn’t have kids, you might not be able to go to Thailand at the drop of a hat. So kids change that, but if you didn’t have kids, something else might change it.
    I was 38 when I got my first child through single-parent foster care/adoption. My youngest is now 16 and will be driving in June. I’m now much more free to drop everything and go. But I just drop.
    That young person is always inside of you, but as you get older, it may be harder to be that person with or without kids.
    Seasons of life.


  11. Posted by Robyn on January 6, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    We fell asleep at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve. Definitely lost the spontanaeity here. Oddly, it doesn’t feel so bad. I like being settled. I’m sure that’s due mostly to personality. Every once in a while I do want to jump in the car and drive to Mexico for a day like I did in my 20’s, but really, I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.


  12. Posted by Melissa on January 6, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Becoming a mom at 45 has been interesting in so many ways. Lately I’ve been grieving the loss of all things spontaneous. Not only do I sometimes miss the spontaneous moments that are a part of being single, but also just the every day spontaneous moments. Adopting an older child with a very low tolerance for stress has forced me to create a very predictable, scheduled lifestyle. Small changes cause huge reactions. When I forget and do some small spontaneous action (like heart shaped waffles for breakfast), I am reminded how terrifying it is to her. I guess that spontaneity is something we appreciate more as we age.


  13. Posted by Heidi on January 9, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Someone’s ability to be spontaneous is really a personality trait that you are born with or not, or you are somewhere on a scale of 1 to 10. I am not a spontaneous person by nature, but having kids has taught me to be. My husband and I were married 9 years before we had kids and most of our days and vacations were “planned”. We even could plan when we were going to be spontaneous.

    Now that I’m a stay-at-home Mom of 3, I HAVE to be spontaneous and let my kids take me for a ride some days. Will my stong-willed 4 year old want to streak naked down the hall at the docs office again this time again? Will my 2-year old’s shyness kick in and prohibit me from walking normally at the grocery store because he’s hanging off of my leg? Will my infant have a “growth spurt” kind of day and need a feeding when I’m right in the middle of a book club meeting? In all of these cases I had to spontaneously think of how I was going to handle the situation or change my original plans.

    Today we woke up with no plans, and while I can’t just “grab my purse and go” (yeah, I hate that girl too – it takes me 2 hours to get out of the house or DAYS to pack for vacation now!), as a stay-at-home Mom it is totally fun to foster the spontaneous side of me. We can have fun thinking of all the possibilities of things we can do and places we can go today. Zoo? Arboretum? Grandma’s? or groceries and haircuts? I guess what I’m saying is, let your kids give you permission to be kids too, and part of being a kid is being spontaneous like you used to be.

    Carla, are you normally a “planner” type of person? Is the reason you remember that parade and retell that story to your kids is because by nature you aren’t normally spontaneous and this is one of the few times/best times you were?


  14. Posted by Halee Gray Scott on January 11, 2009 at 11:59 pm


    I laughed when I read this and just had to share this bit of comforting info:

    Colorado Blvd. is an all-time favorite hang-out for my hubby and I. Almost every weekend (and sometimes on the week nights), we can be found there indulging in 21 Choices yogurt and lounging at Barnes and Noble until all hours of the night.

    So, every year on New Year’s Eve we forgo our regular routine and just drive down the boulevard to look at the sheer madness. Every year, it’s festive and every year, it’s crowded. But this year was different. People were shooting spit wads on passing cars, nailing random people with silly string, throwing glass bottles at passing traffic. Us? We got slammed with a slice of beef while the cop looked on in approval! So, all of that to say, it may be as fun as you remember!

    But I know what you mean. We’re expecting our first in March, and I’m already trying to figure out how (and when) in the world I can go mountain climbing with an infant. Any suggestions? :o)


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