Between a fitful night’s sleep, a headache, a puppy who can’t hold his bladder, and a terrifying dream about motorcycles, it was a long night.
When I got up at 6:30, I was already in a sour mood.
I was also running late. On Tuesdays, all three kids go to school (praise Jesus!) – a school that has two campuses located fifteen minutes apart. A shuttle runs between them, but in order to catch it, we have to be out the door by 7:30.
After prodding my sleepyheads out of bed, throwing together unplanned lunches, finding pants for my 5-year-old, arguing with my 9-year-old about the practicality of wearing strappy sandals to school, and hunting for my 7-year-old’s perpetually lost sneaker, we piled into the van at 7:32.
From Bad to Worse
If we hadn’t ended up behind a semi going 20 miles per hour all the way to school, we would have made it. But, alas, the shuttle (which would have saved 30 minutes of precious time) was pulling out as we pulled in.
I parked, and then burst into tears. No, really. I’m that pathetic.
After (almost literally) dropping my youngest in the gym, I raced across town with my older two, hoping to beat the late bell at the other campus.
We pulled in right behind the shuttle we’d recently missed by 3.2 seconds.
The kids jumped out of the van and ran toward the school entrance. I was about to yell goodbye when Annabell stopped, looked at me with a sheepish grin, and said, “Uh-oh, Mommy.”
Her strappy shoe had broken its strap and now dangled from her foot, useless.
Un. Freaking. Believable.
I marched inside, controlling the tears this time, and poured out my sob story to the receptionist. Bless the woman’s soul, she unearthed a roll of packing tape and got the shoe to stay on Annabell’s foot long enough to walk to class.
I drove all the way home, grabbed the shoes I’d told her to wear in the first place, and drove all the way back.
Recipe for a Bad Day
All told, I lost a little over an hour of my day. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But let me tell you, it felt like much. It felt like the ruination of my rare, precious, fiercely protected Time Without Children. Because even though most of the kid-free day was still ahead of me, my attitude was shot. I was angry, stressed, frustrated, and worn out.
It was only 9:15 a.m., and I was already having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
I’ve been having a lot of those lately, so on the drive home I asked myself why. What’s the recipe for a bad day? I came up with two ingredients. Maybe there are more, but these are certainly the big ones:
1. No margin. I hadn’t given myself enough time to do what needed to be done, nor enough padding thrown in to deal with unforeseen complications. Story of my life.
2. Agenda over Relationship. I had a plan for my morning, and it didn’t involve playing taxi service for my kids or a pair of Keen’s. I was going to go running, take a shower, read my Bible, have a snack, review submissions for our new business logo, brainstorm blog posts, eat lunch, work on my novel, have a latte, and pick up the kids at 3:00 with a smile on my non-stressed face. Could I still do those things? Maybe, but when the stress piled up it was like a dark cloud casting a shadow over everything. I became cynical and lost all creative energy. Even worse, I despised myself for being snappy and guilt-trippish with my kids just because things didn’t go my way. I’d valued my plan for the day over my relationship with them, and that sickened me.
The question was, would I settle for letting the next five hours be an extension of my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Or would I find a way to turn it around?
Against my will, I chose the latter. Because despite my tears over a missed shuttle, I really have learned a thing or two about putting my feelings in their place. So I pulled out my phone, hit the speech-to-text button, and apoke aloud my battle plan for stopping this bad day in its tracks.
For my fellow marginless, stressed-out, agenda-loving friends, here it is:
7 Ways to Stop a Stressful Day in Its Tracks
1. Walk it off. Even though I was tempted to scrap the run, which now felt like just another thing keeping me from writing, I aimed my car toward the park and went anyway. Twenty minutes later the endorphins were doing their magical work, and I’d gained a little perspective on my day.
2. Let it go…Let it go…Don’t hold it back anymo-oh-ore… (Sorry, but you know you were thinking it, anyway.) Your plans are already shot to H-E-double-hockey-sticks, so go ahead and wave the white flag. Then take a deep breath, look at the time and resources still available to you, and make a new plan. Think outside the box. Is there another way to accomplish your goals? I wrote most of this post in the car on the way to the park, talking into my phone. Not my preferred method of writing, but it was better than giving up.
3. Look up. When I’m angry, frustrated, or otherwise feeling miserable, I can almost always trace the cause back to myself. The remedy is either (1) focusing on God, or (2) focusing on others. Exercise + worship music makes for a dynamic duo. I also utilize Sara Hagerty’s adoration prompts, which help me shift my eyes from earth to heaven in a way that consistently revitalizes me.
4. Snuggle a puppy. Okay, maybe this is just a cheap excuse to show you a cute puppy photo, but seriously. Aren’t these the most snuggleable snouts you’ve ever seen?
Some of you work or volunteer full time. Some of you homeschool. Some have littles at home. (If you fit all three of those categories, email me your name and address, because I want to send you a meal.) Maybe you don’t have the luxury of going for a solo run. Your time is so limited that as soon as the plan goes out the window, the window closes. Maybe it’s hard to even find a quiet closet where you can debrief with God and find some perspective.
Every season has its challenges, but some are harder than others for those who need time alone to recharge. Here’s what this stressed introvert Mama did when the kids were little/homeschooled (and what I still do on University Model School satellite days, when I teach them at home):
5. Take Five. As in minutes. Longer if possible, but five will help more than you think. Put on a show (without guilt, because this time will make you a better Mommy and keep everyone alive to the end of the day), or have them look at books on their beds. Then get in the closet/shower/pantry or wherever you go to be alone, and breathe. That’s all. If you feel inclined, pray. But if all your heart can muster is a simple, “Jesus,” that’s more than sufficient.
6. Sing. Put on something fun or happy. Worship music is great, but anything upbeat will do. Even – dare I say it? – the Frozen soundtrack. But don’t just listen, sing along. It’s surprisingly hard to stay pouty when your feet start moving to “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).”
7. Get outside. Take the kids for a walk, kick a ball in the yard, go to the park. Absorb some Vitamin D and let the fresh air do its thing. I can (almost) guarantee it’ll help, as long as you give it a chance.
I wish I had more wisdom for you, but all I have is admiration. Maybe our little community can pick up where I leave off. How about it, friends? How do you stop a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in its tracks?