Serendipity amid the planning

I put visiting the cherry blossoms in Washington DC on my spring fun list. I have many memories from making this trip three years ago — before the toddler! before Covid! — just walking amid the snowball blossoms, and seeing them silhouetted against the bright March sky.

This past Saturday was the only day that was going to work. Cherry blossom experts predicted the peak would be March 22-25. Next weekend is more problematic. Sunday tends to be church and activities, plus it was a lot chillier. So I was watching the bloomcam that’s on the top of the DC Mandarin Oriental like a fiend, seeing whether the blossoms would be out. A handful of 70 degree days last week meant that many were!

So we decided to go. It was not the world’s easiest trip. We hit traffic and the toddler screamed for quite a while because he was having trouble going down for a nap in his carseat (and, it turns out, may have been getting sick — he vomited all over me and him on Sunday late afternoon. Yikes…). We stopped at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum first, and while it was fun to see the rockets, half the museum was closed for renovations. The 7-year-old just could not stop complaining about the walk down to the Tidal Basin and the 2-year-old had to be carried much of the way (he doesn’t do well in the stroller). On the way home our van’s tire air indicator started blinking alarmingly, and so we had to stop at a gas station and use the air machine.

But the blossoms were indeed beautiful! Even if they weren’t quite at peak puffy gorgeousness yet, a great many were out, and because we were a day or two early the crowds weren’t too intense. I’m glad we went — remembering self and all that.

Anyway, the point of this post: Obviously this trip had to be planned into our family’s weekend schedule. Very few things can ever happen spur of the moment — hence my stalking of the bloom cam. With five kids and their stuff, we always have activities or friend get togethers that need to be built into the model. We needed a day where we had open space within a few days of the peak forecast. We had a limited window to get down to DC after the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby in the AM and before the Air & Space museum closed. Much of my life has to be meticulously planned to hit windows like this.

Theoretically, planning seems like it would be in opposition to spontaneity. There is planning things out, and then there is being open to what comes. These are different personality types! There are those of us who like to structure things, and those of us who dwell in possibility, or however you want to characterize it.

But I think the two tend to work hand in hand. We have spontaneous fun experiences because we have plans. For instance, because I planned the DC trip, with two anchors in it (Air & Space museum + cherry blossoms) we were there on the Mall, where a lot more interesting stuff happens than at our house. We all got to pick snacks from the dozens of food trucks lined up near the Smithsonian museums. It’s always an adventure to be able to pick freely between snow cones, Mexican food, falafels, and so forth! Then we walked past an agricultural exhibit and got to stop and see some really tricked out tractors and other farm machinery. This was incredibly exciting for certain members of the family (the toddler called one combine harvester a lawn mower, which I guess is true in a way…). We had no idea that would be there but it was certainly a bonus.

Now I suppose it would have been possible to plan a DC trip that didn’t allow for any spontaneity, but that’s not my style. (An upside of driving is we had the flexibility to leave when we wanted). Or perhaps seven people would have just wound up spontaneously somewhere fascinating without any planning whatsoever, though that tends not to happen in my life. Maybe in someone’s? It’s probably more possible if there’s only one of you.

In my case, having a reasonably thought through plan for the weekend increases the chances that we can do stuff other than kid sports and lessons. When we do our planned adventures, we tend to experience some spontaneous fun along the way that helps keep life interesting. So I tend to think the two aren’t really in opposition. They can work together to create memories. 

In other news: This weekend’s baking project was vegan banana chocolate chip muffins. They turned out pretty well!

7 thoughts on “Serendipity amid the planning

  1. Have you been to Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ? The cherry blossoms are set to bloom next week and I’m watching that bloomcam like a hawk, too!

  2. Your calm in the middle of this always blows me away. And look at the beautiful pictures you have a result!!

    Vomit – even the mention of it fills my heart with dread. Vomiting personally is horrific. But having a child sick is…I’m literally feeling nauseous as I type this…I absolutely loathe it (not that anyone welcomes it…but I have this visceral reaction to it that always takes me by surprise).
    I have dealt with blood and split chins and fevers and rashes without batting an eye…but vomiting does me in.

    1. @Elisabeth – it was something. I couldn’t eat for most of the evening after the experience (or maybe my nausea was because I had a mild version of it…who knows…).

  3. You are lucky to live in an area where you can do a quick day trip to DC! I’m in Minnesota where it takes 3 hours just to drive up to see my parents in the same state! I lived in Charlotte, NC for a year and while the city was not a fit for me, I appreciated that there was so much to see and do within a 3 hour drive!

    It seems like a stomach bug is sweeping the nation. I’ve never known of so many people whose houses have been hit by the flu. I hope Henry’s puking was a fluke, though. 3 of out of 4 of us got the stomach bug – my 4yo had it ON his birthday! I think the baby had the same virus but didn’t puke – his doctor told us this virus is hitting families hard and is quite the shape shifter so will give people very different symptoms.

    1. @Lisa – yep it turns out that when people gather, germs spread. My little guy probably is making up for lost time…

  4. A couple years ago when I first discovered you, in one of your books you had mentioned something along the lines of a bad moment, doesn’t a mean a bad vacation. While toddler tantrums on vacations didn’t really bother me before (I mean, they’re kids. They’ll throw a tantrum at home, and they’ll throw a tantrum on vacation), I love this mindset. I use it all the time now. It helped me get through a flight to Hawaii, several longer car rides, and many random smaller adventures around our town. So, thank you!

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