If there’s one thing we’ve tried to convey to our kids, it’s to have a plan. Thinking ahead — even just a little bit — can do so much to make life go smoother.
But I think we’re fighting a losing battle.
According to the neuroscientists, the parts of the brain associated with long-term planning are the last to mature. That means we can expect the daily last-minute scrambles and the calls from school about forgetting this or that to continue – at least until next fall, when both of my teenage kids will be out of the house, one to college, the other for a youth exchange. That’s the plan, anyway.
In the meantime, I was flabbergasted when my son recently came looking for something he didn’t actually need for another week.
My son has attempted to plan ahead in the past. He once set a pair of skis out the night before so he would remember to bring them to school the next day.
Unfortunately, he put them on top of my wife’s car, rather than inside of it. His plan didn’t account for the fact that she went to the gym before school, and probably would not be anticipating that there would be a set of skis on top of the car.
We never saw those skis again.
My daughter also is struggling in the planning department. Mostly, it feels like she’s in a perpetual state of catching up. We’ve gotten into the habit of making her breakfast “to go.” Maybe that’s become part of her plan?
I’m sure that I was the same way as a teenager. I remember in junior high school knowing that if I left my house when I heard the bus coming down the street, I had just enough time to make it to the bus stop at an easy jog.
In high school, I shared a car with my twin sister, and she was one of the rare kids who wanted to be at school early so she could get organized before the first bell. On the other hand, I felt like if I was in the parking lot when the bell rang, I was on time. We ended up with a compromise. She would go pick up a friend who lived in the other direction, and then swing back by the house for me.
I don’t know how my wife was as a teenager, but as long as we’ve been together, she’s been a planner. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she already knows what she’ll be getting everyone for Christmas next year.
At some point, the benefits of planning became apparent to me, too. I’m guessing more than 20 years in a deadline-driven profession had a part in that. I’m at a point now where the thing that drives me crazy is when people come up with a plan — but then refuse to stick to it.
That’s probably the most frustrating part about watching the kids being kids. No matter how much we try to help them set a schedule and establish a routine, sticking to it just isn’t in their nature. They’re not wired for it yet.
Which brings me back to my shock when my son actually went looking for something a week before he needed it. The item in question was a portable gas grill, which he started taking with him to track meets. He does shot put and discus, and is generally done hours before the end of the meet. So he and the other throwers fire up the grill while they watch the rest of the events.
Not only did he did get out the grill (it took him two tries; on his first trip to the garage, he came back with a camp stove), he also took it upon himself to get a couple of propane canisters after I told him he couldn’t use the one that goes with my blowtorch.
I guess I should give him a little credit. Those same brain scientists who say teens haven’t developed the long-term planning parts of their brain also note that the teen thought process tends to be very reward oriented. The one thing my son is really good about doing ahead of time is making his lunch. He’ll even start cooking dinner if we’re busy with other things, though he has yet to figure out how to plan it so all the dishes are finished at the same time. Clearly, a nice meal is a reward for a teenage boy.
As it turned out, the track meet was canceled due to the recent snowfall up in the Mat-Su. And the grill has been sitting on the bench by the front door ever since. I guess putting it away isn’t part of the plan.
Oh well. You know the saying about best laid plans … they get derailed by snow.
Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• By WILL MORROW, For the Peninsula Clarion