My own mother suffered from the same problem. There were six children in my family, and my father is a compulsive early-bird. We would get ready and be sitting down for Easter Mass 90 minutes before it was ready to begin. We showed up to high-school graduations while they were still setting up the chairs on the lawn. We got sunburn from staking out a good spot for Fourth of July fireworks "nice and early."
Still, when I was a kid my Dad always jokingly complained about always having to wait for my mother. He would say that Mom had a psychological 'trigger' like Pavlov's dog -- all we had to do was say the word “Car” and she would have to go to the bathroom. He would have us all buckled up and the car running in the driveway, and she still wouldn't emerge from the house for at least five more minutes. Now that I am a mom of 3, I finally understand why.
When we are planning to go out, whether it is to go to church or the zoo or a ballgame or school, I start out like my father and end up like my mother.
The compulsive early-bird in me starts getting people ready at least 30 minutes before it is time to leave. My style is half caring mother, half paratrooper Captain. (Go! Go! Go!)
- I check to make sure no one is dirty. I make sure no one looks like a clown (non-matching clothes), a hobo (holes in the pants), a zookeeper (what's that smell?), or an auto-mechanic (stains from who knows where).
- I remind everyone to go to the restroom and to comb their hair.
- I help them find their missing barrette, jacket, sock, or shoe. I help them button, zip, buckle, and tie. If it’s cold, I find matching hats and mittens. If it’s rainy, I get the umbrellas.
- I pack a bag with snacks, water, wipes, hand sanitizer, more snacks.
- I tell them what toys they can and can’t bring (no, you may not bring the super-soaker in the car).
When I am finished, there are three tidy children lined up and waiting by the door. We are usually ready in plenty of time to make it to our destination with room to spare. The early-bird time-buffer remains intact. (If you are an early-bird, you know what I mean.)
30 seconds before it is time to go, my husband puts his shoes on and gets his keys. (Where has he been for the last half hour?)
Finally, once everyone is ready to go, I look at myself in the mirror. And magically, as they walk out the door, I transform into my mother.
It's amazing how getting it all done for the rest of the family can make you look like you've just been through a train wreck. It is equally amazing how consistently I choose to use the early-bird buffer to my own advantage. As my husband takes the family down the driveway to get into the car, I take a few minutes to do everything for myself that I just did for everyone else.
It is wonderfully refreshing to get yourself ready, wash your face, put on some lipstick, comb your hair, change that shirt that has remnants of your two-year-old's last meal, and yes use the restroom -- in silence. In that few minutes, I find I am able to relax and refresh. It feels good to turn over the task of strapping in the children to my husband. The house is so peaceful when there's no one else in it.
Do I care that the rest of the family is pondering my mysterious disappearance from their midst? Do I mind that they might be waiting at the edge of impatience? No, not really.
I do not rush. Instead, I give myself a few moments of peace. And when I finally walk to the car, I do not hurry nor do I apologize. I just make a modest entrance.
If I’m lucky, I’ll get a “Well, you don't you look nice…”
"Thank you," I say as I slip into the passenger seat. I think we'll arrive right on time.