Sure, there are a few of us out there who thrive on chaos and spontaneity, those who flow through life seemingly directed by whichever way the wind blows. But for the majority of the rest of us, we like to play it a bit safer. We are in our comfort zones when we can feel in control of our surroundings, our actions, our activities, even the people in our lives.
We like it when our environments are organized in a way that makes sense to us, with everything in its place. We like to keep track the activities of our family members, and take care of our loved ones the way we know best. We want everything to follow a certain schedule or have everything go “according to plan”, which really is our plan. We strive to control how we look, how we act, and even have the silly notion that we can control our emotions. (How’s that working for ya?)
Yes, we like to have fun and go wild and crazy from time to time, but really when it comes down to it, we like our routines. We like it when we have a smooth morning, get everyone off to school and arrive to work on time and wearing matching socks. We like it when our kitchen is cleaned up and the dishes are done. We feel in control when the kids are settled in to bed and we can have a few minutes to ourselves. When our personal planets are aligned, we are happy campers.
But life happens. We get pushed out of our comfort zones by things we have no control over. Deadlines move. Illness strikes. Basements flood. Cars break down. Jobs change. The weather turns ugly. Someone needs our help. In the blink of an eye, we have lost a bit of our control and our routines are uprooted. Our lovely little plans are thrown out the window.
No one understands and relies upon routines more than a pet dog. These creatures live by daily expectations of meal time, activity time, when the humans come and go, and who will give them care and love. It’s simple, and for them, it works.
This past weekend, I headed out for a walk with my yellow Lab. After all, in his eyes, if mom is home in the afternoon, then we go for a walk. It’s just what we do. On this particular day, however, we humans in the family had some place we had to be at a certain time. My day had gotten away from me (due to the usual chores and playing a game of “beat the clock” to see how much I could fit in to a Saturday). This meant that I had limited time for our walk. We would not be able to complete our usual loop.
About a third of the way around our usual path, after my pup had stopped to investigate one of his favorite bushes, I attempted to turn around to head home. And got nowhere. My furry son at the other end of the leash had put his brakes on. He literally had stopped in the road, braced his 90-pound frame on all four feet, and was pulling towards the opposite direction. I could practically hear his thoughts “Nope, that’s not right. We go this way. Always. Remember? I have things to sniff and pee on in that direction. We can’t go back yet.” No pulling or cajoling was working in my favor. I started to feel my stress level rise, as I mentally calculated how quickly we could possibly continue around the full loop, how much time I could shave off my own preparations to go out, and knew there was no way I could do it in time. I knew one option would be that I could turn into Nasty Dog Owner and yell and haul on him with all my strength, but it really wasn’t his fault. I was disrupting his beloved routine. Instead, I found myself standing in the middle of an intersection, bent over, face to face in a discussion with my dog. I did my best to explain and rationalize, promising a longer walk next time. Of course I was pretending he could understand every word I said, rather than the likely reality that he was only hearing the same noise made by the adults in old Peanuts cartoons. I stroked his big goofy head and told him that mommy was sorry, but we just had to go home. Finally, with a few more tugs on the leash, he padded back up the road we had already travelled. Within minutes, he was back to his perky ears-up-happy-to-live-a-dog’s-world pace, watching for squirrels and sniffing random objects.
Our short struggle made me think about how we all handle interruptions in our routines. Every day we plan to head a certain direction on our well-travelled roads. We are in our content, controlled environments, ready for our expected outcomes. Then in a flash, a quick moment, plans change and we have to put on our brakes and consider other alternatives. We can refuse to budge, we can complain, we can have a stress meltdown…. Or, we can adjust and carry on.
Relaxing our hold on our imagined control means being uncomfortable, perhaps frustrated, worried, or anxious. We R.W’s don’t always take kindly to having to release our grip on our plans. Yet each time we do it, we seem to come out ok on the other end.
And just maybe, if we are lucky, we find new exciting smells and more squirrels to chase along the way.