School Run Surrender

Last term I turned into a nervous mess every morning as the time to get our son out of the door and off to the car approached. If we weren’t sitting down for breakfast at 7.30 I was already tense, and by the time we got to the garage at 8am to start the 35 minute journey to school, there were days that I could hardly speak for the nervous tension that was coursing through my veins. All I could think was, “we are going to be late, we are going to be late.” And my son got the brunt of it.

“Hurry UP! … Get IN the car! … SIT in your seat NOW!” And for the first 20 minutes of the journey I’d be seething, crazed by the traffic, unable to speak, a nervous wreck trying to calm down again. Usually by the time we got half-way through the trip I’d be centered enough to tell him a story, which seemed to bring both of us back down to earth, and we’d arrive at school more or less OK and, of course, always with time to spare.

While this was going on every morning, I was extremely aware of what was happening to me, but I didn’t seem to be able to control it at all. The nervous tension rose like an unstoppable wave, and flooded over me again and again.

Thinking about it, I knew where this reaction to the morning process came from. My mum had to get four kids fed, dressed, and out of the door every morning, for a similar length car journey. I remember the last 20 minutes up to our departure as a non-stop fight for mum as she cajoled, threatened, begged and dragged us into our school clothes and off to the car, by which time she was usually in a state of near-tearful desperation.

I’m pretty sure that the echoes of those difficult school mornings are what trigger off my nervous tension now, me in the role of my mum, living out the same story once again, 30 years down the line.

Until today. Once again this morning, even though we’d sat down to breakfast (my job) with plenty of time, departure time loomed and teeth were still not brushed, face not washed (mum’s jobs – and there’s no way he is getting out of the door without Marina washing his face!) I was waiting at the door as they finished off these final tasks, with my shoes and coat on, keys in hand, really ready to go…

And I felt my blood starting slowly to boil. I felt the tension rising in my veins. And I thought, “Here we go again! But NO, NOT this time! I’ve had enough! Today I surrender. I don’t care what time we get to school, let life take its course – I abandon myself to fate!”

And I just relaxed, and watched, and waited, and soon the final mother and son preparations were done, and he was ready to go. And in the car I only lost my composure for half a minute as I was trying to get him to sit in his seat, but we left the garage in a state of tranquility, and sang happily much of the way to school, arriving, as always, on time.

So here’s to surrender, to abandon, and to working out why we are how we are. To identifying patterns from the past and doing what is necessary to change them. Knowing myself, I’m finding, is the key to happiness and peace not just for me, but for everyone else as well.

16 thoughts on “School Run Surrender”

  1. We absorb anxieties, we learn many bad habits and we re-play them later in life. I can so relate to this story. I used to be so stressed driving through unfamiliar cities, the car would come alive with expletives, sweat, erratic movements all because I was worried I wouldn’t find the correct route or miss a turning. This was learnt behaviour from a parent who is such an anxious traveller. One day Luis turned and stated the obvious. If we miss a sign-post or turning, does it really matter? We will eventually find our way through the city, we always do. If we didn’t, we would still be driving through Paris, or London, Leeds or Liverpool, but we are here. Stating the obvious can sometimes be a great reality check.

    1. Marina and I used to have terrible arguments on car journeys, always over map reading, and usually in cities. In our case what saved us was a GPS – it was before I began to understand how mindfulness can help us untangle these stories from the past.

  2. I remember the hell of taking a teenage daughter to college every morning on my way to work – especially when she was learning to drive! The pressure I put on her to just get out of the house was terrible, and then we’d rant at each other in our little metal box for twenty minutes. We get on really well now that we’re 61 and 38, not 40 and 17, and we don’t have a time-limited journey together every day. Please forgive me for asking why you have a thirty five minute car journey if you live in a city. Is there no acceptable school closer, and preferably walkable? A few years before the unhappy times described above, we used to walk across Forest Gate in London from home to school and vice versa, or cyle sometimes. It was much, much better. We talked, rarely argued and any pent up tension or energy could be expended without the physical constraint of a confined space. Perhaps the best solution to pressurised school runs is to do them differently.

    1. We just found a school that we value enormously, with a more relaxed and creative learning approach than the traditional Spanish system, so it’s worth the journey time. The journey out is the long one due to morning traffic, after that it’s only 20 minutes to pick him up at lunch time. But yes, we intend to move nearer the school sooner or later! Thanks for your comment.

  3. I will not question that the stress reaction you describe, Ben, has its origin in your childhood years. But there is a possibility that you would have experienced the same also with a different background.

    I have three children, my youngest now a girl of ten. And for me it was a releaf when I started to commute five years ago and had to leave home earlier than my wife and children. Because prior to that I very often found myself in contraproductive discussions with my children about the need to hurry up – with the result that everything in the end went even slower (and I had a lump in my stommach for hours into my working day). And I was never exposed to stress in my childhood mornings, having a mother that stayed home while I grew up.

    Now I have changed job again, I do my rightful “service” in the mornings, and everything is much more relaxed. My children have grown, surely, but also my attitude. I have lowered my shoulders (as we say it in Norway), just like you Ben, and surprise… things og smoother when there’s now arguing and yelling.

    1. Hi Gunnar, thanks for your comment. You are right, I may well have got stressed without the stress in the background from years ago – getting kids out of the house in the morning can be stressful no matter what! But I guess in the end the solution is the same, letting go and relaxing!

  4. Ben,

    What a great entry! I have the same issue but without the kid! lol When me and my partner have plans to meet with friends or need to be somewhere on time, there are discussions filled with stress, demands, and blame casting. I do recognize that when I am calm and start getting ready early, it helps the process go smoother. I think it is important to identify certain aspects of things and put them in perspective. 9 times out of 10, we always get to our destination at the right time! I always say that we are meant to be at that destination at that time.

    Thanks for this entry!!!

  5. Thanks for sharing Ben. I have felt similar to you on my daily commute to work sometimes even though I am only responsible for getting myself to be ready and on-time. I find it a bit ironic, because I have recently started using your Notes in Spanish podcast as my daily morning talk show. It always puts me in a great spirit because you and Marina are so cheerful and encouraging!

  6. I’m Ben’s sister so this could also be a product of our upbringing but I have to say that my son’s school is ten minutes away on foot from our house (around two corners) and I still feel as if every atom inside me is fizzing before the mandatory 8.40am departure every morning.
    Like Ben I have to have time slots. We all have to be up by 7.30am, sitting down for breakfast by 8am and have finished eating by 8.30am. There are teeth to brush, a nappy to change and in winter dressing my school age son and his two year old brother seems to take an age. I am lucky as I do not work, so clearing up can wait until I come back from the school run. I have also learned that by advancing breakfast by just fifteen minutes everyone benefits. My sons can settle down before we all set off and whilst they are calmly reading or doing otherwise I can slip on their coats and shoes without the fight in the hallway as they hang like puppets on slack strings in protest at their fuming mother. Life has improved with the simple addition of those fifteen minutes and my favourite part of the school run when we are relaxed is that we can pick up sticks en route, listen to the birds, watch the winter sun appear over the church spire and I do not have to say HURRY UP each time we simply STOP. Only THEN can I appreciate the magic and naturalness of their slowness! If only we ALL took more time to stop and smell the flowers on the way to work! I know that not everyone has the luxury of time (working parents fighting early morning rush hour) but maybe if they just get up fifteen minutes earlier life will be so much happier.

    1. Thanks for your comment Naomi! I brought things back about 10 minutes earlier recently too, and it definitely helps! I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from, which isn’t surprising seeing as you come from the same place!

      1. I was “late” this morning and it all went to pot. Proof! I NEED those fifteen minutes! I forgot to mention that the school my eldest goes to opens its doors for only TEN minutes and if you are late you are not allowed in. They sent angry letters recently to late parents. I tried to shield my son from gleaming this information…I felt there was something depressing about it and that it might even scare him at just four years old that you would be denied access if late (tempting as it is to use the rule when flustered in the morning)… 😉

  7. Hello,

    This could be me today, yesterday and before that…and I don’t like it 🙁

    The only good thing is that I am self aware, and am conscious of how I react to the whole school run situation, (amongst other things) The bad news is that I cannot, at the moment, stop reacting the way I do.

    I have this naive belief that I have to continue being self aware, and attempt to change, and then one day something will give and I will change for the better. Wishful thinking?

    I just came across your blog by accident, and I like it. On to reading more..

    With best wishes

    Ash

    1. Best wishes to you too Ash, and don’t worry, if you are so aware of it, you’ll stop soon – just surrender to it all!

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