Creativity and chaos: step out of your comfort zone

The night before school started last fall, my house was a train wreck. The kitchen table was littered with Elmer’s glue bottles and glue sticks, notebooks, gym shoes, name tag stickers, paint shirts, old socks (yuck) for dry erase boards, dry erase markers, highlighters…you know the drill. We were frantically trying to squeeze in all of our family time before the witching bedtime hour of 8pm and get back in the swing of the school routine after a long summer: eating a quick dinner of ham and macaroni and cheese, coaxing two elementary-age kids into baths (yes you have to wash your hair and don’t forget to clean your ears!), picking out our “first day” outfits, when it hit me: this was not how I wanted to spend any evening, let alone how I wanted to kick off our new school year.

I know it’s me; when I am faced with chaos, I go into hyper-organization mode. It soothes me to make sure everything is alphabetized, folded neatly, stacked by color, and stored in baskets. I’d put my husband in a basket if he’d let me, I have more baskets and plastic bins than any human being has a right to own. It calms me to know that the backpacks are packed and by the door ready to go, the lunches are made with neat little bags of carefully cut-up veggies and peeled apple slices with a pinch of lemon juice so they don’t get brown. I know that once the kids are tucked in, the drama will settle down and I will settle on the couch for a little TV time. But the hoops we jump through to get there, was it worth it?

So in the middle of the frenzy, at five minutes to 8pm bedtime, I yelled, “Hey, I know, let’s go for a bike ride!”

The response was mixed.
My fourth-grade son, the worrier: “But it’s dark outside! We can’t see! What if we get lost?”
My second-grade daughter, the adventurer: “Let’s go!”
My husband, the passive-aggressive: “Whatever you want.”

So we left the house in chaos. I stepped over jackets and toys on the floor, walked right past the dinner dishes piled up on the counter and marched straight out to the garage. We got on our bikes (wearing our helmets and reflective safety gear of course) and went for a ride around the block. At night.

And it was wonderful! The dark air was crisp and cool, the streets were quiet and still. We rode past neighbor’s houses with warmly lit windows; the empty park; the dark school. The kids were in awe of how the school looked in the dark. We waited on the sidewalk as the kids rode their bikes around the circle drive in front of the school. The two of them stopped and looked at the building, not speaking, mentally preparing themselves, I suspected, for another school year and all that implied. Husband and I exchanged knowing looks, the kind of look that you can only exchange after being together for 19 years of thick and thin.

Fun and carefree as it was, my mom radar kicked back in and it was time to head back to real life. The whole trip took 15 minutes, but we all came back inside refreshed and renewed. The kids picked up their jackets. Husband did dishes. I did tuck-in. The mood was lighter, brighter. The next day, another hectic morning ensued, but it was…easier. And as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, fall into winter and back to spring, I forgot all about our nighttime bike ride.

Then today, the kids and I were on the way home from daycare when, out of the blue, my daughter said, “Remember that time we went for a bike ride at night?” And my son said, “Oh yeah, that was so cool!” We all had a giggle remembering it and comparing our night ride to a SpongeBob Squarepants episode where he does his usual work routine–but it’s cooler because he’s doing them “at night.”

Long after the kids moved on to other topics, that moment, the feeling of that night, lingered. This small slice of time was my whim, but now it’s their memory, something to come home to anytime in their lives–and hopefully pay it forward.

Get creative: do something fun for a minimum of 15 minutes today, but at a different time than you would normally. Work out, go on a photo walk, write in your journal, eat breakfast for dinner. Don’t wash the dishes. Don’t do laundry. Take your 15 minutes and run.

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