When I was about 10 years old, my family attended a wedding reception for a couple of friends from church. Most of the typical wedding reception things held no interest for me and I didn’t know many of the people there, but a friend from my Sunday school was there with her parents. After we had eaten and the various grownups had settled into polite conversation or dancing, my friend and I decided to amuse ourselves by venturing out of the ballroom to look around the hotel.
We were pretty tame kids and didn’t make much noise or trouble, but after several rides in the glass-walled elevators overlooking the grand open lobby of the hotel, we had the brilliant idea that the party shouldn’t have to stop in an hour or two. It was a Saturday night after all, no school in the morning. She could come to my house to spend the night and then back to church in the morning with us to go back home with her parents. It seemed like the perfect plan.
We hurried back into the ballroom where our parents were conveniently seated in conversation. We pitched our idea and my parents nodded encouragingly, “No problem on this end.” My friend’s mother smirked, however, and said flatly, “No.”
We blinked in surprise and she continued, “I hate to burst your bubble,” (I doubt it, the look on her face said she was enjoying it, but whatever) “but we don’t do ‘spontaneous’.”
And that was that. No other reason given. And looking back, I realize that as a parent, she doesn’t need a reason, and that’s okay. But it definitely cemented my belief that spontaneity is more hip, fun, and cool than structure, rigidity, and order, and who doesn’t want to be hip, fun, and cool?
But that’s the problem. As I’ve grown older and more anxious about life in general, spontaneity is much harder. When I left the library, I wanted to find an opportunity that would allow my schedule to be more flexible, and that’s what I’ve cultivated, but I still find that I do best when I have a routine within this flexible schedule.
I am, like so many of us, a creature of habit.
Breakfast, catch up on some news, practice Duolingo, walk the dog on the same route we always take, writing, lunch, gym. Even on the weekends I like to have a plan, and if the day starts without a plan, not much happens that day (and I’m okay with that!).
I don’t mix things up very much, but I enjoy knowing that if I need to, I can, whether I have writer’s block, or have to take Pippin to the vet, or meet a friend for lunch.
Monday afternoon, it came time for me to go to the gym. Lunch was digested, Pippin was napping, Christmas storage boxes had been put away. I put on my shoes, found my headphones, and checked that my phone was charged.
I couldn’t find my keys. It’s such a cliche, isn’t it? Lost keys. I’m ashamed at the unoriginality of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t find them. I remembered over the weekend that Kalen made a comment about my keys as we left to run some errands. He had pointed out that keeping them on the table by the door was one of the least-safe places to keep them. I agreed and thought to put them elsewhere. Or did I put them in my pocket and take them with me? I remember taking them unnecessarily on at least one of our outings, but was that Friday night or Sunday afternoon? Or Saturday morning?
I double-checked everywhere and momentarily wondered if Kalen had hidden them to make a point, but that would be uncharacteristically vindictive of him, he’s just not like that. I began to fear that the keys had been swept into one of the plastic Christmas decoration totes I had just stuffed back into the attic, but that seemed like a reach. My keys are bulky with two car fobs, a couple keychains, too many keytag scanner cards, and a pepper spray.
Pippin watched me repeatedly circling the house with growing confusion (both of us, that is; I was confused about the keys, he was confused about whatever the hell I was doing) and I decided that the keys simply must not be in the house, and perhaps I had left them in Kalen’s car when we went to run errands. I had done that before. I was already later than I like to be for the gym (to avoid crowds; not just to keep on schedule), so I decided Pippin and I would take a bonus walk (he readily agreed) up to Kalen’s office to see if my keys were in his car.
I grabbed the spare house keys and off we trekked, but, alas, my keys were not there. Anxiety readily offered a new possibility: the keys had been in the armrest but had fallen out when we were at the Blue Store the day before. As Pippin and I continued to walk (extra long to wear off nerves and try to make up for lost gym time), I called the Blue Store and asked if they had had any keys turned in. After 9 suspenseful minutes on hold, I was told that no keys had been turned in.
I was becoming more confounded. Maybe they had fallen out in the parking lot and were still there, or maybe someone had picked them up but kept them for nefarious pursuits.
When I worked at the library, we sometimes had people call about found keys that had a library keytag on the ring, and with the library card number, we could look up the patron and inform them that someone had found their keys. But I had not received any notice from any of the too many businesses whose keytags fill my keyring.
Perhaps the keys had fallen out of the armrest at the curb in front of our own house. Pippin and I had nearly completed our walk and I eagerly clung to the idea that I should thoroughly inspect the curb before waiting for Kalen to get home so we could go scour the Blue Store parking lot. The leaves at the curb had some trash: a crushed energy drink can, an empty pack of cigarettes, the lid from a fast-food drive through box, but no keys.
I looked forlornly at my car, dark and cold, covered in a fine mist from the dreary December weather. And there in the cupholder were my keys.
At least they were found, but I guess that’s what spontaneity gets me. We had taken my car instead of Kalen’s, taken my keys along even though I didn’t need them, spontaneously ran a few extra errands to buy a couple Christmas presents and a few new decorations, before realizing forlornly that the one thing we had planned to do with the afternoon (walk Pippin to the cookie shop downtown) was now out of the question because the cookie shop was now closed for the day. If only we had stuck to a routine. I had been so disappointed about the cookie forfeiture that I had failed to grab my keys when we got home.
I still think my friend’s mom was a bit of a wet blanket, but I can cut her the tiniest bit of slack for that particular moment, I suppose. Sometimes routine and rigidity is worth not being hip, fun, and cool.
But only sometimes.