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Ripping up the rule book

December 4th, 2004 · 5 Comments


While driving south on I-5 one Sunday afternoon this October, I was trying not to condemn myself. Hands on the steering wheel, I was stashing thoughts into trash cans in my mind, trying not to listen to their voices. Oh, shut up!

But I knew the truth of our situation. I couldn’t escape it, as the digital clock on the dashboard reminded me. Friends were waiting for us. We were late.

I used to be on time. I used to be.

Being prompt was once important to me. I never wanted to be late. Late was evil. Late people lacked respect for others. Late people were selfish. Late people thought the world waited for them. I hated them.

And then the gavel fell on me. Somehow after three kids and a number of life experiences, I started arriving late to appointments, despite my best efforts.

At first it would drive me to tears if I was driving somewhere and I wasn’t on time. Sometimes I am stressed and cry about it. I still don’t like to be late.

But I realized that I had to rip up the rule book. Parenting has helped me see who I am. I don’t like the way I look when I peek in the mirror. The me I see today is someone I once judged and condemned. I’m late. I’m unorganized. My kids wear yogurt mustaches and mismatched clothes. My car isn’t clean. The list goes on…

I’m ashamed to admit all the ways I once thought I was better than other people. I worked hard to be on time because I believed that being prompt made me a better person, in my own eyes and in others’ also. I tried to keep my house tidy because I thought that would help people think well of me. Nevermind that timeliness or cleanliness can disguise deeper dirtiness.

Becoming a mother of three, and wrestling through some difficult experiences in recent years has brought me freedom, at the price of my comfortable text book of rules. I have to release myself from my self-chosen chains. And once I release myself, then others are free to be who they are in my life.

So I’ve been ripping up the rule book I wrote. It’s scary. I’m not sure who I’ll be once I’m done. I don’t want to be a messy mom who is late. But that’s who I am some days. I still value time and order. I try to plan my schedule backwards so I can arrive when I am expected. But I make mistakes. And there are days when a diaper gets dirty or a bowl breaks and I can’t control it all. I also shouldn’t try to control others either by making them feel they have to be a certain way or else be condemned.

Some days I’m too tired to push myself and the girls. We often eat dinner later than I would like because by the end of the day I lack energy. Sometimes I try to do too much. Sometimes I’d rather relax and let the kids take their time tying their shoes. I’m wrestling with what it means to be punctual and to be a patient parent, and to be a person with limitations and life to live. I like to think I’m learning flexibility. And I also think I am giving freedom to myself and everyone else in my life. It’s part of a process, page by page…

Thanks to Susan Kitchens for reminding me of these thoughts with her link to a lengthy and provocative thread on MetaFilter Why are some people chronically late?. Lisa Williams was also inspired by Susan’s blog; I liked the end of her post:

The only true manners are compassion, and our manners are not judged by how we treat someone when they please us but how we treat them when they do not. I myself am imperfect, all my friends are imperfect, all my family is imperfect (!!) and we will all always be human and imperfect รขโ‚ฌโ€œ but their imperfections are not my business. That part of God which is lodged in them is my business. Loving them is my business.

Tags: journal

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Kirks // Dec 4, 2004 at 9:48 am


    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I share this problem with you, always seeking to classify too many things and people in my life as “right” or “wrong”. I’m at my worst when I’m driving–the rules we are all supposed to follow are rarely enforced equally–making me an embarrassment sometimes.

    Again, thanks for writing something this deep and personal. It’s an inspiration to me to do more of the same.

    Take care,


  • 2 Elisa Camahort // Dec 4, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Hi Julie:

    I really related to this post, as I’m living with a guy who is chronically late, while I’m perniciously punctual.

    I also enjoyed reading the MetaFilter post…and all the response from late and punctual folks alike.

    All I can do is try to learn patience and acceptance of the things I can’t control!

    Inspired me to write this post:

  • 3 Katherine // Dec 4, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    Yet another great post from you. Thank you again for being so honest. It’s a beautiful thing. My car isn’t clean either. I, too like to be on time and find myself late more than I would like. What is the broken object in the photo? Your crystal rule book? Looks like a sledgehammer hit it!

  • 4 Julie // Dec 5, 2004 at 12:13 am

    Thank you, Steve, Elisa and Katherine for your comments. Thanks for inspiring me with your honesty and stories.

    The picture is a bowl that broke one morning this week, as I was trying to get out the door. It was Pyrex. I was late. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, a crystal rule book!

  • 5 jenny // Dec 11, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    Great thoughts… as I read the words, “letting go” kept flipping through my brain. It’s about letting go of ideals and reaching for the lasting things life has to offer. Thanks you:)

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