Scheduled Chaos

Fancy calendars and datebooks are all alike. Every fall, at the fresh start of a new academic year, they get to me. Irresistibly coy in their cloth-bound covers, they call to me from bookstore shelves.
“Buy meeee!” they whisper alluringly as I pretend to be perusing the fitness section. “I have all the answers! I alone can simplify your painfully complicated life!”
And so I do buy them — all the overpriced organizational volumes. They are so pretty. And their promises are so sweetly convincing.
Like most love affairs, it all goes swimmingly at the start. Tenderly, I fill the datebooks’ pages. Chickadees chirp cheerily from the margins as my felt-tipped pen point presses clean and smooth against parchment paper.
“Stephen, soccer practice, 4:00 P.M.,” I write.
It feels so right, and yet something about this relationship is truly very wrong.
What kind of person fills such pretty volumes with the mundane details of everyday life — dental appointments and the dog’s heartworm medication schedule? Should I not be composing poetry on such pristine pages as these?
And I haven’t even mentioned the secrets yet. Yes, I admit it: I do keep secrets from my comely calendars. I am speaking, of course, of the running calendar I keep only in my head.
“Tuesday at 3:30 would be just fine,” I tell a friend who wants to stop by with a book to lend me. But I don’t tell my calendar, and it happens to have basketball practice planned for the same date and time.
My passion for pretty calendars has even threatened my marriage on occasion.
“What do you mean I can’t take the boys fishing this weekend?” I once heard my husband roar. “There is nothing on the calendar!”
And indeed there was nothing on the calendar. That’s because by “the calendar” my husband meant that silly old thing I keep tacked to the inside of a downstairs closet. I received it as a thank-you gift from a charity I never donated to. It features painfully posed puppies riding in bicycle baskets, kittens caught in all manner of misbehavior, and an occasional car appointment.
It meant nothing. Really. My datebook just happened to be upstairs and the closet calendar was the only one handy while I was on the phone with the garage. I scrawled “car 3:00” in red marker there and never looked back.
The worst was the time my oldest daughter found an unidentified “appointment” scheduled on my closet calendar.
“What’s happening next Thursday at 4:00?” she asked.
There was no name, no place, not even a phone number. Only 4:00. In pencil.
The two of us stared stupidly at the mysterious markings and wondered at their meaning. Were we meant to show up somewhere? Was someone coming to us? My darling datebooks held no answers. Only time would tell.
It’s at trying times like these that I recall what motivates me to buy fancy datebooks and calendars in the first place.
The fact is, I am forever attempting to simplify my family’s frantic schedule. Even on the best of days, though, family life with eight kids is only going to run so smoothly. I am seeking simplicity where nature provides only chaos, and that is always going to be a losing battle.
It does my heart good to recognize, however, that scheduled or not, most days of the year, the gang of us ends up in the same place at the end of each wild and wondrous day. The daytime might pull us in a dozen different directions, but when darkness falls, more often than not, we find ourselves at home again — together.
Plates are filled, grace is said, and the dinner din begins. I often find myself wondering, as we gather around the dinner table, if some of those Norman Rockwell family dinnertime scenes I have in my head were ever as noisy as this real-life dinnertime is in my real-life dining room.
“Cheers!” I think to myself as the milk is poured, passed, spilled, wiped up, and then poured out again.
Here’s to today — another 24 hours of undeserved grace. Thank you, God, for the gift of yet another day with this kind of family, in this kind of life that calendar pages could never contain.


Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

Join the conversation in our Telegram Chat! You can also find us on Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, and Gab.