“I want to come Thursday, if we can,” I said to my sister. “Tyler has baseball practice now on Fridays so we can’t come then, and I don’t get his weekly wrestling practice schedule until Sunday nights, so I don’t know if he’s going to have practice this Thursday. If he doesn’t, we’ll come down.”
As some background, I’ve always tried to bring my boys to visit with my sister’s family once a week, if possible. My two boys are 7 and 9, and her two boys are 10 and 13. When the kids were little, we were very good about getting together on Friday nights. Because of that, the boys are all very close and have great relationships. My mother and father are almost always there as well, so we get a nice, regular chunk of time together.
As the boys got older, though, sports practices and things like Cub Scouts started creeping into the picture, and we moved our frequency from once a week to once every other week. That helped make the visits workable, but then more activities started getting booked on Friday nights, and our visits that were supposed to happen every other week were happening every three or four weeks.
Such breaks made me uncomfortable. I mean, my parents are not spring chickens (my Dad is 81) and I feel the lost opportunities of those lost visits. So I started looking at Thursday nights (because they were right next to Friday and it seemed the logical next step). Thursday nights were not ideal because the kids have school the next day, but if I left by 7:30 I could easily have them in bed by 9, and all would be well. Thus, Thursday was in play.
In my mind, the only nights available for a visit were Thursday and Friday, so we wouldn’t be able to make it down to see the family. I looked out over the next week or two and didn’t see the problem easing, so I called my sister and told her we wouldn’t be seeing them … again. Though she tried to be cool about it, I could hear the disappointment in her voice, and in my mother’s voice in the background. I hung up the phone feeling pretty bad.
I wanted a solution but couldn’t see one. I keep flipping around in my calendar and trying to come up with something. I checked out all the upcoming Thursdays and Fridays, nothing. Then, I saw it, glaring at me. Could it work? Might it work?
I looked at our schedule for the current week and saw a big fat opening on … Tuesday night.
“But we can’t go down there on Tuesday night,” I said to myself.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because it’s Tuesday, and we don’t go down there on Tuesday. We never have,” I responded.
“Maybe we can,” I finally realized.
And with that, I called my sister back.
“Hey, what about tomorrow night?” I asked.
“Tomorrow night? Tuesday? Um, let me think. I guess that will work,” she said.
And so went down to my sister’s on Tuesday night after school and had a great time. The boys did their homework on the ride down (luckily they don’t get carsick), and finished it up when we got there (I was militant about this). We were there from about 5:30 to 7:30 and they were home and in bed on time.
Afterwards, I reflected on the dynamic of assuming without much thought that some options (nights of the week available for a visit, in this case) were off limits. I do this all the time. When confronting a problem, I have already categorized certain options as unworkable, and don’t spend another moment reflecting on them. Often, I come very close to not solving the problem because of this. Unfortunately, it is only when I really, really want to get a solution that I am willing to challenge my previous conceptions of what is off limits and give them another look. And often, I find that what I considered out of the question is exactly the answer to my prayers.
I have to remember this, and so do you, that whatever problem you are struggling with has an answer, and often it’s the one you quickly dismissed as unworkable from the beginning. So take another look at the impossible to determine if it’s doable. Test your assumptions ruthlessly. And after you’re done looking outside the box, peer back in and see if you’ve left something behind. You maybe surprised at what you find.