Chuck the Checklist, Bring the Passport

Preparing for a trip always winds me up. You know, like one of those tiny toy cars that you crank and crank and crank until the spring can’t bear another ounce of tension, then you let go and the car goes skittering off like a drunken housefly. Like that. All day long my mind shrills I can’t get it all done. I can’t get it all done. I can’t…. and if I’m not careful, my body will follow, rushing from one half-done task to another, without a settled focus on what is important. Like getting out the door with my passport in hand, say. Over the years, I have built a hedge against this tendency in the form of highly detailed, countdown-oriented checklists. One week before, I ensure that I have got the ‘cat team’ assembled to ensure our feline family members are adequately watered, fed, admired and fresh-littered.  Four days before, I’ll ensure that I have the correct currency and voltage adapters. One day prior, I’ll deliver the mail keys and make sure the lights are on timers. This continues right up to turning the thermostat back and closing the blinds on the way out the door. Doors all locked? Check. Answering machine messages changed? Check. Neighbours advised? Check, check and check. This control freak tendency can get out of hand, though. Not only do I want to ensure that everything is in order when I leave, and that I have absolutely everything with me, I also want to be sure that when I arrive back, I can hit the ground running. Not much is more demoralizing than arriving home late in the evening from a trans-Atlantic flight only to find that there is nothing in the fridge to make the kids’ lunches with in the morning. Maybe this checklist stuff sounds like good planning, and I suppose it is. On the other hand, it is easy to lose one’s perspective. It is not as though anything really turns on my being prepared for the perfect storm. If I didn’t have three surplus boxes of unscented clumping cat litter, would the kind folks who take care of my cats not figure out a solution to the oversight? If I arrive in London without my toothbrush – or even all my clothes for that matter – are there not plenty of shops and salespeople who would be all too happy to assist me out of the predicament? In fact, wouldn’t travelling with nothing but my passport be an adventure? Well, maybe that’s a stretch. That brings me to the danger of a certain mental laziness that can arise if you become too dependant on the checklist. There is the fact that you have to actually read it, for instance. One night a few years back, our family of four was happily ensconced in a Toronto Airport hotel in anticipation of an early morning flight the next day. We had everything we needed: fruit and nuts for the morning, clothing for all manner of weather, electronic gadgets fully charged and ready to serve us.  We were absolutely set, or so I thought. At midnight, I sat bolt upright and sputtered: “I forgot the passports”. Don’t ask me how it is that I came to this realization. My husband didn’t hesitate, didn’t so much as sigh. He rolled out of bed, pulled on his pants and asked simply: “Where do you keep them?” “They’re in the office in a plastic bin in my cupboard by the window. Upper shelf, right side. Look for a file folder labeled important documents.” Obviously. He grabbed his car keys, cell phone and wallet and slipped out the door, closing it quietly behind him. He then drove the hundred miles back to our home in cottage country. A three hour turnaround, give or take.  He went without comment, without so much as a hint of irritation. He simply showed up for duty. He’s like that. A prince. And me, still warm in bed, with my damn checklist. So what am I saying? Keep your eye on the passport. Remember what matters. Read the checklist, but don’t let it drive you to distraction. Relax.  Breathe. Can I follow this advice myself?  Ask me in a few days. We’ll see how it turns out.

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