Mornings in My Car

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Waiting in my car is a norm in my life. I arrive 20 minutes early for work. Once a week, I arrive 40 minutes early.

The difference in those times coincides with how many times I hit the snooze button. So hard to wake up!

It’s not hard to pass the time in my car. Drinking coffee, listening to “This American Life”, and watching shivering, pajama clad people go out into the chilly weather to warm up their cars keeps me entertained. On some mornings, I’ll journal or sit in quiet reflection. On occasion, when I’m really awake, I’ll read. When I arrive 40 minutes early, I reward myself by reclining in my seat and stealing a few Zzz’s before starting the work day.

Mornings in my car are enjoyable. It’s peaceful and quiet. I have a hot cup of coffee. I prefer the solitude of my car over getting to my desk early. I can nap in my car, not at my desk. Both as a parent and an introvert, my morning car time is considered happy hour – a valued and protected part of the day to quietly ponder and refuel.

Despite this solitude, I’m not arriving early to work to experience this daily mental oasis. No. My arrival is inspired by experiences I had months ago. Mucho negative experiences.

Months ago, I was arriving 5-10 minutes late every morning. I rushed into the office, flustered and stressed and apologizing. I had already texted my supervisor that I would be late. Although she’s cool with it and understands, I personally don’t like the tardy routine I was demonstrating. As I get settled at my desk, the first words I would utter were, “The traffic was horrible! I spent an hour driving here. I almost ran out of gas.” This is hardly the voice of someone who has had a peaceful morning.

Besides the traffic, there were other accelerants that fueled my morning agitations. There was the morning radio shows where hosts were voicing their anger over the most recent loss of the local pro or college sports team. Along the road, drivers were giving everyone the finger because of lane changes in bumper to bumper traffic. All the while, I’m exhausted because I rushed out of the house, without coffee, because I knew that I would be hitting bad traffic.

Finally, after all of this – yes, there is one more piece – the mornings were unpredictable. Weather predictions are always are wrong. If there was any indication of bad weather, then traffic would be slow. If there was an accident, like a small fender bender, then traffic is backed up many miles along the two lane highway.

These are a lot of stressors along my 45 minute drive, and all of this happening before I start my work day. After a couple of months of morning after morning of stress and agitation, I could not take it anymore. I had to make a change.

Moral of the Story: Control what you can control, let go of what you can’t.

When I was a child, I thought that I could control the wind. I would stand on a table and raise and lower both my arms. Gusts of wind would hit my body giving me the false impression that I was actually controlling the elements. When my parents called me inside for a meal, I yelled, “I have to put the wind down!” and I’d lower my arms and wait for wind to die down. Then – and only then – would I go inside to eat.

Controlling the wind is cute. However, many of us do the same thing. We’re just all grown-up trying to control something that is as out of our control – like the wind.

The weather in Pittsburgh is unpredictable. The traffic patterns are also erratic. These two things were causing me considerable morning angst. However, I continued to wake up the same way and follow the same traffic lanes, all with the belief that something would change. Something had to get better. This would some how fix itself. And nothing did. It was the same result morning after morning.

Finally, I had to come to terms that, the only way that I could make my mornings tolerable – and even enjoyable – was to change things that were in my control.

Bottom line: I needed to wake up half an hour earlier. I started going to bed earlier. I gave up watching the third loop of Sports Center and the idea I could watch an entire football game before midnight, while still getting a full night’s sleep. Wasn’t going to happen.

At night, I set the coffee timer, because I demonstrated time and time again that I could not do it in the morning. I prepared frozen food that could be microwaved so I could walk out the door with breakfast in hand.

These changes started working. I left earlier. Traffic got easier. This, in turn, led to less bird signals and insane lane changes. I felt better. This was working. I wasn’t controlling the traffic or weather, but I was taking control.

With a clearer state of mind, I refused to listen to morning radio and rediscovered podcasts. It felt better not to get second-hand anger on the morning drive. Furthermore, the podcasts I chose were funny, entertaining, and uplifting. Another check in positive control column.

I arrived to work way early and, with time to spare, I read, wrote or slept. Then, when it was time to walk in the office, I said, “Good morning,” instead of “You won’t believe how bad it was this morning.”

Although this was a small but meaningful change for me, everyone has things that they wish they could change – things they wish they could control.

Perhaps it’s the co-workers at your workplace?

Perhaps it’s the families you work with?

Maybe you wish some of you students will not show up today so you’re day is that much easier?

But, sure enough, those co-workers haven’t quit, those families still arrive, and those kiddos are the first to your classroom door. You can’t change everything, but you can change what’s in your control, such as perspective, actions, and the such. Those changes may have greater ramifications than you realize.

So, ask yourself, are you standing on a table with your arms in the air, yelling toward the skies, “Go wind gooooooo!!!” or are you like ,”The weatherman says it’s going to be windy today. Whatever the case, I’ll just stay inside and eat lunch. Nothing I can do.”

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