Somebody asked me about my plans for Christmas recently, and I balked; I’m not even ready for Autumn yet, never mind Winter, because I don’t feel finished with summer. How did I let this happen again? Every year I make great plans for summer that never materialise, and suddenly people are talking about Christmas when I still haven’t worn the shorts I bought in May. I had planned to swim in the Irish sea, make picnics, use the extra daylight to write short stories, spend lots of time outdoors and go to festivals (well, maybe just a select festival – one of the comfortable ones), watch my legs tan in the sun, and make jugs of homemade cocktails with fresh mint and ice bobbing and clinking on top like happy bath toys.
But I did none of it. Summer passed me by in a haze of deadlines, postponed plans, mintless drinks and rain.
My stepson compiled a list at the start of the school holidays; “Summer Bucket List” roared the caption at the top. I explained to him, gently, that a bucket list was really a catalogue of things to do before you die, rather than just over the course of a summer, but he looked at me and shrugged with the insouciance that can only come with being 14, “Oh well, it’s the same thing really”. And maybe it is, or was, when we were 14. Summer stretched out before us like a sea disappearing into the horizon; is that land we can see? Nope, nothing. Nothing at all but sea. But as we get older, the sea doesn’t seem to stretch out quite as far and we can always see the land approaching.
Too much planning is as bad as procrastination. Most of us map our days out with plans and lists, and somewhere in between, life is lived. “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans”, is actually not to paraphrase John Lennon, but to quote Allen Saunders in Readers’ Digest many years earlier. No doubt someone had declared or thought it before him too (as is usual the way with these misappropriated quotes) someone who sat bolt upright one morning at 4am and said “Sod these plans; I’m done with them”.
Sometimes the best bits of life happen during the most mundane moments, rather than the ones we may have carefully planned. And we all know what happens to the best-laid plans anyway.
I wondered why, once again, I hadn’t done all of the things I had hoped to do over the summer, and then I remembered that I have a toddler, and my husband is unfortunately absent most of the time, and that not a day had gone by over the last few months when I wasn’t busy. It was a different kind of summer, and one that I know I’ll look back on fondly. My little boy’s second birthday, the occasional afternoons in parks with friends, my own birthday with my family in my parent’s back garden on a sunny August evening and plenty of work in between. I did have a lovely summer, it’s just that the things I ended up doing weren’t on the original list.
So as we head into Autumn proper, I am making no plans. Yes, I have to work, and my little boy is starting crèche, and so there will always be schedules and logistics; and of course if we don’t make time to see friends, we often never do, so certain things must be at least penciled in. I know when Christmas is (I am told it falls on the same date every year) and won’t be bullied into panicking about planning it before is absolutely necessary (Disclaimer: unless an early festive bargain presents itself). I will be more spontaneous – if life allows – and after all, spontaneity is essentially the joy of not making plans but doing them anyway. But no more guilt over things I thought I might do that ended up not happening whilst life was being lived.
For the record, my stepson didn’t get through his list either, but I suspect he cared less than I did. So no more bucket lists. And anyway, who says we can’t make jugs of minted cocktails in October?
Originally published in Image Magazine, October 2017