My husband stared at me like I’d just spoken in alien tongue.
“We talked about this — didn’t we?” I asked, begging my memory to be correct.
He swore to all that was good and true that I’d never, until that moment, spoken about the birthday party we were due at in two short hours. This time it was a birthday party, but it could just as likely have been an orchestra concert, an early-out school day, parent teacher conferences that would change the logistics of our whole evening.
The list of events I’ve forgotten to discuss with him is, in fact, pretty lengthy.
I talk so often with others about kid-logistics that maybe my brain assumes I’ve already told my husband. I’ve discussed birthday gift ideas with other parents, concert arrival timing with my daughter, conferencing details with grandparents. But to the poor partner I live with and beside, who picks up all my slack, I have been frightfully and regularly mum.
As the historical keeper of our comings and goings, I hold the daily details in my own brain and forget that others might also benefit from the information. People whose days will be affected by the knowledge.
My daughters, I think, have become pretty reliable about keeping their own schedules straight, thank the heavens. I clearly can’t be relied upon as the sole trustee, and it’s probably for the best: my spotty remembrance teaches my kids — and husband — that they should stay on their toes. It’s all hands on a tilting deck around here, so check the calendar and ask questions, for Pete’s sake.
For several years, we couldn’t tell our kids about future plans, anyway. We learned early on that sharing details of a future outing would create chaos in our little ones. Their impatience runneth over: the preschoolers and toddlers couldn’t differentiate between future plans and immediate happenings, and would beg to leave right now for a good time that was still five days away. It was madness.
So we began keeping our schedules close to our chest, and our poker faces stiff. We’d tell the kids about an event only a few hours before it was set to begin, thus mitigating the pain of repeated beggings, questions or complaints. We followed this process for happy things as well as not-so-happy things: dentist appointments and theme parks were treated as equals.
Even just last year, when our youngest was a first grader, I’d still have said late news was the only way to go, at least where he was concerned. Now, though, my certainty is crumbling. Because as with every other part of life with kids, nothing stays the same for long.
Lately, I’m noticing that this boy-child doesn’t thrive at all under surprise circumstances. Maybe it has something to do with his still underdeveloped calendar sense.
One day is much the same as the other as far as he’s concerned, so he never remembers that Tuesday evenings hold a dreaded cross-town slog for two hours during his sisters’ various activities. And because I’ve operated for so long under the don’t-ask-don’t-tell style of parental planning, he’s caught off-guard in the most unpleasant way when it’s time to head out the door.
Confronted by his weekly boredom on our busiest nights, I remembered something a good friend once told me about his own childhood.
As a little kid, this friend had trouble falling asleep at night until his mom snuggled up and outlined the following day’s activities. Good, bad or indifferent, my friend simply needed to know what to expect when he awoke. An understanding of the next day’s calendar soothed his anxieties and helped him make his own plans within those limits. He settled down, knowing the boundaries of the day and feeling anchored in routine.
The way we parents exercise such control over our kids’ everyday activities is so invisible to us — and to our kids — that I think we forget to acknowledge the effects of those controls. It must feel like walking blindly into a crowded room, not knowing what’s about to bump us off track or how our own hopes will be derailed.
Maybe some of us thrive on that dynamic sense of excitement and unexpected shifts. Maybe some of us are better adapted to a life on the fly.
But I think I’m discovering that — right now — my son is not one of those people. Maybe he never was. For the time being, and as much as I’m capable of knowing these things in advance, I think it’s a fair time to abandon my long-held belief that my kids don’t need much advance notice.
I’ve tried more transparency lately, with mostly great results. Sometimes we have a pre-bed snuggle and chat about the next day’s events. Sometimes we have a morning reminder about a wonky afternoon. Whatever the case, my new intention is to be respectful of my child’s need for a lineup he can trust. I intend to let him know that his thoughts about our plans are valid and valued, even if it means he complains earlier or is impatient longer.
I’m a grown-up, after all. I can handle his emotions.
It seems like I need to make some changes all around.
Both or the sake of my child who thrives on knowing what his day will hold, and for the sake of my long-suffering husband, who would just like to avoid being blindsided by another birthday party.
Sarah Coyne is a parenting columnist for the Globe. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.