Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

A Life Unplanned

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“Then we’d go running on faith,

All of our dreams would come true,

And our world will be right

When love comes over me and you”

-Eric Clapton, Running On Faith

If I could sum up the way I live my life, I would say that I wing it. I feel my way. I kind of just go with it. I’m not a big planner. Never have been and probably never will be. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

Some times the universe conspires to plant seeds in my mind…

Last week, Aussa wrote a post about life planning and Diana wrote about planning and organizing her blog. I do neither. My life has no plan beyond next week. My kids will be out of school for the summer in a few weeks. No plan. I’ve been writing this blog for 7 months. I average a post a week, sometimes two. I have no idea what I’m going to write about this week. Or next week.

But Diana and Aussa got me thinking. Along with the chaos that sometimes is my life. The rushing around, the race to get things done. The screw ups when you get schedules confused. I tend to live in laid back mode until the last possible moment and then it’s a frantic rush to get the stuff done. Accomplished. Crossed off the list I didn’t actually make. I always get it done. Just not in an organized, sane manner.

So no, not a big planner. I didn’t plan to have a third child.  I didn’t plan on going on a first date with my (future) husband two days after breaking up a three year relationship. I didn’t plan on leaving Atlanta and moving back to my home town. I didn’t plan on starting a blog.

What if I had planned?

It’s real easy to plan to not have a child…

Popping a small pink pill would have been all the planning needed. But what if I had? This child, who made our family complete, who brings me laughter every single day for the last five years, I never would have known. My “plan” was to go to graduate school. I had started studying for my GRE. The older kids would both be in school full time and it was time for me to work on me. But I got pregnant. And I panicked for about a day. I stressed over a third pregnancy. I stupidly stressed over what it would do to my body. I stressed over having a baby need me night and day when I had just started to taste the freedom that comes with kids becoming self sufficient.

Stressing didn’t stop the inevitable. She came barreling into our lives, quite literally, not even waiting for the doctor to show up at the hospital. The last five years have been a beautiful crazy mess of a whirlwind. That first year, I would hold her every afternoon feeding her before her nap, her tiny hand reaching to grasp a piece of my hair to twirl through her fingers. As she would stare intently into my eyes, I would find myself overcome with emotions. I would hold off the tears until she shut her eyes. The tears of joy and relief. Silent prayers of thanks swirling through my mind as I studied her delicate face through the haze of tears. Intense gratitude that my “plans” had been ignored. That someone, something, knew better than I did what I needed.

I didn’t plan on falling in love…

I had just ended my relationship with my college boyfriend. I had a “plan.” I was going to move in with my friend, sleep on her floor until I saved up for my own place. I was going to experience young adulthood as a single woman for a while. I had been a serial monogamist, in a series of relationships through college. My friends called me “Never without a man Gretchen.” I felt like I really needed to take some time to just be me.

Joe asked me out two days after I left my boyfriend. I was torn. I had a plan. But I also really wanted to go out with him. I did what any rational woman would do. I said yes to that first date. And it was incredible. I knew there was no going back. Eighteen years later I wonder what would have happened if I would have said no to that date. If I would have insisted on being single for a while. Would we have found our way to each other eventually? Would I still be single? Would I not have these three children? I threw my plans and caution to the wind and have a marriage that has endured and weathered and strengthened and a life I never could have imagined.

I never thought I’d move back home…

I loved Atlanta. I wanted to live in a large city, a city of art and culture. Not the small southern city of my youth with it’s conservative bent and unofficial uniform of khaki pants and polo shirts.

But one weekend I went home for a visit and returned to Atlanta with the overwhelming urge to move back. Joe agreed to move with me. A few months later we were setting up house in our new apartment, ten minutes from my parents’ house. A year later my brother would be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

The prognosis was horrifying. The 18 months that he fought for his life were spent hanging out together, going to movies, going to concerts, having lunch. I can’t quantify the value of spending all of that time with him. I know that it would have killed me to live four hours away. My decision to move back home gave me the gift of time. Time to laugh and talk and soak up every second with my brother. Time that I look back on as treasured memories, the most precious of moments that reside in my heart. Time that I still cling to all these years later, time that was a gift.

I had no idea what I was doing…

A blog. I had flirted with the idea, but that’s about it. Then one day I read something that infuriated me and within minutes found my way to WordPress and set up a basic blog and started typing. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t research the ins and outs. I just did it. I started typing and didn’t even edit before I hit publish. And seven months later I have found something I love, something I don’t think I can live without. Sleep, nights out with girlfriends, projects around my house- all things that I’ve sacrificed over the last few months for this blog. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Writing in this place has been huge for me. It has given me a voice I’d forgotten I had. It’s made me stretch and grow. It’s given me something… something all mine. And I love it.

So, what if I had planned?

What if I lived my life needing complete order and control. Following a carefully crafted blueprint? What if I agonized over every impulse and every unscripted action? It is completely possible, likely even, that I never would have had my daughter. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with my husband. I wouldn’t have lived near my family when they needed me most. When I needed to be here. I wouldn’t have started this blog. I don’t know where I would be or who I would be with. I don’t want to imagine. These things that were a consequence of lack of plans are some of the biggest blessings of my life. They are more than happy accidents. They are me, listening carefully. Following my inner voice. Listening to my gut. What works for me and how I go through life wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone. But for me, living life is not a race, not a straight shot for the goal… but more of a meandering. It’s what works for me. Planning would cloud my process. So I’ll take the chaos and the frenzy that comes with winging it. Because along with that craziness comes surprises, comes blessings, comes a beautifully unplanned life.


36 Responses

  1. Gretchen, this is lovely.

    I have similar thoughts about a lot of things, and if I were to write a “what if I had planned” post, some of the sections would be eerily similar. Little Jedi was unplanned, and I don’t know that he’d ever have made it here if I’d planned. Grad school was a whim, and I don’t know if I’d have done it if I had a big plan. Same with moving to NOLA. Damn, I’m glad I didn’t plan. 🙂

    (And thanks for linking to my post. 🙂 )

    1. I don’t think I truly realized it until I started writing, but it does seem like the best things in life aren’t planned… I could probably stand to plan in some areas of my life for practical reasons. For example, how am I going to write blog posts with three kids home all summer??? But in general it completely goes against my grain. My daughter was the only un-plan that I was really conscious of. I tell everyone. I literally cried tears of happiness ever day for a year. My husband and I still look at each other and shake our heads when she’s doing something kooky and crazy and making us all laugh. I really could have written pages and pages just about her. I’m sure you know what I mean 🙂

  2. I found this really inspirational, I often think too much and try to plan everything, but in the end, it’s better not to know about everything that is going to happen – just wait for the unprepared moments, these may be a lot more beautiful than what you would have thought of. And you may miss lots of opportunities if you try and stick to a plan, which you may even regret afterwards.

    Thanks for the article, it’s nicely written and it made me think 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for saying that! I think a certain amount of planning is necessary. That kind of planning I need to try to incorporate in my life for practical reasons. But I wholeheartedly believe in going with your gut on most things.

      1. Indeed you’re right, it’s not good without any plan either. But I assume you just have to be flexible and open to anything, even though it’s a different path in life than the one you’ve planned ^_^

  3. This is such a sweet post. (and I’m SO sorry about your brother. Heart squeeze). I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I don’t plan stuff either. Yes, little things, like lists of things to get down around the house, but I don’t have a five year plan much less a one month plan!

    1. Yes! There’s a reason for all the things happening! I am 100% convinced my subconscious (or whatever) was telling me to move home for my brother. You seem like you’re pretty laid back. I get a chill surfer-girl vibe from you.

      I get very passionate about things and excited but I can’t stress about getting stuff done. It always gets done eventually. I even waited until it was ridiculous before potty training my kids (like three years old). But guess what, it only took like 2 days and done! I basically let them potty train themselves is what I’m saying… I am starting to stress about the summer, though. Three kids. And my 5 year old has become needy lately. Probably should plan for that! 🙂

  4. Sorry it’s taken me so long to say so, but thank you for the follow! I was trying to remember who you were, and well, then there was Beth Teliho’s fantastic Tweet promoting this post that brought me back and I made the connection. (Thanks, Beth. Thank you again.)

    Um… I’ve had a lot of plans, but quite a few went NOTHING the way I set them out to be. My whole undergrad college experience and winding up on disability was totally that way. But, I figure I have a good life today. It is good despite the trauma and bullshit and sorrow. I hope I’ve made that somewhat clear in the posts I’ve made… if you’re still reading 😉

    1. Hey! Thank you for coming here! Beth’s the best, I’ve found so many great blogs from her tweets and from reading her blog!

      Disappointments, I think we’ve all had a few. I think maybe they’re even more disappointing when you had a well laid out plan… maybe not. Sometimes it just sucks no matter what. (All of this is really just an exercise in me justifying my lazy ass for never planning anything!)

      I am still reading your blog! And you do seem so positive despite all the pain. I think last I read (probably a few weeks ago) you had the pain thingy implanted… how’s it going? (I’m so behind on catching up on blogs) Living with chronic pain has got to be so incredibly hard. I had back surgery when I was young and have been basically pain free ever since. I recently found out how lucky I was, I found out that most people who had my back surgery live with chronic debilitating pain for the rest of their life. I don’t take my situation for granted, but I never knew that I was just very lucky.

      I feel bad that I’ve been reading you and not commenting. I struggle with commenting from my phone, I suck at typing on that freakin’ thing! And a lot of time I catch up on my blog reading at my kids’ swim practices… I hate to be that person that reads and never comments, it’s not my intention. And honestly sometimes it’s hard to comment that first time. It’s like asking to sit with strangers at the lunch table…

      1. Cimmorene (my wife) has a tablet device, and actually I understand… her lappy died and so she borrows my desktop to edit her blog posts… erm, well, okay, she can type on her tablet somewhat. She still wants a keyboard device for it, though.

        The stimulator was a trial– it is completely out. I’m waiting for a permanent implant, so I’m back to hurting like hell. I have a CAT scan tomorrow– I think the doc wants to be sure what my back looks like before poking around in there. (Different doc than the one that did the trial procedure.)

  5. So what if you had planned?

    You will never know.

    I planned, and was excellent at planning. I levied for security and saved for the future. All the plans changed and were destroyed, there was no security and everything is gone so I can start anew. Now I make no plans and live day to day, at “best” month to month. Plans are great but sometimes the Universe intervenes to “correct” them or at least change your course onto a path unknown. So whatever works is my motto. I hope your path leads you to continued happiness Gretchen.

    1. It truly is not fair that you can plan and do everything right and have it all pulled out from under you. But I know that even though it’s day to day, month to month, that you’re better than before, right? I really hope so.

      I mean, I don’t want to sound like all planning is bad. Obviously some planning is necessary in life. But I really just try to go on instinct. And I’ve made some choices that were not good at all. But even those bad choices probably had a hand in where I am now. And really, I don’t know if I’d want to see the other side. There’s a movie I saw years ago, with Gwyneth Paltrow called Sliding Doors. It was a really cool movie and the premise really stuck with me. It was all about how our lives could be different if we made a small inconsequential different choice. That kind of stuff always fascinates me…

      I hope that your path has some peace and ease ahead for you…

      1. Karma = choices and every choice matters and that is why I am in my current position but I am better and as far as I can tell without taking anything for granted I am on the path to peace. Karma does not judge. I will have to see Sliding Doors, I have heard nothing but good things about it. Gwyneth did not plan to be consciously uncoupled I am sure! xo betternotbroken

  6. I loved this.
    I didn’t want children. I planned to be single and fancy free my whole life.
    Then, sept 11 happened. And everything changed. I moved out of NY. I got pregnant.
    It’s a cliche, but my kid is the single greatest gift I’ve gotten in this life. If things had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t have him. Unthinkable.

    1. So, maybe sometimes the universe knows better than us? That’s the conclusion I came to with my daughter. Did you write about Sep 11 and having your son? That sounds like a huge thing and I haven’t read it yet. It’s crazy because once these little souls are introduced to us we can’t imagine not knowing them. I get all sappy.

      My husband and I debated for no less than two years about having another. He travels for work, the other kids were getting older, we were getting older. On paper it made sense to be done. Then we went to Sea World and *magic* happened and I knew. I told him the next day that I thought I was pregnant. He thought I was crazy. I took 7 pregnancy test over the next two weeks. Like I stopped drinking, that’s how pregnant I thought I was… and turns out I wasn’t crazy, I was pregnant after all! Or maybe both… Anyways, I’m glad you had Little Dude too. When you write about him your love is so obvious and so touching.

      1. That’s a coincidence about Sea World- you got pregnant while on vacation there, and when I was pregnant I resembled Shamu, the killer whale of Sea World!

        Yes, I did write about Sept 11 and my son; those events are actually in one post. It’s called “The Day the City Went Dark and I was Given Light” (or something like that. It’s a long-ass title to remember.)

        I love your blog. It’s one of the smartest blogs on WordPress.

        1. I bet I got you beat. I gained 70 pounds with my first pregnancy. Yep. (and also, thank you, you’re so sweet to say that. you know I’m like the president of the Samara fan club)

          1. Honestly, I don’t know how much I gained.

            After I put on fifty pounds I squeezed my eyes shut when they weighed me. I didn’t want to know!

            It took me almost a year to fit into human clothing! I actually was able to wear jeans to my kid’s first birthday party and felt like a rock star.

  7. Beautiful!!! We are very much alike. I might “plan” in the sense that I think about the future, where I want to go, what I want to do, what I need to do…but often it ends with the thinking. Action rarely happens well in advance. Yes, sometimes there is stress because I do things at the last minutes, or I run into road blocks I might have seen coming if I had been more organized. But I think my life has worked out well. And the way I see it, I can be as organized as all get out and plan everything to a tee…but I have learned that ultimately we aren’t in control. And no plan in the world can make us.

    GREAT post!

    1. You know, you might have just explained what took me over 1000 words to say. I think I plan the way I write. I do most of it in my head until it’s crunch time and then I go into action mode. I have written volumes in my head that have not been put to paper, and I plan the same way.

      I also think I would have those frantic moments of crazy rather than always planning and doing. Speaking of planning, I am anxious for an update on your book! I meant what I said about promoting it locally and on social media but I also think that you should mobilize your legions of followers to do the same! Or maybe some of your supporters can do it for you, it’s not always easy to ask people to help yourself but it’s super easy to ask people to help support someone else who you think is awesome! It’s SO exciting and I’m beyond excited for you!

      1. You are awesome and I so appreciate it. And you should know better than to ask a fellow non-planner how the book is coming 🙂 Things have stalled lately just because of end of school year craziness and I also had a big editing job I was finishing up. But I “plan” to go guns blazing this summer! Hopefully I will finish by the start of next school year!

        And p.s. I love the way you write. Your post would have been boring if it had read like my comment

        1. Hey, totally not pressuring! It takes me like a week to write just one blog post! Well, I write them quickly, it’s the editing and re-editing that takes me days. And that’s just trying to shave off a few hundred words. But I can’t wait to take it in to my daughter’s Kindergarten class and read it to them! And then brag that I know the author! 😉

  8. Ooooh this made me tear up at my desk whilst eating salad out of a ziplock bag. It’s almost terrifying to look at your life and realize the “near misses” like these… wow. The part about moving home completely did me in.

    1. Thank you Aussa. It was the most overwhelming un-explainable urge I’ve ever had. I am absolutely sure that my brother was the reason. As crazy as that sounds….

      Do you always eat lunch out of a ziploc bag? Just curious… I’m not a fan of salads in general (unless we’re talking potato salad).

      And thank you for the inspiration! After reading both yours and Diana’s posts I was doing some self analysis about my lack of planning and basically just found ways to justify not doing it!

      1. I love justifications for not doing things one feels they ought to!

        And no, not always…………… I decided to go to a greenhouse and look at pretty flowers during lunch so I was left with no option other than throwing it all in a bag and huddling behind my computer monitor shoveling leaves into my mouth like some sort of drug addled rabbit. People kept walking in… apparently it’s NOT normal to eat salad out of a ziplock bag but trust me on this… it will soon be all the rage on Pinterest.

        1. Aussa, salad out of a ziplock bag is brilliant. You can toss the dressing right in the bag, which will evenly coat each piece of lettuce. I know you ate this over a month ago, but I’m only meeting Gretchin and stalking her blog, so I had to comment on ziplock bag salad. And now I’m hungry.

          1. I know! I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t as sad as I thought. If I could get a ziplock bag that opened up more… I would be golden. *rushes off to register a patent*

          2. I think the “food in a ziploc” is pretty genius. I think there would be a lot of fun concoctions that could work. Don’t they make some kind of taco in a bag in prizon with doritos? You totally need to Pin it. I think that holds more weight than a patent these days…

  9. I am not a planner either. At all. Sometimes I think it’s a disadvantage, like today. I should be packing up bags of stuff to take to my in-laws for a father’s day, but I’m here reading your blog, leisurely drinking coffee in my pj’s instead, so I feel certain that in an hour when we’re supposed to leave, I’ll be running around the house like the crazy mom that I am, and I will most likely blame everyone else if we’re late, when really it’s your fault.

    My daughter was unplanned, and she is sunshine on my shoulders every single day. Planning is overrated.

    1. Oh my god, I get in so much trouble reading blogs in my pj’s while drinking coffee… I am NOT a morning person but browsing the internet and drinking coffee in the morning makes me so happy! And I do the same thing, I’m super laid back and then I turn into Mommy Dearest and scream at my kids to hurry up. Because, you know, they should just read my mind. And this morning I was scrambling to leave to go see my parents, wrapping my StepDad’s gift in the car… And I have tons of excuses for why we’re late. I’m the queen of justifying things. That’s what this whole post was, really. Me justifying my tendency to not plan! And I love that you call your daughter “sunshine on your shoulders.” That is so sweet. I always say that my daughter brought a light to our family (not that it was dark!). But she just is so crazy and such a free spirit and makes everyone laugh!

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