Destined for Lateness

I am so punctually challenged and chronically tardy that the only event I ever showed up to early was my own birth. (No really, I was two weeks early, and it kills me that I can’t take any credit for it.) I don’t know if lateness is genetic or learned, but it afflicts every one of my family members, and I married into it as well. (I don’t think my husband handed in a single paper on time in his entire undergrad or graduate career.)

My basic problem is twofold: I consistently underestimate how long it takes to get ready and how long it takes to travel. I never factor in traffic or walking to or from my car. And in the rare instance that I’m ahead of schedule, I immediately slow down my pace (because I know I have extra time) which sends me straight back to lateville. Worst of all, although I am intellectually aware that I have serious time management issues, every time I need to get somewhere by a certain time (which is basically every day) I delusionally believe that the same actions will somehow yield different results.

On the bright side, I’ve developed some tricks over the years if I really, really need to be on time. (See – yet another symptom of my condition – I generally view time as a suggestion rather than deadline.) Trick number one: WWTL (When Would Tammy Leave?) My friend Tammy is as notoriously early as I am late, and although I know her secret, I am unable to replicate it. She has this innate grasp of how long it takes to get somewhere or do something even if she’s never done it before unlike me who doesn’t have a clue how long anything takes to do even if I’ve done it over and over again. So when punctuality is essential I have to ask myself (and Tammy) WWTL?

Trick number two – plan to make multiple stops and then cancel all unnecessary stops at the last minute. This can never be planned for since, as I said, I never actually believe I’m going to be late (until it’s too, well, late), but the only way I am capable of being somewhere on time (without Tammy’s help) is if I plan to do something less important before my main stop, and then once I’m already on the road, behind schedule as usual, I skip the unnecessary stop and head straight to the important one. 

Which is exactly how we got to the airport on time a few weeks ago. We were going away for Shavuos, to visit some friends in Virginia. My husband and I were scheduled to speak as the scholars in residence during the holiday. I wanted to stop by our local kosher bakery to get our friends a “thank you for hosting us” gift, but by the time we got down to the car and packed everyone into it, it was clear that we had no choice but to head straight to the airport. So we did and we managed to make excellent time. I started unloading the children and bags as my husband ran inside to print out our tickets. Everything was going so smoothly – too smoothly. And then my husband called my cell phone to explain that our tickets weren’t printing for some reason. As I waited on hold for him to get help, a sense of foreboding overcame me. Then I heard the words “next month, sir.” 

Apparently my husband had managed to book our tickets for June instead of May, and the only way to change them was to spend an additional $800 (on top of the $500 we had already spent). And there wasn’t even a return flight when we needed it. Now in my husband’s defense, he had been working very hard and sleeping very little for several weeks before he bought the tickets, and we had only decided to fly because he needed to be back for even more work on the Sunday after the holiday (poor guy).

But suddenly we were out $500 and left with no choice but to drive for 7 hours during the day with 2 small children and a baby. (We would have planned to drive while the kids were sleeping had we known that flying wasn’t an option.) We were also faced now with driving through the night on Saturday – another dreadful ordeal.

I won’t lie, my first thought was one of self-pity. “Why did this have to happen to us?” I wondered as I began punching V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A into the GPS. “Our kids don’t do well on short car rides. Watching them all day on Sunday by myself after having driven through the night on Saturday will be torture. And throwing $500 down the drain? I mean, how many better things could I have done with that money?”

After a brief ride on the pity-train, I was done feeling sorry for myself, so I stepped off and remembered two things. Number one, tzuros (pain, unpleasantness) is unavoidable in life. Everyone gets his share. Better to get it in small, annoying doses than in big, serious, life-altering ones. And number two: ultimately we don’t get to call the shots in life.

For whatever reason, we were meant to be couped up in a car for seven hours as our kids fought, our baby cried, and our 3-year-old repeated over and over again, “HOW…MANY…MO’…MINUTES?!” (She tawks like a New Yoykah sometimes.) We were meant to drive and drive despite our exhaustion on Saturday night, sleep a few hours in a nasty motel, and then get stuck in horrible traffic trying to enter the city on Sunday morning. We were also meant to not have that $500.

People love to delude themselves into believing that life will go according to their plans because they are in charge. Indeed, I spent most of my childhood dreaming of the day when I’d grow up and get to say things like, “because I said so!” But even as adults, most things are not up to us. We are required to make good decisions about the things that we can control, like our behavior and actions, but everything else is basically out of our hands and we have to learn to let go. The Talmud describes this concept with the maxim “kol bidey shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim,” which conceptually means everything is controlled from Above except for the choices we make.

Which brings me back to this whole lateness issue….am I choosing to do it or am I just an unfortunate soul who is victimized by external factors beyond my control? In other words, next time I’m late picking up my kids from school, can I just blame it God’s greater plan?

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  1. Oh Allison, by the way I was completely gripped by this blog just shows there are many lessons to be learned yet for us both.

  2. Laughing all the way! The lateness thing is definitely a challenge for many. It’s an actual skill, I believe.
    Good lesson learned, as always.

  3. Loool I’m always late too and ppl never understand how thats possible but you described it perfectly 😉 Great blog

  4. I’m very curious about the comments area on this particular blog. Everyone whose postings you approved seem to agree with you and what you wrote. I posted a comment that didn’t really agree with your take on the subject of timing. To me being late is a matter of not taking personal responsibility and its extremely disrespectful of the person or people who are waiting for you to show up. Since a huge part of being Jewish is to love & respect other, I see this as a huge breakdown in commitment (that is assuming of course that you have a commitment to respecting others).
    I used to be late all the time. I was the worst offender myself, until I had a teacher who showed me how arrogant my actions were towards others with this behavior which I saw as a trivial issue. I have been there and I had done the being late thing for most of my life before that day. I was committed to being on time after that. I didn’t like to be disrespected or feel disrespected by other and don’t feel entitled to do that to others. Our time in this world is limited and we never know how limited it is, so when we are late , we are actually thieves who steal other peoples time. That is not my personal opinion, its written in Ethics of The Fathers (Pirkei Avot). When I read that, it made perfect sense to me and I am not anywhere near your level of Torah observance. You are far more religious than I ever will be, which is why I am surprised that you are not willing to post an opinion that disagrees with your on your blog. You have only approved the postings of those who agree with you about how cute and funny it is to be late and all the people whos responses I’ve read seem to agree that being on time is something outside themselves and not in their control. All that is required is taking personal responsibility for our actions which is also what Judaism and the Torah is all about.
    Take personal responsibility and commit to respecting the time of others even if your are not as respectful of your own personal time which is also limited and very valuable. You will save yourself a lot of stress in the process and prolong your time on this earth with your beautiful family.
    This doesn’t mean that you will never be late again, but at least you will not come across as an arrogant person who thinks they are entitled to be late because they have a great “reason” (read:excuse) all the time.
    You are an amazing woman who is doing a great thing by promoting Jews in a positive light and doing what you can for the betterment of the community. We are the chosen people so we can be a light unto the nations and set an example by how we are being in the world.
    I know that being late seems like such a small thing but it says so much about a person and who they are being. The experience on the receiving end of waiting for people who are always late is kind of disgusting. My time is as valuable as yours and everyone elses who wait for us. They made the effort to be there and as a Jew , you should ask the same of yourself. If not for you then at least to set a great example for your children to follow since kids don’t do what we say, they follow what we do.
    I hope that you open minded enough and courageous enough to publish my comment as well even though I know that you may not personally like or appreciate what I have to say.

  5. Galina-
    For the record, the reason that I didn’t post your original comment was not because you disagreed with me, but rather because of the rudeness of its tone.
    I’m fine debating people about issues. (Though sometimes I’ll answer a comment via email if it’s too essoteric for my average reader.)
    I do not, however, feel the need to post comments where people baselessly personally attack me.
    I agree that being on time is a nice trait and that it even is a Torah ideal, but in your original comment you accused me of being late due to my “large ego”.
    I can assure you, I get to places late – like planes and buses – when there’s no one involved and no one put out but me. I get to those places late not due to my ego, but rather because I was raised in a family that was usually late and never learned the skills to get places on time.
    Being puctual is a constant struggle for me. I’m better sometimes and worse other times. It’s important to note that most things I write on this site are exagerrated for the sake of humor. Other bloggers make fun of other people to get a laugh, but I usually just mock myself since I don’t want to put other people down.
    The blog itself wasn’t actually about whether being late is good or not. It was about trusting in Hashem. My last line about getting places late being out of my control was mostly said tongue-in-cheek.
    I posted your comment this time because you said it in a polite way and you are correct that the Torah values puctuality. (Though I never meant to imply that it doesn’t.)
    Again, I’m fine with an exchange of ideas, but personally attacking the gal who’s moderating the comments is not the best way to get your comment posted!

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