For all the planning that went into my family's Thanksgiving travels this year -- we squeezed in visits to relatives on both sides of our family -- one of my kids' favorite moments turned out to be completely unscripted.
It was Thanksgiving morning, and approximately 20 degrees and windy. My younger son and I had just run in a 5K Turkey Trot, but we were not warm. In fact, I would describe my hands, feet and nose as frozen.
We went to a nearby coffee shop looking for coffee, hot chocolate and a warm pastry. The line, not surprisingly, was huge, snaking around the inside of the store and continuing out the door and down the block.
We glanced around. Across the street there was another option: a frozen yogurt shop that had opened early. No coffee or other hot beverages, just self-serve treats and toppings and refrigerated drinks.
Stunningly, there was no line. At all.
"Let's get frozen yogurt instead," I suggested, half kidding around.
My two boys' faces lit up. They loved the idea.
"Really? We can do that before we even have breakfast?" my 11-year-old asked. He then proceeded to hug me in public, which anyone with a preteen boy will realize is a near-miracle.
"Can I put M&Ms on it even if it's not dessert?" wondered my 9-year-old runner.
Well... why the heck not?
We got out of the coffee line, went to the near-empty yogurt store and each got huge servings of vanilla, chocolate and cake batter, topped off with candy. We had our choice of tables. We sat by the window and laughed at the people waiting for boring old coffee.
"Can we do that again sometime?" my eldest asked when he had finished, grinning at me with yogurt smeared all over his chin.
The whole thing reminded me of how important it is to be spontaneous with kids. We're a society that values organization, predictability and schedules, all of which of course are important. But for all the "how-to" books and articles about keeping everything "together", how many are out there for not always following an expected script?
I realize that getting morning frozen yogurt isn't exactly living on the edge. However, I do think the small things we do as parents to make life fun and light can really add up.
My kids love "breakfast for dinner" nights, last-minute outings, brief beach trips in winter and happy surprises. They enjoy getting in the car without knowing the plan and suddenly deciding to have sleepovers in each other's rooms (my oldest especially couldn't believe it when I camped out by his bed in my sleeping bag one night). One of my friends suggests keeping a "ticket book" with a list of activities that each child really wants to do and, when there's a free day, simply handing him or her one of the tickets and saying, "let's go."
As a big-picture bonus, parenting experts say a bit of spontaneity can help kids learn to be more flexible, adapt to different circumstances and "roll with the punches" that life will throw at them. Punches much bigger than long lines at the coffee shop.
I am a planner, a bit of a type-A organizer who isn't the best at relaxing. So this stuff doesn't come naturally to me, I will admit. But when it does happen, I sure do enjoy it.
So I'll be ready for more vanilla yogurt next Thanksgiving morning. I just hope the store doesn't catch on and decide it really should sell coffee, too, because that wouldn't be quite as fun.