Confession Time: We abducted Flat Stanley.
We didn’t mean to do it. It all started with the best of intentions. I should have known better. We enrolled on the world-wide network of home educating families to exchange laminated cutout characters with one another in a sort of pen pal experience. If you are familiar with the Flat Stanley stories, you know what I’m talking about.
The road paved with good intentions
We shipped our flat traveler all the way to New Zealand. Shortly after our package hit the mail, we received the exchange traveler from Down Under. We were meant to take him everywhere – exciting and informative places – while photographing our journey. The two-week exchange included a journal where responsible homeschool children could document the adventures of this flat character for their exchange family to read when the traveler returned home.
All well and good on paper.
Enter real life.
I honestly can’t remember if we got sick or busy or both. All I do know is our flat traveler seemed not to fit into most of our days. We either weren’t going somewhere noteworthy, or we went and left him safe and snug in the bottom drawer of our school workboxes. Pathetic, I know.
The two weeks zoomed by and I still hadn’t taken any pictures. Not one. My son hadn’t sat with me to write about the adventures we were having with this flat friend because, well, we weren’t having any. To remedy this, we took our laminated friend to Trader Joe’s. Just don’t. I was desperate. My son happened to be wearing his Jedi cloak that day because he was feeling his inner padiwan, so we have some classic pictures of this flat character lying beside bags of baby carrots and my son holding him up in the frozen food aisle.
I need more
It dawned on me I couldn’t send back our exchange traveler with so little documented evidence of having had a fabulous trip stateside. I needed more. We had to schedule a trip to the zoo or the beach or something. Another week passed. I went to work out of town. I took the flat ambassador in my computer bag and shot a few pictures in LA. This was getting at least passable. The trouble was, my son wasn’t in those photos and he couldn’t really journal about them. Back into the drawer went the traveler.
Weeks continued to roll by. This burden of coming up with the perfect experience for our traveler weighed on me – not in such a way as to make me actually take action, mind you. Instead, it felt more like having to return a favorite jersey to an ex-boyfriend. I needed to get to it, just when?
We received a friendly email from the mom of the boy who had unwittingly sent the traveler to us. Of course, they had sent back our character, along with pencils, maps, souvenirs and a photo book. Each photo was attached to a page with elementary school writing describing the details of what our papery friend had done in New Zealand. We had Kiwi bird gifts galore. They had nothing but hope – and, thanks to me, that was dwindling.
Guilt, the great motivator
The email spurred me into consciousness. I had to get serious. We were scheduled to go to the coast for a weekend camping trip. I decided to pack the flat traveler in the car so I wouldn’t forget him. We got a few shots in a kayak along with some pictures in a pine forest overlooking the sea. Whew. Now we were getting somewhere.
When I sat down to start our return package, it still looked weak to me. I mean, a few pictures at Trader Joe’s, some photos without my son in LA and a few camping photos. All this without one USA souvenir. I had to up my flat traveler game and quick. It took me a few more weeks to get to another fun spot – our local zoo – and then a few more to get to the local chamber of commerce to collect maps, postcards and a pencil.
In a last-ditch effort, somewhere between eight and nine months after we took on this flat freeloader, I took my son to Barnes & Noble. We bought a lego set with a USA theme and another toy. Call it bribery, or a guilt offering, either way, I felt I had done damage and penance was in order.
Logging onto an online photo book site, I made a full-blown album of the flat traveler. We were going out with a bang. This was going to be the best flat traveler return ever! I turned the album into the story of how the traveler had come to us but been kidnapped and unable to return. The story told of his many adventures, ending with how he finally escaped and made his way home to New Zealand. Being a writer comes in handy sometimes.
The deed is done
When I finally popped that package in the mail, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I don’t think I felt this much freedom when I submitted the final draft of my Master’s Thesis!! The family sent us a thank you email. They were blessed by my final gesture and grateful to get their traveler back before their son graduated from elementary school and no longer had any interest in this kind of exchange program. They didn’t say as much, but I knew.
Embarrassing and painful as this ordeal was, I learned a huge lesson.
We are surrounded by a world of opportunities. The allure of all the choices makes us want to say “yes!” to every single one.
We just can’t.
Two things tripped me up throughout the whole time we held this poor traveler hostage. One was my perfectionistic standard. I couldn’t settle for good enough. I had to get this just right. In the process of trying to achieve perfection, I got it all wrong. I caused myself undue stress and I made a boy in New Zealand look forward to something way longer than he should have had to wait.
The other pitfall in this crazy ordeal was my initial lack of assessment. Whenever we take on something new, we need to ask ourselves a key question. Can we give this opportunity the space and time it deserves? In this case, the answer was a glaring “no.”
These days I’m learning to count the cost.
How about you?
Have you ever taken on more than you can handle?
What do you do when you realize your expectations have set you up to fail?
I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to have you join Hearts Homeward so I can send you my weekly letter of encouragement and inspiration as well as including you in specials and freebies when I offer those. Would you give me the privilege of pouring into your motherhood?