Magically Disappearing Mystery Minutes


Why is getting out of the house on time in the morning with two preschoolers akin to herding one hundred cats through a small swinging door? Try as I might, I still can’t find the best way to encourage (or threaten) Son and Daughter to get dressed and out the door on time. It doesn’t matter how early we start to get ready, their silliness will find a way to delay our departure.

I call this magically disappearing time Mystery Minutes. And my rule of thumb is: Plan to leave 15 minutes prior to the actual time you need to leave.

In fact, plan 15 Mystery Minutes into all outings with children.

That’s 15 Mystery Minutes before you need to leave the playground, play date, etc. to make it somewhere else on time (or just because you want to leave). That allows for three “five minute warnings.” Which is where the Mystery Minutes come from: The fact that it takes at least three times longer than you think to herd children in your direction. Three times as long to convince them it’s a good idea, to assert your authority that they must comply, to entice them with a tempting enough carrot, or threaten them with a strong enough warning.

And, because no matter how carefully I’ve planned the steps to get us out the door, Son or Daughter will spring a surprise tactic or tantrum that sets us off course.

(This morning I cajoled Son into using nasal spray with a promise of two kitty cookies (one for each nostril). Well, of course Daughter then wanted some, too. What seemed like a good way to get him moving, turned into an all out tantrum when she insisted on five cookies.

“Just two!”
“We don’t eat cookies in the morning. Two or none.”
“No, five!”

She was frustrated because she didn’t understand the rules. 1. We don’t usually get cookies in the morning so if we’re going to have two, why not five? 2. I usually negotiate on matters of little consequence. When did kitty cookies become a big deal?

So, I tell myself, if I’m going to break the rules, I should live with the consequences. And, if I’m going to break them, why not just give in all the way. More times than not, I realize later that whatever stubborn “rule” I held onto, was not worth my child’s tears.

And, next time, maybe I’ll plan for the full 30 Mystery Minutes so I’m not a crazed lunatic scrambling for snow pants and a second glove.

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