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Amy Choate-Nielsen: When plans hit a bump in the road, roll with it and see what happens

I took my kids to a reservoir last week.

It was a hot, steamy day, with curling streaks of gray all through the sky from distant fires that made the air feel more like a blanket than something to breathe. For the first time in a long time, we had nothing to do, and I couldn’t stand the idea of wasting one of the last few days of summer with my children plugged into electronics all day. So I decided to take them on an adventure. I pictured having a lakeside picnic and playing in the water for hours and hours.

Occasionally things go just as you planned — but other times, the bumps in the road can nearly knock you into a ditch. Sometimes the best thing to do is just roll with it.

I planned to get to the lake at 10 a.m. I had never been before, I was worried about crowds, and parking, and the kids had dentist appointments at 3:20 p.m. But at 9 a.m., when I should have been walking out the door to start the drive, something came up. Then I had some emails to send. And some more emails.

My daughter started complaining about how she didn’t want to go with us, then my son joined in about how terrible it would be. They started fighting with each other, pausing occasionally to come to my room and ask me why they had to go anywhere.

A little after 11 a.m. I was finally ready to go. I loaded up the car and started driving down the hill, when I remembered I forgot the life jackets. I drove back up the hill, got the life jackets, and started to head back down, a little after 11:30 a.m. The whole time I was watching the clock thinking of every minute that was disappearing from our fun day, wondering if it would even be worth it to go.

Everyone was starting to get hungry, so I pulled into the grocery store parking lot and told the kids to hurry, which, if you’ve ever seen small children get in and out of a car, you know is an absurd thing to ask. They stood there in the back seat, debating what toys to bring into the store, fighting over which door to exit through and stepping on each other’s toes, until they finally got out about five minutes later, all rumpled and upset and wanting candy.

At 12:10 p.m., we were finally on the road, speeding along. I figured we would have at least an hour and a half at the lake, but every minute counted. I was in the countryside, the rolling hills were all around us, I could tell we were getting close, and then I took a left turn and bam: Road construction. Traffic. Gravel trucks driving up a very long, steep hill at 15 miles per hour.

The minutes were slipping away.

At about 1:30 p.m., we got to the lake, climbed down the sandy bank onto the beach and we had arrived. We had about an hour before we needed to leave.

Instantly the bickering and whining and complaining I had heard all morning was gone. My stress and anxiety over the clock disappeared. My kids put on their life jackets — I was so glad I had taken the extra 15 minutes to get them — and jumped in the water, laughing and giggling with glee.

“Come on, Mom! Get in!” my middle son called to me as I watched from the shore.

I thought for a minute about how I didn’t want to get my hair wet, then I stepped into the soggy mud at the water’s edge anyway. I was tentative at first, bobbing up and down in the cold current.

“Come on, Mom, just go with the flow,” he said.

And I did.

His words made me chuckle. He had borrowed the phrase from one of my favorite T-shirts, but he was so right. The flow that morning hadn’t gone along with my plans, but it brought me here. It brought me to a moment when the sun warmed my head and the water chilled my bones, and my child, who had been so disagreeable and irritated that morning looked at me with the widest, most sincere and joyful eyes and said, “Thank you so much for bringing us here, Mom. This is wonderful.”

Sometimes the bumps in the road can send you careening for a canyon, but on this day, it brought me something wonderful. I’m so glad I was along for the ride.