I have a decent job, and most of my colleagues are good people – but when it’s quitting time I hit the ground running. When you have a husband and two kids and a house and a job (and no nanny or maid or chef) your evenings are busy – and it feels like every second counts. Christmas is less than a month away, and I do Christmas big. This, of course, adds to my to-do list. Today was no exception. Having spent my adult life not even trying to fight my addiction to artificial height, I was wearing five-inch heels, so I wasn’t running – just walking really, really, really fast (which, I am aware, looks ridiculous). I hit a crack in the pavement at the wrong angle, and nearly fell, wrenching my ankle a bit. So I limped really, really, really fast the rest of the way to the car (looking, I know, even more ridiculous).
Traffic was doing what it always does between four and six in the afternoon – crawling. Shoulders and neck tense and hunched, eyes narrowed, I silently cursed every car that wasn’t parked. I wasn’t enjoying the beloved Christmas music on the radio, or the glorious sunset. I was in a hurry to get to the Y to collect Fiona and Bridget and get them home, and every car between me and that smelly church basement was stealing my precious time. (This has nothing to do with anything, but why is it that, when you kennel more than three kids in a room, it always ends up funky? A solid 90% of the classrooms and daycares and party rooms and dance studios and gymnasiums that have been frequented by our girls over the years smell like feet. Why?)
After hustling Fiona and Bridget into the car, and completing the drive home, I started my second shift at breakneck speed. Ryan was out, so I decided that we three ladies would indulge in a very girl activity: sharing baked brie and fancy-pants crackers and pink milk in front of “Madeline at the North Pole”. Yes, even Baby Bear Bridget is too old for Madeline, but the movie is sweet and Christmassy and we like it. Who can resist “an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and “twelve little girls in two straight lines”? And those adorable beribboned boaters ….
Before relaxing, though, there were things to do. Their agendas needed to be reviewed and signed, and food prepared for tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow’s Pizza Friday – but they still needed juice boxes and snacks and a side of veggies to ease my conscience about the pizza. The dishwasher was filled with clean dishes, and the counter was covered with dirty ones. I’m one day away from going commando, so Mount Laundry (soaring into the clouds like Everest, if slightly less majestic) had to be conquered. The beds needed new sheets. And the kitchen was filthy. The girls and I, along with my mother, had a Christmas baking marathon last Friday – sugar crystals, coconut and blobs of dough everywhere. That night, a gaggle of girlfriends came over to make dozens of chocolates (while, of course, laughing our heads off and drinking gallons of wine). Ryan and I made a pizza together, always a messy affair, and more cookies were churned out. Before I knew it, it was Monday, the beginning of another four days of hastily assembled meals, haphazardly swept and swabbed away just in time to rush off to the next thing. As I said, filthy.
I decided that I would tackle everything but the kitchen. I would do that chore after the girls were tucked away for the night. With the help of two little elves (and now that they’re eight and ten they actually do help when they try to be helpful), I blazed through the agendas and school snacks and laundry and dishwasher – tripping over things, bumping into things, saying “excuse me” alot, wearing out the carpet on the stairs. Still, despite my determination and my enthusiastic crew, I was dismayed to see the clock ticking forward at an alarming rate. I attempted to shift into a higher gear, tackling one thing while my mind focused on the next thing. It all came to a stinging, yelping, bleeding halt when I attempted to shave the top skin off the brie and shaved a slice of skin off my finger instead. In the follow-through, before I realized I’d parted with a piece of my self, I sank the knife into the ball of my thumb. Pain, and then blood – and I was forced to stand still. I wondered if I might need stitches for the finger, and then realized there’d be nothing to stitch together – the chunk of flesh was resting on the knife I’d abandoned on the counter. Bridget fetched me a bandage, and Fiona (with all the staggering sensitivity a fifth grader can muster) requested that we use a fresh knife for the rest of the brie. Because we were all hungry and my finger and thumb had become numb anyway, I finished preparing our dinner. I hadn’t learned anything, though. Trying to carry too much at once, I slopped pink milk all over my already-disgusting kitchen floor. Trying to retrieve green onions from the fridge while opening the freezer to scoop out some ice cubes, I bumped my head on the freezer door. It was only when we were finally relaxing in front of Madeline and her friends, snuggled deliciously together in a nest of blankets like a litter of baby animals, that I realized how stupid I had been.
What, exactly, was I rushing for? Would it have made that much of a difference in my evening if things took ten or fifteen minutes longer to finish? Would it have mattered if I had left the damn laundry one more day? Was I any faster for all that hurry? Not really. I shared my thoughts with the girls, and Fiona said “Mommy, you should write a blog post about this”. Great idea – so, here I am, writing a blog post about this. It’s not as if I can clean my kitchen now anyway. Just the thought of warm, soapy water anywhere near the crater in my finger and the crevice in my thumb makes me want to paste myself to the ceiling and make noises only dogs can hear. So I might as well do what writers do when they slam into a revelation: write. My throbbing finger and thumb are a constant reminder of the fresh breeze and sunset and crunchy leaves I didn’t appreciate, the precious evening hours I spun away from me like a top, and the fact that I need to slow down.
I’ve always admired “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It’s a beautiful poem, insightful and encouraging. However, right now, I’m heavily questioning one of the lines – the one that recommends filling “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”. I think I need to fill more minutes, forgiving or otherwise, with nothing but my heartbeat and my thoughts. Maybe that’ll be a Christmas present from me to myself this year – second-guessing what I’m running for, and slowing down when I can. If I had done that today, I wouldn’t be typing an entire bloody blog post without my left thumb and index finger – and my kitchen would be clean.