Friday, January 29, 2010

To Do or Not To Do...

I'm not a big list maker. My sister-in-law makes lists. I've seen them on her chalkboard. She makes the list and then crosses things off when they are finished. Her list might say:

Car wash✓
Pay IPL bill
Get shower gift✓
Iron curtains

Each time I go over to their house, I'll see what she's accomplished on her list. Items rarely fester on that blackboard for more than a week. The task is posted, accomplished, checked off and replaced with a new to-do. What a system.

My To-Do list is mental. It is constantly being revised based on my mood, what time I wake up, how I feel, how Violet feels, what kind of mood she is in, what kind of nap she takes, what I am hungry for, what the weather is like, and how willing I am at each given moment to live with clutter. For instance, a quick glance around my living room right now reveals every DVD we own scattered on the floor around the entertainment center, a dozen or so of Vi's books on the floor near her book basket, one of my cookbooks on an end table, some laundry folded on the coffee table, and 7 other toys laying in random spots. Violet is napping. I could be straightening and making some real headway without the tot-tornado following behind me undoing my work. Cleaning and picking-up, like laundry, is always on the To Do list. But, I'm not into it right now.

There are several things I've done today that haven't been on my To Do list. I've brushed the dog. I made homemade brownies. I cleaned brownie batter off of Violet. I cleaned shampoo off of Violet. I cleaned blueberry juice (which is about as easy to remove as bank robbery ink) off of Violet. I made arrangements to pay two bills once we get our next paychecks. I called to make a reservation for our book club dinner. I'm writing a blog.

The mental To-Do's that I haven't gotten to yet today are also many. Write thank you notes for Christmas. Install printer to the Mac. Workout. Shower. And of course, clean up before Shawn gets home so he doesn't wonder what in Christ I've been doing all day.

The To-Do's I have actually done? I called Allstate and reported the minor accident I was in (2 weeks ago) so we can get my car fixed. Oh, yeah, I've done laundry, too.

Maybe writing the list down would motivate me to do more. Maybe it would help my nieces and nephews to get a birthday gift on time once and a while. Perhaps it would mean that we'd stop getting emails from the chick who bought our house telling us that she has yet another stack of our mail. Maybe a list would help us get those new insurance cards or paint the bathroom ceiling.

But it would probably just make me feel guilty for deviating from a plan. So I'd erase the original list with the thank yous and the workout on it and make a new fake To Do list of things I had already done:

brush dog✓
write blog✓

All those check marks are satisfying to look at. I think this might be a good system for me! And now, since I've accomplished so much, I'm going to take a nap!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fear of Fuzzball

Fully understanding another human is an impossibility. We come close with some people, spouses, if we're lucky; best friends, certainly; maybe our same sex parent, as we age. I don't know how much I'll ever understand about Violet. I know her better than anyone but I definitely don't understand her. I assume to understand a lot of her toddler behavior and relate to it in the context of "what kids do" but the motivation behind the behavior is alien to me.

Here are a list of "I wonders" about Violet:

Why does she always take a bite of the dog's treat before she hands it over?
Why doesn't the feeling of a turd in her pants creep her out?
What does she like about Dora?
Why does she love broccoli?
Why must she always pull off her socks even when her feet are freezing?
Why doesn't she understand that bodyslamming the cat will hurt her?

As a person who has overcome her share of fears and still harbors a few others, the one thing I respect thoroughly are Violet's hot button creepouts. That is not to say that I understand them all. My childhood fears--water, men with beards--may have seemed irrational to my parents, too. But at least both of those things--water, men with beards--are actually capable of doing harm to a little girl. Whether or not they ever had or would hurt me was irrelevant. I could drown in water. I could be abducted by a man with a beard. It could happen.

Violet's #1 fear right now...? Fuzzballs. Yup, dustbunnies, lintballs, floorfuzz. I don't think there are any documented cases of fuzzballs actually hurting anyone. It makes so little sense, it is hard to not take advantage of the poor kid for a laugh. I'm fairly sure this is how phobias begin...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas Past

Christmas was not my Dad's favorite holiday. Come to think of it, I don't know if my Dad would call any holiday his favorite. He was agnostic, so that ruled out giddiness over the traditional Christian holidays. He worked like a slave, so he never took off on secular holidays like President's Day. And he was not impressed by material goods, for the most part, so holidays that centered around buying trinkets did nothing for him. I guess he liked setting off fireworks when we were little, so maybe the 4th of July would have been a favorite. He didn't like the fireworks nearly as much as my brothers liked them, though, and I think by the 5th he was tired of fielding complaints from the neighbors about bottle rockets scaring their dogs.

So why did I feel the absence of my Dad so much more keenly at Christmastime? He told me once, during one of the years I lived at home after he got sick, that Christmas was always depressing for him; that he didn't much care for it. Lots of people get down in the dumps at the holidays, and I do understand why.

When my parent's divorce was still fresh, Christmas wasn't exactly all elves and peanut brittle. All of the shittiness of the rest of the calendar year seemed to come to a head and there was no way to avoid it. All collected in the same room, gathered around a tree, the tension and annoyance that ran the lines between the 5 of us would crackle to the surface in a sarcastic comment or a more blatant ridiculing. Despite their divorce, we all still always had Christmas together and my parents enduring tenderness toward one another made that possible. We did, and still do, like each other, but, like most families, we are not without our baggage and it is always heavier during the last week of the year.

The first couple of holidays after the split were bizarre as we navigated our way through a new normal, one that included two houses and two trees. My parents were hurting after being unable to salvage a 25 year union; their three semi-adult children were angry, and in true family tradition we dealt with those raw emotions by joking and teasing, occasionally taking it too far, but never apologizing. We were pissed at my Mom and felt sorry for my Dad and we'd swap presents and try to be the first to leave. My feelings would be hurt that Jeff had other plans or that Andy was only home for 4 days. I missed the pajamaed Christmases I'd grown up knowing, with myriad gifts, omelets at 11am, and naps in the afternoon. No hurrying, no leaving. So, I'd drink too much and count the days til it was time to go back to school, back to my friends and the anonymity of a huge university.

But Christmas wasn't always this way. For the first 17 years of my life it was generally looked more like a Folger's commercial. My Mom made Christmas the event that it was around our house. She baked and decorated, bought and wrapped gifts, and created the traditions that I see being replicated in my brother's homes as well as my own. We made lists, got toys and clothes when we were younger, clothes and electronics when we reached adolescence. The homemade fudge and stairway garland and big Christmas party that happened at our house during December helped build the excitement for me and I have never forgotten what that felt like. No memories from the divorce years can dampen that. I can still capture that feeling, though it is fleeting, as an adult.

The lazy but speedy week between Christmas and New Year's was maybe the best part of it all. My Dad would take vacation and be at home working puzzles during the day and making soup at night. The living room would still be littered with toys as no parent would dream of making you take your Christmas loot to your room before the tree came down. Shawn and I adopted that same policy last week, sleeping in, cooking, and playing with Violet's new toys late into the afternoon. The thing that struck me was just how normal it felt to have our little family together and complete for the week. It isn't normal, just like it wasn't normal for my Dad to be puttering around the house when I was young, but it just feels so right.

And that's what was missing from Christmas 2009. And 2008 and 2007, for that matter. That complete feeling of having all my loved ones surrounding me. I still miss my Dad and I suppose that I always will.