Friday, May 16, 2008

Foggy-Minded Mama

There is something wrong with me, seriously wrong. (That was part of the original impetus for this blog, actually, but being me I never got around to saying so.) I don't get things done. I'm disorganized. I actually have fantasies of living in a different kind of environment, one in which things get done in a reasonable and orderly way. Is it weird to fantasize about order?

Maybe not, if you're the mother of a 3-year-old. Little Man's interactions with the world are, of course, appropriate for his age. He wreaks havoc quite naturally, unconsciously, with no malice aforethought. He gets interested in the refrigerator magnets, and so ends up dropping all the schedules, photos, artwork, invitations, etc. to the floor, and doesn't notice. He wants a particular tiny truck to drive on the road he's just drawn on a piece of paper, so he dumps out one of his many toy buckets on the living room rug -- and then another one, and then another one, until he finds it. He doesn't care or even notice that his parents can no longer walk through the living room without twisting an ankle on a circus train, or tripping on a large plastic dump truck. Or that, the next time he's rushing to the stairs to go up to the bathroom, he will have to pick his way carefully among the many obstacles in his way.

Of course, I could be better at training him to put things away after he makes the various messes he has every right to make. But can I, really? When I am such a slob myself? The slob thing is actually new to me. When I lived alone in a studio apartment, with minimal furniture, straightening up after myself was not a problem. I did it naturally, unconsciously, in much the same way that Little Man makes his messes. But now that I live with a family, a family with too much stuff and not enough room, and the straightening work is undone thirty-four seconds after it's done, my old system does not work, and I have not replaced it.

Part of the problem is that I read too much. If I have 30 minutes to wait while a casserole is baking, will I take the opportunity to de-clutter the kitchen table so we can eat when it's done? I do not. I sit down and read. Often a book or magazine I've read before, or a random cookbook (I like reading cookbooks), or a stray newspaper that's been sitting around for three days. Why? Because straightening up is boring and repetitive, and I have no tolerance for it.

What's wrong with me is not that I'm a slob, it's really that I daydream too much. And reading is just an extension of daydreaming for me. It's like floating. Oh, once in awhile I can get into a frenzy of action and usefulness, and I zoom through the house, cleaning and straightening and organizing as I go, like a ferocious wind, or like that machine near the end of The Cat in the Hat, when the cat-of-disorder becomes the cat-of-order. (I love that machine. I want that machine.) But mostly, action does not come naturally to me. I hesitate; I avoid. When I start a clearing project, I often abandon it halfway through.

Here's a telling incident: I was driving to the train station to pick up my partner, Little Man in his carseat in the back. I noticed the setting sun to our right, and pointed it out to Little Man (channeling my naturalist father, who died while I was pregnant; I compensate for his absence in my son's life by attempting at every opportunity to infuse Little Man with his love of nature). However, at the time I was driving through an intersection. I had stopped at the stop sign, of course, because I'm not that far gone yet. But I had forgotten that the cross street did not, in fact, have a stop sign and so the cars on that street had no reason to stop or even slow down. So I'm driving slowly through the intersection, pointing idiotically at the setting sun while oncoming traffic is attempting to get through the same intersection, only my car is in the way. I am, in fact, pointing at them, or through them, at the setting sun. And the driver immediately facing my pointing finger? A police officer. A bored police officer, frustrated with his boring job in a small town where nothing ever happens.

Of course, he pulled me over. And equally of course, he misinterpreted my pointing finger as a rude attempt to communicate to him that I wanted him to stop. He was very angry at my perceived rudeness, of course. He did not at first believe that I was pointing out the sunset to my son. He didn't even see my son at first, and actually asked, when I tried to explain, "Who were you pointing out the sunset to?" in a very sarcastic voice, as if he were talking with either a hallucinating lunatic, or a particularly unskilled liar.

Of course, he was a jerk to yell at me. But my point is, he may have been right to have a hard time believing that anyone would be so stupid as to be paying attention to the setting sun in preference to the oncoming traffic bearing down on her son's car seat, not noticing that she was pointing directly into the face of a cop. It was a moment when my slightly altered state of consciousness was made vividly clear, even to me. I'm not usually that bad; I'm actually a very good driver, but it did worry me. Is it dementia? lack of sleep? Will my son live to adulthood?

Note: at this very moment, I'm writing this post instead of grading the 106 papers sitting in front of me. Of course, maybe avoiding that is not indicative of anything except common sense.

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