Hat says, ‘Mum why don’t you make a To Do list every day?’ (Hat who notices I waft).
To Do (she writes, at the top of a page in her notebook, and underlines the words in curlicues)
- Finish mending Dad’s shirt (a job inspired having read Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women)
- Do geography homework *
- Chat to Georgie on MSN
- Finish letter to Granny *
- Write a Christmas Wish
- Do half my advent calendar
- Clean out doll’s house
( * The asterisks denotes “A Must”).
When I was first married, when I abandoned fledgling career in the City in preference for life of eager young housewife on an African coastline, I used to compile To Do lists. (1. Learn what to do with Fish 2. Learn what to do with a prawn 3 Try not to imagine the sound I can hear as I plunge lobster into boiling water is a scream). And shopping lists (which I usually left behind when I went to the shops). I used to catalogue the contents of the deep freeze (which I had labeled first) and I composed meal plans.
I’m less organized now. Older. Less domestically enthused. More of a cynic. Or perhaps I just tell myself I prefer the daily challenge of emptying contents of freezer onto kitchen floor, surveying them forlornly and wondering what I can extract from ice-covered and unrecognizable pile (since labeling has long since been abandoned) for supper and whether, once I have done, it’s chicken, steak or dog meat.
Hat’s right though. To Do lists are written by people who understand their days need filling. Even at 11 she knows Busy is Best, the Outpost has taught her as much.
(And ought to be written by those who live in a directionless void and spend their days pondering, What Now? What Next?)
The satisfaction of a list, of course, as Hat’s demonstrates and as she can articulate, is the ticking off or crossing out.
‘I feel I have achieved something then’, she says.
Write one, mum, she urges, and stick it on the fridge. It will make your days go quicker.
Don’t wish you life away, my own mother used to warn when I was Hat’s age (when I pressed impatiently, ‘I wish Christmas/the holidays/my birthday would hurry up’). I didn’t live in an outpost then. She would empathize now. Certainly she would understand why I need to hasten Christmas and the holidays along. Though I’d happily wait forever until my next birthday. After 30, I have found, birthdays lose their festive allure.
Mine this week (had I made one, I didn’t) would have included:
- Build rockery. Tick. I did. With Sylvester’s help. A job that – were there any doubts remaining as to my sanity – the planting of stones as the Rains begin confirmed his worst fears: the memsahib was clearly, and quite quickly, going round the bend;
- Organise dinner for ten. Tick. I did: in capacity of Good Corporate Wife. Three roast chickens which failed to obediently cook on time. Four hours after putting them in the oven they remained languishing like fat pale skinned Beryl Cook models with legs, somewhat suggestively, spread as if reduced to careless soporific state by lazy heat of stove. They were dragged unceremoniously out then, and hastily carved up and nuked. By the time I served dinner at 10pm guests were too drunk to notice supper looked like so many bleached cadavers – that I insisted on dining by candlelight doubtless helped disguise what was on their plates. I told them it was chicken. Roast Chicken, I said. They believed me. Nobody died of salmonella poisoning the next day.
- Filing, which I did not do even though it has been on the To Do lists I have not been writing since January. Or before. My husband files with meticulous precision. I hide mine in a drawer and then have to shuffle for the letter/bill/statement he demands as I mutter, ‘It’s in here somewhere …’
- Write copy for a coffee brochure I am working on. Tick. Remembered not to add, despite temptation, that women who drink too much of the stuff have smaller boobs. According to research. I don’t drink coffee. My bust would apparently be concave if I did. I have well endowed friends who spend their lives high on caffeine. Imagine if they didn’t. They’d explode.
- Research price of two new lenses for camera. Tick. The subsequent ordering (from Amazon) and payment of same was somewhere on a list for 2009. Nice to think I can cross something off a list I have not even begun.
- Attempt to make mango chutney. Which I would have done. Had I not eaten the mangoes before I got around to the chutney bit.
What it would not have included but which I could have added with hindsight was the fact I managed to resist mobilizing a mountain rescue team when my 17 year old son called me from Kilimanjaro’s frozen shoulders to tell me he was suffering from appalling altitude sickness. On his way down by then, he assured me he was feeling better.
Are you sure?
Yes, Mum, I’m sure.
Really, Mum, relax.
So you don’t me to arrange a helicopter to pluck you off the slopes then?
No Mum, I don’t need you to organize a helicopter.
In the intervening years, between new-trying-to-be-busy-bride and now, I was too busy to make lists. I knew what needed to be done next because my children told me. The pressing urgency of motherhood filled all the gaps.
Perhaps Hat’s right: maybe I need to stop them up with lists now?