Keeper of the Calendar
My middle son, David, fourteen at the time, shouted up the stairs to me the date of his next basketball practice. “Put it on the calendar!” I yelled down to him. As in THE calendar—the one that tells us where to go when. The big master calendar hanging by our kitchen phone is where we, ideally, are supposed to write down all sports practices and games, appointments, project due dates, and work schedules. If somebody doesn’t write an event on the calendar, then that’s too bad; we’ll miss it. It’s the little bit of organization that my house has, and I stick by it. Without it, our house of chaos would be even worse.
It has to hang by the phone because the idea here is that if my husband or one of the boys gets a phone call about a meeting or doctor appointment, then all they’ll have to do is turn and write it immediately on the calendar. Works in theory, but not in practice. One of the boys – I forget who – once left a phone message on a Band-Aid wrapper that happened to be lying on the counter. I happened to notice it when I was about to throw the wrapper in the trash.
At the suggestion of a friend, one time I even began coordinating the calendar by writing my sons’ appointments and activities in different colors: my oldest son Billy’s appointments in blue, David’s in red, and Jason’s in green. It took a little practice to get used to this method, but it definitely helped to remember things. However, eventually one of the colored markers would run out of ink or got misplaced, in which case, I’d grab another marker and write in the wrong color for that son, thus making a total mess of the calendar and defeating the whole purpose of the color coordination in the first place. All of my family members rely on that master calendar, and over the years it’s become MY job to keep in updated. Like I have nothing else to do.
Our calendar has also replaced my all-important ‘to do’ list; I just jot the information down on the calendar and take it one day at a time. I write down certain errands or household chores for a particular day so I can stay focused. Every time I do this, though, I’m reminded of an episode of a Bernstein Bear show in which the two little cubs and Papa Bear had to take over Mama Bear’s household duties for a week. As they would mark each chore off the list, they’d smile at each other like they’d really accomplished something. “They’re in for a rude awakening,” I thought to myself. I’d like to see the expressions on their faces when they realize that mothers never get to ‘mark off’ a chore because we have to do it all over again within 48 hours. Mama Bear would have to do all those chores again as soon as she came home. But at least poor ole Mama Bear was able to get away for a few days. That’s a tough thing for moms to do, and when we do manage it, we have to spend hours working on detailed lists and instructions to leave behind with our husbands.
Even though the calendar might tell us where and when to be somewhere, getting there on time is sometimes half the battle. If it’s a doctor or dentist appointment, we get there on time, but for other things, sometimes I feel we have a little more leeway. Yes, usually we are the ones sneaking into church during the first hymn or in the middle of a prayer, getting to a sports event after the kick-off or first pitch, or showing up a little late for family get-togethers. “We’re always running late,” my youngest son, Jason, said to me one day as we pulled up a birthday party ten minutes behind schedule.
“No, we’re not,” I replied.
Billy, my oldest who was in the seat beside me, raised his eyebrows and looked at me bug-eyed like I’d just said the earth wasn’t round. “Mom,” he said, “sometimes when I have a dentist appointment we’re cutting it so close you drop me off right at the front door, push me out of the car and yell, ‘Run, run, run!’”
“But are you late?”
“But are you late?” I repeated, feeling like Perry Mason trying to make a point in court.
Billy finally relented, but I knew he had a very valid point. I’m just one of those people who tries to fill every moment; if we’re running fifteen minutes early for something, I think, “Mmmm—what errand can we run in fifteen minutes so we don’t waste the time?” Then we go by the dry cleaners or get milk at the store and end up frantically trying to make it to the original event in the nick of time. Usually, we do, but it’s a stressful lifestyle. It’s a bad sign when David once said after we arrived at a team event five minutes late, “Hey, this is the earliest we’ve ever been late.”
When Jason was seven, we arrived at an indoor soccer game fifteen minutes early. He ran in ahead of me and then reappeared at the door, a perplexed expression on his face. “My team’s not on the field,” he exclaimed, somewhat alarmed. The poor little fellow was so used to running onto the field to join his teammates just as the starting whistle blew that he actually thought there was no game.
I smiled at him. “We’re early,” I said slowly, emphasizing the word since I knew it was a totally new concept to him. “The game doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes.”
He stood there for a second, staring ahead, like the proverbial fish out of water. “What do I do?” he asked. Clearly, our family has some time management issues.
All these sporting events and appointments for everybody else often mean that appointments for ‘mom’ are at the bottom of the list. This seems to be the case with a lot of moms I’ve talked to. Last year, I made an appointment for a dental check-up at the dentist I’ve gone to since I was three. When the dental hygienist looked at my chart as I sat down in the chair, she gasped. “You haven’t been here in a year and a half,” she shrieked so loud that it startled me. As if everybody visits their dentist every six months like clockwork. Give me a break.
“Has it been that long?” I asked, determined not to feel embarrassed by her shock. I’d been to a dental specialist during that time, but evidently that appointment didn’t count in her book. I’d never had any major tooth problems previously, but she acted like because of my lapse, all my teeth were going to fall out within weeks.
Later during the appointment, she asked me, “Why was it you went so long without coming in?” Of course, she asked this while all those dental x-ray instruments were in my mouth.
Since my mouth was full, I searched for a short answer to her question. “Ahh . . . life,” I mumbled. I wished I could hand her a copy of my calendar with all my family’s appointments and commitments listed on it.
Life has a way of organizing our priorities for us. Our children are at the top, as they should be, while moms fit in their own schedules when they can. Sure, maybe sometimes we’re running late or even running on empty, but we keep on going. That’s what moms do. Years ago before boy # three came along, I recall my husband saying something to someone in response to a comment about how busy I was with everything around the house and our boys’ schedules plus teaching writing classes. I remember distinctly his saying, “Yeah, she’s the one who keeps things running around here.” That simple statement of recognition – damn near bordering on appreciation—stuck in my mind because it meant so much to me. Of course, now Kevin has no recollection whatsoever of having said that, rendering the compliment and the feeling behind it rather meaningless. Unfortunately, I have no proof and can’t remember who he said it to, but trust me—I know he said it. That compliment carried me through many bad days, more so even than the other compliments my husband has given me over the years such as telling me “Hey, you got your figure back” after our first child was born (oddly, he did not say this after the second or third child) or the infamous, “You look fine.”
Yes, moms are charged quite often as being the person who keeps things going in the household. But I have to admit, there was one time a few years ago that my husband Kevin actually remembered something that I didn’t. I’d misread Jason’s baseball tournament brackets and thought he was playing on a Tuesday, but Kevin had heard the coach say after the last practice, “See you Monday.” So on Monday afternoon, I had no clue Jason’s team was playing that night until Kevin mentioned it. I checked the schedule on-line and wonder of wonders, Kevin was right. He had remembered something instead of me. Folks, this was a big event in our house. A thing of pure amazement. We all stopped doing whatever we were doing and stared at each other. Billy asked me, “Mom, how does it feel to have Dad remember something?” And the truth was it felt good; I liked being able to rely on someone else’s memory for once, though I knew not to get used to it because it would probably never happen again.
So with the approach of each new year, I go buy another huge wall calendar to place by the phone to document another 365 days of the O’Donnell family activities. In with the new, out with the old. Part of me wishes I had saved all those calendars so that I could go back and read them—the scribbled notes of appointments and game times, the school project due dates and meetings. A record of our days together as a family. Days when we counted down to vacations. When I look at it like that, keeper of the calendar is not such a bad job after all. Though every now and then I am tempted to write incorrect information on a day of the calendar just to see what would happen, but I just haven’t had the heart to do it. So far.